Since 30th June of this year, when Theresa May announced her candidacy for leader of the Conservative party, I and fellow members of the Jewish community have been increasingly inspecting her stances on Israel and antisemitism. Since becoming Prime Minister on the 13th July, these areas of focus have only increased in importance.
Currently there are around 250,000 to 300,000 Jews living in the United Kingdom according to the CIA world Factbook. In parliament the Jewish vote is made up of 20 MPs – 12 Conservative and 8 labour. This includes the current speaker of the house John Bercow, chair of the defence select committee Julian Lewis, Conservative London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, and of course former labour leader Ed Miliband. Over in the House of Lords we have 53 Jewish peers, including the former labour peer-turned-cross bencher Lord Sugar.
The past six months has seen a lot of headlines featuring new cases of antisemitism in politics – mainly coming from the Labour benches. The most notorious of which is Ken Livingstone, former London mayor, who many MPs accused of calling Hitler a Zionist in June this year. This provoked labour MP John Mann to follow him on camera shouting at him “Nazi Apologist” which showed the first signs of a rift within Labour members on the stance the party took on dealing with Antisemitism. This was then followed by a large number of Labour councillors being suspended for Antisemitism online, as well as Bradford West MP Naz Shah who was accused of Antisemitism and then temporarily suspended from the party until recently due to her Facebook post insinuating forcing Israel to be displaced into the USA, causing a lot of uproar from Jewish communities across the country.
The Jewish debate is one that has haunted Corbyn since he first started running for Labour leader. In October 2015 Corbyn received £2,000 in donations from Dr Ibrahim Hamami, a strong supporter of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Later, in parliament, Corbyn refused to denounce his statements calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”, resulting in large amounts of criticism from his own party members as well as from the Israeli ambassador.
Corbyn’s predecessor also had problems when it came to the Jewish vote. I, along with many others in the Jewish community, remember being completely astounded that Miliband thought it appropriate to denounce Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as the first Jewish Prime Minister, days before being caught eating a Bacon sandwich somewhat distastefully. What angered me most about this was the fact that the progressive left thought it was alright to claim that someone was more Jewish than someone else, and therefore we should discount Disraeli as being Jewish. From a party that has only ever elected white men as its leader, this was clutching at straws in order to hang a plaque above its door saying it was more diverse than it really is.
Obviously these are all isolated incidents, and to say categorically that the Labour party is anti-Semitic as an institution is probably a step too far. That said however, appearances mean everything in the world of politics. In a poll of 1,000 British Jews done by the Jewish Chronicle on 3rd and 4th May of this year, 18% said that they voted for Ed Miliband in May 2015. Only 8.5% however, said that they would vote for Jeremy Corbyn. When asked if they thought that Labour had a problem with Antisemitism, 87% of them said yes. Clearly the Labour party needs to reshape its attitude towards Israel and Antisemitism if it wants to change its perception in the eyes of the Jewish community.
After seeing the problem in the Labour party, the next question we have to ask ourselves is if not them, then who? The answer is clear – The Conservatives.
For as long as Theresa May has been the home secretary is has been clear that she has stood up against anti-Semitism, and in favour of a strong Israel in the interests of the Jewish people. A sign of confidence for the Jewish community is her record of attendance in numerous Conservative Friends of Israel events in parliament during her time as home secretary. Most notably was a visit in 2014 where she spoke about how she “would always defend Israel’s right to defend itself” – words that would need a miracle to come out of the mouth of Jeremy Corbyn.
People say that actions are louder than words in politics, and May certainly has actions to back up her pro-Israel, pro-Jewish attitude. After the horrendous terrorists attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and then on the Jewish Supermarket in Paris in January 2015, Theresa Mary went to a gathering outside the offices of the Board of Deputies of British Jews with a sign that read “Je Suis Juif” (“I am Jewish”). In 2014 she took her first trip to Israel, meeting with the then Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar and other high ranking government officials, where she reiterated her support for the UK’s strong partnership with Israel. Earlier this year in April, during the Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebrations in London, she spoke of how horrified she was that Jews in Britain felt so vulnerable.
Another way to look at how Theresa May will approach the question of Israel and anti-Semitism is to have a look at the people she has surrounded herself with. Her new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has been a longstanding support of Israel. On his appointment, former Israeli ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub said that Israel will be getting a “very outspoken friend of Israel” and he affirmed his support for Boris by pointing out that the foreign secretary had a very long and positive relationship with Israel.
Amber Rudd, May’s home secretary has also been very vocal in her new role regarding her commitment to tackling Antisemitism. Since taking the post she has written to the Jewish News in which she promised she “will not ignore the threat to British Jews”. She has also released plans to tackle all forms of hate crime, but more specifically £13.4 million in aid of protecting Jewish schools and synagogues across the country as well as funding programmes to teach young people of the atrocities that the Jewish people have faced in the past in order to ensure that they never happen again.
Obviously all parties will have their individuals who have their problems with Israel and anti-Semitism is not limited to just the Labour party. But in the same Jewish Chronicle survey in May, compared to the 87% of British Jews who said they thought that Labour had a problem with anti-Semitism, only 1% said that they thought the Conservatives had a problem. A very stark contrast, and a clear indication that when it comes to who stands up for the Jewish community of the United Kingdom, there is only one party best suited to the job – the Conservatives. I very much look forward to the day Antisemitism is no longer a problem for British Jews, and when it comes to choosing between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May to tackle that problem, I place my faith entirely in May.