GEOFFREY ALDERMAN

Why Board of Deputies ‘dimwits’ should resign

FOUR months ago, I brought to your attention the shocking case of Mrs Roslyn Pine, democratically re-elected earlier this year as one of the representatives for the Finchley United Synagogue at the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

She is an outspoken lady, not least on the subject of Islam. Nor is she known for keeping these opinions to herself. She exercises what is known as freedom of speech.

I should confess at this point that as a member of Bomber Command in 1944, my late uncle — in company with thousands of others (including thousands of other Jews) — gave his life for this freedom.

No matter. The exercise of this freedom is clearly unpalatable to many Deputies — not least the current honorary officers and chief executive Gillian Merron.

When complaints were made about sundry of Mrs Pine’s negative statements on Islam [including “I have an issue with Muslims and Arabs who want to kill us, want to destroy Israel. And that is an Islamic fundamental if you know anything about what the Koran is”] those who purport to order the affairs of the Board lost no time in referring Mrs Pine to the Board’s constitution committee, chaired by my old school chum Tony Leifer. In due course, the constitution committee found Mrs Pine guilty of having brought the Board into what it termed was “disrepute”.

And on July 11, Mrs Merron informed Mrs Pine that the Board’s executive committee had in consequence decided that she “be removed from the position of deputy and suspended from Board activities for a period of six years”.

We now know that the manner in which these decisions had been reached was deeply — I would say irredeemably — flawed. The findings of a panel to which Mrs Pine had appealed, and which were leaked to the media on November 6 — reveal an utterly disgraceful state of affairs.

The decision to suspend Mrs Pine had been taken by the Board’s executive “without discussion together, and without the wording for their reasons for their decision being recorded at the time, or at all”.

There was no precedent for the six-year suspension. Nor is it open to the Board to “remove” a deputy except where the deputy has been convicted of “a serious criminal offence”.

Dear reader, if anyone has brought the Board into very public disrepute, it is surely the Board’s entire executive, headed by president Marie van der Zyl and chief executive Gillian Merron.

Both ladies — together with the entire executive — should resign.

Then there is the matter of Mrs Pine’s candidature for membership of the Board’s International Division, responsible for relations with organisations in Israel and other countries.

Having been re-elected as a deputy, Mrs Pine put herself forward for re-election to the International Division. But, having been suspended, she was barred from running in the election. This election must now be declared void and re-run with Mrs Pine’s name on the ballot paper.

But when all this has been done – when the dimwits now in charge of the Board have been “let go” and when any legal action (including, it’s rumoured, possible reference to a Beth Din] has run its course — there remains the question of the fundamental right to publicly criticise any religion, including Islam.

This right has, admittedly, recently been called into question by a perverse judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last month, the ECHR upheld the ruling of an Austrian court and found against a woman who, at a seminar in 2009, had stated her view that Islam’s founder Mohammad was a paedophile because he married a six-year-old girl.

It mattered not that the historical fact of the marriage is universally acknowledged within the Muslim faith. Many Muslims nonetheless declared themselves offended by the statement.

The ECHR decided that the right to freedom of expression was outweighed by the right not to be offended.

It’s my view that the right to give offence is part and parcel of the right to freedom of expression.

Clearly, many Muslims take an opposite view — witness, for instance, the recent mob violence in Pakistan directed against a Christian lady who has spent eight years on death row for the “crime” of allegedly insulting Mohammed.

That is Pakistan. This is the UK. And in the UK, the right to freely express one’s views, while certainly not absolute, is deliberately widely drawn.

That the current membership of the Board of Deputies appears not to understand and accept this is indeed tragic.

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