Column for Jewish News byJenni Frazer Nov 13 2016
“‘I’ve seen nations rise and fall. I’ve heard their stories, heard them all. But love’s the only engine of survival’’. Farewell, Leonard Cohen”.
Nice tribute, huh, quoting from “The Future”, by LC himself? And where, of all places, does the tribute come from?
Why, none other than the Board of Deputies. That’s right, the Board, the elected representative body of British Jewry, which tweeted this lyric as part of the outpouring of tributes in response to the veteran singer-songwriter’s death last week.
I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry when I read this tweet. I tried hard to visualise some of the more venerable deputies getting “down with the kids” as the Board clambered on to the Cohen tributes bandwagon, seeking, perhaps, to proclaim its street cred.
It was fair enough for Israel’s President Rivlin and — yes, though I’m no fan of his, Bibi Netanyahu — to issue warm statements after Leonard Cohen’s death. Cohen regarded himself as a son of Israel, toured the country during the Yom Kippur War with Ariel Sharon at his side, and came back for a last triumphant concert in 2009 in Tel Aviv, with the words of his songs sung with avid devotion by a rapt crowd, many of them in uniform.
So, well done, Ruby and Bibi for saying the right things. Made a pleasant change in among all the war-mongering rhetoric we hear too often. But the Board? Forgive me, but exactly what dog does the Board have in this fight?
Then I read about the row relating to the decision of the president of the Board, Jonathan Arkush, to congratulate Donald Trump on securing the American presidency.
Anodyne as Arkush’s statement may have been — “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory. After a divisive campaign, I hope that Mr Trump will move to build bridges and ensure that America’s standing as a beacon of progress, tolerance and free thinking remains strong” — there is certainly scope for wondering what on earth he was thinking.
Quite apart from Trump’s hate-filled, venomous racism during his “divisive campaign”, a worrying amount of which was levelled at Jews, what on earth is the Board of Deputies doing when it sends out statements on world developments over which it cannot have the slightest influence?
Pleasingly, there was an immediate response from deputies themselves. “I don’t think it’s the Board of Deputies’ job to congratulate Donald Trump on his election, and I’m sure the Jewish community will agree with me,” tweeted deputy Tal Ofer. Deputy Ella Rose, a former student leader and one of almost 200 people who complained bitterly to Jonathan Arkush, wrote: “No words for how badly this statement is judged. I’m embarrassed to be a deputy.”
Probably Ella will get over her embarrassment and Jonathan may well reflect for several more moments before issuing another statement where the Board has no direct relevance. Leave shooting from the lip to Donald Trump, is my advice.
These latest outpourings felt somewhat like being trapped on a moving vehicle with someone who has seized the microphone and insists on making interminable pronouncements as the world goes by.
In other words, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.