For the JC May 2021
The long-standing chair of the Zionist Federation, Paul Charney, has stepped down from his post, arguing that it was now time for “the next generation of young leaders” to take over. And Mr Charney disclosed that he had been contacted after Sunday’s community rally in central London by “a moderate Muslim”, who had “liked his message of peace” and was keen to work with him.
One of the ZF’s two vice-chairs, Richard Woolf, will take over as interim chair until the next national council meeting, when a successor will be elected.
Mr Charney, who has headed the ZF for nine years, said he had been ready to resign six months ago, long before the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas, but had stayed on in order to lead the community rally.
He said: “I have taken the ZF as far as I can and now it is someone else’s turn. I will always support Israel but I am now looking for new opportunities”. He remains chair of Technion UK and of Elnet UK, an Israel-UK dialogue group whose chief executive is Joan Ryan, the former Labour MP and chair of Labour Friends of Israel.
Responding to “conspiracy theories” about the “real reason” for his departure, Mr Charney said that he was essentially a centrist whose aim was to support Israel without being involved in “infighting” inside the ZF. It had been claimed that there had been a “left-wing takeover” of the National Council which Mr Charney had been unable to manage. Mr Charney said there had been a left-wing majority on the council for many years, but agreed that the recent January elections had brought in new people “who wanted even greater changes”.
He acknowledged that he had frequently been attacked during his chairmanship. “When Tommy Robinson turned up, I was blamed; when Katie Hopkins came to our dinner, I was blamed; I’m even still being blamed for bringing Shimon Peres to London. The Jewish community must work together. I have tried to work with everyone, standing with Israel for peace”.
The ZF has had a chequered history of chief executives in the past several years. One, Emma Bergen, quit within weeks of taking up her post in 2019. Mr Charney said the appointment was “not a good fit”; she went on to work at PJ Library, the children’s book club. She was succeeded by Joshua Forman, but he, too, lasted only a few months before returning to teaching.
The current ZF CEO is Steve Winston, its former campaigns director.
Mr Charney said he had given financial support where necessary to the ZF but now believed it was “in a good financial situation,”
In a statement from the National Council, Richard Woolf and Robert Festenstein (acting chair and vice-chair) said: “We are saddened to formally announce the resignation of Paul Charney as chairman of the Zionist Federation.
“We thank him deeply for his dedication in developing the ZF. We should also like to thank Jonathan Turner for his contributions following his resignation as president last month as he is making aliyah. In addition, a number of other members of the National Council have indicated that they wish to step down and we thank them for their service”.
The two men continued: “Israel and the Jewish communities in the British Isles and Ireland are clearly facing many challenges, and we at the ZF are determined to maintain our support for Israel, in the face of ever increasing biased and dishonest reporting. We will be working hard over the next few months to work on strategies to deal with these issues, with a view to a more detailed announcement after the summer.”