THE English, wrote philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, think they are free. But they are free only during the election of Members of Parliament, he said.
What Rousseau meant by this was that once a new Westminster parliament is elected, the population at large is at the mercy of the politicians in power . . . but that during the election period it is the electorate that calls the shots.
Short of physical insurrection, there is little that a British electorate can do about an unpopular government pushing through unpalatable policies. But at election time, the politicians are beholden to the electors. It is only then that the politicians may be held to account.
Bearing in mind this fact of British political life, I want to ask whether last week’s election was good for us Jews — for us British citizens and taxpayers of the Jewish persuasion.
I do not think it was. I think that an unprecedented opportunity was lost — by us Jews and by our Jewish spokesmen — to bring to the fore issues of concern both to us locally and to the wider Jewish world.
Given that the entire election campaign was suffused with very bitter, very public argument over anti-Jewish prejudice in the Labour Party and by the views about Jews and about the Jewish state held by its lacklustre — and now failed — leader, Jeremy Bernard Corbyn, you might think that I’m talking through my skullcap!
After all, never before has anti-Jewish prejudice occupied such a prominent place in the national electoral conversation.
Never before has a United Synagogue chief rabbi gone into print — as Ephraim Mirvis chose to do in The Times
— to, in effect, warn everyone (Jew and gentile alike) against voting for one major political party.
Never before have so many other Anglo-Jewish divines fallen over each other as they rushed to support such an irresponsible exercise in panic-mongering.
But my purpose here is not to excoriate Ephraim Mirvis and his camp-followers. It is, rather, to point to the opportunities that were lost as a result of his and their obsession.
On December 23, 2016, the Security Council of the United Nations passed a resolution [No 2334] condemning Jewish control of — and settlement in — Judea and Samaria, including the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Outgoing American president Barack Obama deliberately chose not to exercise the veto he might have deployed against this resolution. But at the Security Council, the UK also has a veto.
The British government also chose not to exercise it. At that time, the British prime minister was Theresa May and the British foreign secretary was none other than Boris Johnson.
During the recent general election campaign, Johnson might have been asked — perhaps by the Zionist Federation, perhaps by the Board of Deputies — whether he was prepared to apologise for not having vetoed 2334. For not having even ordered our UN ambassador to abstain.
No such questions appear to have been put to him. Why?
The Board of Deputies did, in an election document entitled The Jewish Manifesto, call upon policymakers to support “a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state”.
However plausible we may think the possibility of “a viable Palestinian state” existing, peacefully, alongside “a secure Israel”, we need to recognise that such a possibility is widely opposed in the Jewish world, particularly by our brethren in Israel.
For a major representative body of British Jews to enthusiastically tout this possibility during the election campaign, and to ask the British political leadership to endorse it, struck me as the height of folly.
During the campaign, my attention was drawn repeatedly to those sections of the Labour manifesto that promised that a future Labour government would “immediately” recognise “the state of Palestine” and would “immediately” suspend the sale “to Israel [of] arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians”.
The Conservative manifesto, I was instructed, contained no such promises.
Well, that’s true enough. But we need to remember the arms embargo imposed by a previous Tory government at the time of the Yom Kippur War (1973), and that imposed by another Tory government as a result of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon (1982).
Friends, simply because an embargo isn’t in a manifesto doesn’t mean it won’t be imposed.
We might have used the opportunity of the election to extract from the Tories an undertaking not to impose such an embargo.
Why didn’t we?
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