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Marie van der Zyl. new British Board of Deputies president

{Originally posted to the author’s website}

The recently published list of 50 Most Influential Jews included Marie van der Zyl, the recently elected president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.


Van der Zyl is a feisty, committed Zionist and has followed in the path of her predecessor, Jonathan Arkush, in publicly confronting and condemning the anti-Semitism and vile behavior of Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But having said that, she seems to have lost her bearings earlier this year in the wake of the provocative demonstration in Parliament Square by about 50 young protestors who, having the chutzpah to describe themselves as “Zionists,” recited kaddish for Palestinians killed as they sought to break into Israel with murderous intent, many of whom were proudly identified as terrorists.

This demonstration received massive media coverage. Not surprisingly, most British Jews were outraged and ashamed and many expressed angry sentiments, including some vulgar outbursts.

To her credit, van der Zyl immediately condemned the demonstrators’ behavior. In fact, she has consistently defended Israel’s defensive measures against Hamas and other terrorists.

Because of van der Zyl’s stand, the far left-wing group Yachad criticized the Board of Deputies for releasing an “ill-conceived and unnuanced” statement and leaders of the Liberal Judaism movement termed the statement “unilateral and ill-judged.”

So far, so good. However, presumably in order to appease the more radical elements in her constituency, van der Zyl then lambasted criticism of the “Kaddish for Gaza” group. While appalled by the ill-conceived protest, she felt compelled to add that “the tone and tenor of some comments have bordered on hateful and abusive.”

Which makes me pose the question: What is wrong in castigating ignorant Jews who not only publicly identify with those seeking to murder us but even stoop to the depths of commemorating them by publicly reciting kaddish – a sacred prayer invoked for the dead? And what is wrong with hating those who defend our murderers? It is surely natural for us to hate murderous anti-Semites and their supporters. I do not apologize and am not embarrassed to say that I despise anyone, but especially deviant Jews, who shamelessly defend those who would murder me or perpetrate genocidal actions against Jews anywhere in the world.

It was in this context that, earlier this year, van der Zyl impassionately told a gathering of Board of Deputies delegates, “As a community, we cannot afford to be divided in these times.” She added, “We can have disagreements, but we have to do it in a space where we can maintain respect and relations with each other.” But who wants to maintain civil discourse or display respect for those who defend our would-be murderers?

Others claim that we should retain such people in the “big tent” and engage them in respectful dialogue in order to promote unity and harmony. Yet the reality is that the presence of people defending the murderers of Jews in the Jewish mainstream transforms the big tent into a cesspool.

But it gets even worse. Some of these kaddish reciters were delegates to the Board of Deputies. How could this happen in a committed Jewish community? It makes a bad joke of the Board claiming to represent British Jews.

At the June meeting, van der Zyl expressed pleasure and welcomed the “elected” delegates, requesting that “they should be treated with respect and not personally abused.”

No doubt that classifies me as intolerant or bigoted to those who believe that respectful dialogue with those defending our killers is the correct path. I take pride in not seeking to display tolerance to those who justify the killing of fellow Jews and if my views are regarded by the bleeding hearts as fanatical or prejudiced, so be it.

Van der Zyl calls for unity irrespective of the circumstances. Would she take a similar attitude to a Jew espousing racism or being a supporter of fascism? Would it be obligatory to welcome such people and ask that they be treated with respect? A Board delegate who expressed blanket anti-Muslim sentiments was rightly not treated with respect nor welcomed. In fact, in contrast to the Hamas apologists, investigations were made as to how the Board could “constitutionally expel him.”

The Board of Deputies should indeed call for unity in the Jewish community. Not merely against the burgeoning anti-Semitism in the Labour party but also in support of the IDF’s efforts to defend Israeli citizens from terrorists – an attitude shared by virtually all Israelis of all political persuasions.

The Board of Deputies rightfully calls on Corbyn to retract his anti-Semitic outbursts or resign. One of the most contemptable acts (amongst many others) of Corbyn was his laying a wreath on the graves of Palestinian mass murderers. In this context, is it not bizarre and utterly inconsistent for the Board to “welcome” into its ranks those who recite kaddish for terrorists and even call on fellow Jews to “respect” them?

The fact that there do not appear to have been bitter protests by the rank and file for such behavior shows sadly that Anglo-Jewry or at least its leaders have lost the plot or lack a moral compass. If they fail to reject from their midst those embracing terrorists intent on murdering Jews, they should not be surprised to find that such sentiments become legitimate discourse, not only in the Labour party led by an unrepentant anti-Semite, but also within the Jewish community, itself.


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Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights. His website is and he can be contacted at [email protected].