Board of Deputies of British Jews
According to its own account:
- The Board of Deputies has been served throughout its history by individuals not only active in community affairs, but in other spheres of public life. Moses Montefiore stands as the single most prominent figure, but other notables include Sir Philip Magnus, Judge Neville Laski, Professor Selig Brodetsky, Lucien Wolf, Lord Barnett Janner, Michael Fidler, Lord Fisher and Lord Greville Janner. Officers of the Board have always represented Jewish interests at the highest level.
- The history of the Board of Deputies has not always been a peaceful one either in its relations with the world at large or within the British Jewish community. There have been controversies about its structures and procedures; controversies over representation from the Orthodox and Liberal sides of the community; and controversies over Zionism and Israel’s politics. The ongoing problems which Israel has with her Arab neighbours have presented difficulties for the Jewish Diaspora. There have been clashes with other communal groups over policy and of course full and frank dialogue with non-Jewish individuals and organisations. Lively debate on virtually every subject has been a constant feature.
At a Board of Deputies dinner in 2007, Gordon Brown is reported to have said that “Israel will always have our support. We will be a friend in good times and bad and we will never compromise our friendship for political expediency.”.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) is traceable back to the 1760s. Its leadership is elected, and based on the synagogue as its representative unit. The majority of British Jews were, at the time, Orthodox and thus recognized the BoD's Chief Rabbi as their leading authority. Mainstream Orthodoxy became more sympathetic to Zionism over the first half of the twentieth century. Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, in office from 1891-1911 (he succeeded his father, Nathan Marcus Adler), was a 'staunch opponent of political Zionism', deriding the First Zionist Congress as 'an egregious blunder'.  He possessed 'instinctive respect' for the Victorian era Jewish leadership. Like Lucien Wolf, the 'arch-publicist of the old regime', he worried about the increasing communal influence of immigrant Jews.
His successor as Chief Rabbi was Joseph Hertz, who held the office from 1913 to his death in 1946. Hertz, in contrast to Adler, was an outspoken supporter of Zionism and simultaneous president of the British Mizrahi. This lead to frequent conflict with Anglo-Jewish elites, and in particular with Robert Waley Cohen of the United Synagogue. Hertz's successor Israel Brodie, Chief Rabbi from 1948-1965, was also a Zionist and President of the British Mizrachi. These Zionist sympathies were slow, however, to translate into official services and pronouncements. From the 1920s Orthodox synagogues began affiliating to the Zionist Federation, raising funds for the Zionist movement and offering their premises for Zionist functions. A big step forward for the Zionists came in 1928, when the United Synagogue, the most influential British Jewish religious body aside from the BoD and under the control of the non-Zionist Robert Waley Cohen, established after unanimous approval the 'The United Synagogue Central Keren Hayesod Committee' to coordinate Zionist fundraising. The battle to set this up had been started by the Zionist faction on the United Synagogue council in 1921. In 1926 they succeeded in getting the United Synagogue to vote for collecting funds for the Keren Hayesod, but Waley-Cohen was able, through 'legal manoeuvres', to delay its start for two years. Writing a year later, the Zionist Federation's Paul Goodman described this as a 'veritable revolution'. The next milestone for the United Synagogue came in 1962 with the election of Isaac Wolfson, not only a Zionist but a member of the new wave of Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs, as president.
How the Board became Zionist
When British Zionists embarked on a strategy of conquering communal organisations from within, the Board of Deputies was a leading target. Prominent Zionist Harry Sacher declared to the anti-Zionist Lucien Wolf of the Board of Deputies, in December 1914, that if a communal organisation opposes us, 'we shall, however reluctantly, do what within us lies to destroy any authority they may claim in Jewry or beyond to Jewry to speak for the Jewish people'.
On 29 April 1915 the Conjoint Committee of the BoD and Anglo-Jewish Association, headed by Lucien Wolf, denounced Jewish nationalism as 'reactionary', and conditioned its assistance in efforts to obtain a measure of Jewish self-government in Palestine on the removal of demands for an exclusive national Jewish state from the Zionist program. On 24 May 1917, fearing the increasing contacts between the Zionists and British government officials, the Conjoint Committee published 'Palestine and Zionism - Views of Anglo-Jewry', a statement in The Times. It attacked Zionism, arguing that establishing a Jewish national identity in Palestine would stamp Jews everywhere as 'strangers in their native lands'. The Committee had promised to show the Foreign Office a draft copy before it was published, but it didn't. The letter caused a storm of protest, including from Lord Rothschild, Chaim Weizmann, and Chief Rabbi Hertz (a pro-Zionist). But the Conjoint Committee also had prestigious supporters. Eventually the Board of Deputies condemned by 56-51 votes, with six abstentions, the Conjoint Committee and called on the BoD's representatives to it to resign, which they did. This enabled Zionists to claim authority to speak for the community in subsequent talks with the government. This claim rested, according to historian Stuart A. Cohen, on a misrepresentation of the vote as being primarily over the question of Zionism, when in fact it had at least as much to do with the Board's undemocratic structure.
Following the vote, Edwin Montagu, prominent Jewish anti-Zionist and Minister for India, sent a letter to Lord Robert Cecil arguing precisely this: that the BoD vote to disband the Conjoint Committee was evidence of frustration at the Board's autocratic character rather than its Zionist sympathies. Montagu portrayed Zionism as a foreign import to Britain, and estimated that at least half of Jews resident in Britain, and most Jews of British birth, were opposed to Zionism. A declaration by the government favouring a Jewish national home would, he claimed, 'be felt as a cruel blow by the many English Jews who love England'.
Two days after the vote, the Foreign Secretary asked Rothschild & Weizmann to submit a formula for partitioning Palestine. The Government was at this point aligned more with the Zionists than their Jewish opponents.
When the Balfour Declaration was issued, Lord Montagu was bitter: '[the] Government has dealt an irreparable blow to Jewish Britons and they have endeavoured to set up a people which does not exist'. To Zionists, he declared: 'all my life I have been trying to get out of the ghetto... you want to force me back there'. However, in a confidential response to a draft of the Declaration sent for comment by the government, BoD Chairman Sir Stuart Samuel expressed the view that 'a large majority' of British Jews supported the establishment of a national home in Palestine, explaining that they had only remained aloof up to now due to (1) doubt that Palestine could sustain large-scale Jewish immigration; and (2) fear that the establishment of a Jewish national home would call into question the allegiances of Jews in other states. The former would be possible under Allied auspices, with Jewish donations, he said; regarding the latter, he requested an amendment to the draft to make it clearer that any Jewish homeland would be 'a modern State, having no claim upon Jews outside it regarded as its nationals'. He estimated that at most 10 per cent of British Jews would choose to emigrate to a national home in Palestine.
In 1937 the Zionists secured a majority on the BoD's Palestine Committee. However it took until the 1940s for the BoD to decisively join the Zionist camp.
Two Board of Deputies officials—Neville Laski (President) and Israel Feldman (chairman of the Palestine Committee)—were invited as members of the Jewish delegation to the 1939 St. James Palace Conference on Palestine. The Conference was called by the British Government to plan the end of the Mandate and future governance of Palestine, and ultimately culminated in the 1939 White Paper, which was bitterly opposed by British Zionists for, among other things, setting limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine.
During WWII, strongly influenced by revelations of the Holocaust, resistance within the BoD to Zionism was finally overwhelmed, and the Board adopted an 'unequivocally pro-Zionist stand'. Selig Brodetsky, a Zionist, was elected president unopposed in 1940, while Robert Waley Cohen was defeated. Zionists achieved a majority at the Board in the elections of 1943. In 1944 the BoD officially endorsed the call for a Jewish state. Non-Zionists led by Neville Laski made a last effort in 1948 to restrict BoD's Zionism by proposing to remove Brodetsky for simultaneously being BoD President and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive, but they failed. By the end of the 1940s the presidency and the key committees of the BoD were controlled by the Zionists. Zionists saw this as very important, because possessing a majority at the BoD legitimised their claim to represent British Jewry: thus leading Zionist officials, for instance at the Jewish Agency, were in 'constant communication' with BoD officials during the 1940s, lobbying them to promote Zionist initiatives.
In 1946 Poale Zion and the BoD launched a campaign against the government's Palestine policy, but only six Jewish MPs could be persuaded—after desperate lobbying— to speak out.
In 1974 the Board joined the World Jewish Congress as its British affiliate, having resisted Nahum Goldmann's appeals to join since 1936 'out of fear of "dual loyalty" and out of desire to protect its own particular access to government.'
Meeting with American Jewish Committee
In 2006, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) report a meeting with the Deputies of British Jews in 'an effort to strengthen AJC’s ties to British Jewry'
The report states that:
- 'AJC President E Robert Goodkind led a leadership delegation to London to meet with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main community organizing body for British Jews, as well as with the Community Service Trust and the newly formed Jewish Leadership Council. The group also met with British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, longtime Jewish community leaders Lord Greville Janner and Sir Trevor Chinn, and with leadership from the Reform, Liberal and Conservative Masorti movements. In addition, the group held meetings with those Members of Parliament who initiated a serious parliamentary investigation of anti-Semitism, and with younger leaders of Conservative Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel. AJC Board members Stanley Bergman and Peter Rosenblatt joined Goodkind on the mission.
Twentieth century presidents
Joseph Sebag Montefiore (1895 - 1903) | David Lindo Alexander (1903 - 1917) | Stuart Samuel (1917 - 1922) | Henry Henriques (1922 - 1925) | Lord Rothschild (1925 - 1926) | Osmond d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (1926 - 1933) | Neville Laski (1933 - 1939) | Selig Brodetsky (1940 - 1949) | A. Cohen (1949 - 1955) | Barnett Janner (1955 - 1964) | Soloman Teff (1964 - 1967) | Michael Fidler (1967 - 1973) | Lord Fisher (1973 - 1979) | Greville Janner (1979 - 1985) | Lionel Kopelowitz (1985 - 1991) | Israel Finestein (1991 - 1994) | Eldred Tabachnik (1994 - 2000) | Jo Wagerman (2000 - 2003) | Henry Grunwald (2003 - 2009) | Vivian Wineman (2009 - )
- About us, accessed 14 July 2008
- The Jewish Chronicle JC Power 100: Sacks stays on top, as new names emerge. 9th May 2008. Accessed 16th August 2008
- Cited in Stephan E.C Wendehorst, British Jewry, Zionism, and the Jewish State, 1936-1956 (2012), 300
- Israel Finestein, Scenes and Personalities in Anglo-Jewry, 1800-2000 (2002), 6
- Wendehorst 2012, 300-301
- Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2002 (London: University of California Press, 2002), 217
- Paul Goodman, Zionism in England 1899-1929 (London: English Zionist Federation, 1929), 52-53
- Cited in Stuart A. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews: The Communal Politics of Anglo-Jewry, 1895-1920 (1982), 15
- Cited in Cohen 1982, 226-27
- Cohen 1982, 268-76
- CAB 24/27/93 (14 Sep, 1917), 1-2
- Cohen 1982, 239-44
- cit. Natan Aridan, Britain, Israel and Anglo-Jewry 1949-57 (2004), 209
- CAB 24/4/14 (17 Oct, 1917), 42
- CAB 9/12/1 (27 Jul 1946), 6
- Rory Miller, Divided Against Zion: Anti-Zionist Opposition to the Creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, 1945-1948 (2000), 104
- Miller 2000, 104
- Aridan 2004, 209-10
- Wendehorst 2012, 84-86
- Miller 2000, 104-105
- Finestein 2002, 20-21
- American Jewish Committee London Jewish Community Greets AJC President Update 236, 20th December 2006. Accessed 21st August 2008
- Rocker, S. (2006) 'Bicom: the rich and powerful'. The Jewish Chronicle. 22nd June 2006
- Board of Deputies of British Jews, The National Archives, accessed 6 February 2013