Gary Mond, founder of the UK National Jewish Assembly and former senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Credit: National Jewish Assembly.
Gary Mond, founder of the UK National Jewish Assembly and former senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Credit: National Jewish Assembly.
featureJewish Diaspora

‘I’m only alive because my dad failed a chemistry exam,’ says London grassroots leader

Gary Mond, founder of the UK National Jewish Assembly, slams the “intolerant” nearly 265-year-old Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The 64-year-old founded the National Jewish Assembly, a “grassroots” community leadership body, last year after resigning as a senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He said at the time that the latter, which dates back to 1760, was leaning too far to the political left.

In a phone interview on May 28 from his home in London, Mond told JNS that he is only alive today because his father failed a chemistry test.

Ferdinand Mond was shipped off in 1938 from his Krakow home to a boarding school in Brighton, England. The following summer, he had to return to the school to retake chemistry class, which he failed. Days later, the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. The rest of his family, except for his father David, who later immigrated to Israel, was murdered.

Ferdinand’s son, Gary Mond, certainly had a more conventional path to life in the United Kingdom. He studied economics at the University of Cambridge and trained as an accountant. He worked in corporate finance in the 1980s and 1990s, and is now trying to sell an advanced financial-training business, which he owns, to retire.

But there is room for doubt that his retirement will be quiet, as he talked candidly with JNS about his political past and future aspirations.

“I’m a fiercely Zionist individual, and I am strongly anti-woke,” he said.

He founded the National Jewish Assembly (NJA), knowing other Jewish community members were on the same page, he said.

Mond was a local Conservative councilor in Kensington from 1996 to 2002. In 2007, he joined the advisory board of the Conservative Friends of Israel, a role he continues to hold. 

Mond has been a stalwart in community leadership roles and served as a Jewish National Fund UK trustee for 12 years until this April.

“This is how I came to be involved with the Board of Deputies, for which I represented JNF as a deputy,” he said.

The board is the leading UK Jewish representative body with 203 member organizations and 300 elected deputies.

‘A major part in splitting the Jewish community’

From the start, Mond felt out of place at the board, he told JNS.

“I was disappointed at the left-leaning tendencies I encountered straightaway,” he said. “In my first meeting, I was utterly taken aback when a senior deputy, whom I won’t name, accused Israelis of poisoning wells in the region to harm Palestinian children.” (The board declined to comment on this and several other items, about which JNS asked.)

Also early in his tenure on the board, the body sought to partner with Oxfam. He and others who opposed were ignored, he said.

“This is despite Oxfam’s history of anti-Israel rhetoric and allegations of their support for terror groups, alongside other concerns,” he said.

Mond faced opposition but still was elected senior vice president of the board in 2021. He said rather than being “part of the establishment,” he rose in position due to a ranked (“single transferable”) voting system.

Since he left the board and founded the rival group, Mond has grown increasingly frustrated with the leading British representative Jewish body.

“The honorary officers of the board are all good people and, as they give their time voluntarily to the Jewish community, should be respected as such,” Mond told JNS. “Where they should be severely criticized, however, is on their political actions. Their approach has been, and continues to be, to split the Jewish community.”

The board could focus on areas like combating antisemitism, which 99% of British Jews support, according to Mond. However, he claims that the board refuses to speak to some communal groups it disagrees with politically and otherwise.

“Instead, the board selects issues where substantial proportions, possibly even a majority, of UK Jews disagree,” Mond said. “For example, it has chosen to issue statements which critique the government’s immigration policies—a topic many regard as irrelevant to the Jewish community.”

The board also focuses too heavily on social justice, according to Mond. More than that, when Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich visited the country, the board told the Israeli minister to leave immediately.

“That was a disgraceful thing to do,” Mond said.

Mond allows that Smotrich “might be controversial,” but he notes more than half a million Israelis voted for him and nearly another 2 million voted for parties that were glad to work with him. “The board has succeeded in severely damaging its reputation in Israel,” and Israeli President Isaac Herzog criticized it publicly, pointed out Mond.

“I don’t think it is too strong to say that the board’s actions play a major part in splitting the Jewish community and causing resentment among a very large number of British Jews,” he said.

The man who confidently slams the group he formerly helped lead also told JNS bluntly about his own controversies.

He said he created a deep rift with two senior board honorary officers in 2020 when he penned a Jewish Chronicle op-ed titled “The Holocaust Was Unique and Incomparable.” In the piece, he wrote that it is inaccurate to compare the Holocaust to the Chinese genocidal killing of Uyghur Muslims.

“It is important to speak out against the plight of the Uyghurs, but the Holocaust was unique and incomparable,” he told JNS. “I was surprised that so many board honorary officers were upset about this piece, though I cannot say for certain that this is because they disagreed with my points.”

British Parliament, London. Credit: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock.

‘Giving ordinary community members a voice’

But it was his social-media posts about November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that caused a backlash after they were unearthed—and led to his departure from the board in January 2022, he said.

“I tweeted that this terror attack put all civilization at war with Islam,” he told JNS. “What I should have said is ‘fundamentalist Islam’ or ‘Islamism,’ but those terms were not used as much then as they are now.”

After the posts were publicized, Marie van der Zyl, president of the board, called Mond and told him that the board’s officers and senior staff no longer had confidence in working with him, Mond told JNS.

“After speaking to my family, we decided life was too short, and I resigned,” Mond told JNS. “This cemented my impression that the board is a fundamentally intolerant body.”

Not only does Mond think the board is intolerant, but he also questions whether it ought to be perceived as speaking for all British Jews.

Members of the board are leaders of synagogues, and Mond noted that synagogue membership has declined in the country.

“Less than a third of the UK’s 450 or so synagogues have deputies elected to the board at all, and other groups represented include left-wing groups, such as the Jewish Labour Movement and Yachad,” he said.

More than half (56.3%) of British households with at least a Jewish member were shul members in 2016, which represented a drop of 20.2% from 1990, according to data that the Institute for Jewish Policy Research released in 2017.

“As the board’s membership is fundamentally derived from shuls, and shuls as a whole have a smaller percentage of members of the Jewish community, the board’s representational nature is obviously in decline,” Mond said.

He thinks the NJA, which he founded, plays a vital role in “filling this gap and giving ordinary community members a voice.”

In just a year, the group’s membership has grown to 350 and the NJA has an annual budget of £150,000 (about $185,000), according to Mond.

And he’s convinced his fledgling body is on the rise.

“A year from now,” he predicted, “our membership will have increased substantially, and we will be the ‘go to’ organization for Jews interested in political debate and action.”

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