In Search of a British Moses; Britain's Conservative Party Elects a Jewish Leader

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 13, 2003 | Go to article overview

In Search of a British Moses; Britain's Conservative Party Elects a Jewish Leader


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Britain's Conservative Party, adrift in a wilderness dark and drear, has elected a Jew as its leader. It figures. Only a Moses could lead them out of the wilderness, down the valley of doubt and through the pond of despair into the promised land.

Fortunately for his immediate peace of mind, nobody expects Michael Howard to move into No. 10 Downing Street tomorrow. But he has revived Tory spirits with a sense of excitement, and part of it is because he's the first Jew to head the party since Benjamin Disraeli, back in the 19th century.

Like Disraeli, who had been baptized a Christian as a child, Michael Howard has Christian connections. His wife, a one-time model, is a member of the Church of England, and they raised their son as a Christian. Joe Lieberman, he isn't.

Whether this is a triumph over the stubborn strain of anti-Semitism that survives in England to the present day, particularly among the intellectual elites of the chattering class, remains to be seen. It may be an aberration of circumstances that makes him the best man for the job in a party out of power for six years. Iain Duncan Smith, who was sacked to make room for Mr. Howard, was a failure by anybody's standards.

"So lacking are they in talent, and so bad is their disarray, they would have elected a Martian if they thought he might win the general election," writes columnist Melanie Phillips, an Englishwoman, in Ha'aretz, the influential Israeli daily. "Howard is by far the most successful politician they've got."

He's regarded as the kind of Jew that doesn't ruffle the feathers of the peacocks of Britain, who strut their tolerance in grand colors, tolerating eccentrics as long as they're not "too Jewey." Mr. Howard says his Jewish values are an important "guide" and "influence" in his life, but he did, after all, marry a shiksa.

What makes his Jewishness an issue is the debate raging in England over whether anti-Zionism, which is all the rage in certain circles, constitutes actual anti-Semitism. A recent poll found that a majority of Britons regard the Jewish state of Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. (Greater even than the United States.)

Melanie Phillips, who once wrote her column for the liberal Guardian, writes that she detected a rigid double standard in the way the newspaper treated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She protested that headlines and front-page displays gave prominence to stories of Israelis killing a handful of Palestinians, but stories of Muslims murdering thousands of other Muslims were relegated to small print and hidden on page seven. …

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