Magazine article The Spectator

Jews against Miliband

Magazine article The Spectator

Jews against Miliband

Article excerpt

Labour's leader would be the first Jewish prime minister since Disraeli - so how has he alienated so many Jewish voters?

When he was seven, Ed Miliband was taken to visit his grandmother in Tel Aviv. Pointing to a black-and-white photograph in her home, young Ed demanded to know who 'that man in the picture' was. He was told the man, David, was his grandfather and had died in Poland many years before he was born. Only years later did Miliband realise that his grandfather had been murdered by the Nazis for being Jewish.

Miliband's parents only narrowly escaped a similar fate: fleeing Belgium as the German armies overran it in 1940, his 16-year-old father caught the last boat from Ostend to Britain. In Poland, his mother -- together with her sister and mother -- was sheltered throughout the war, initially by nuns: Marion Kozak would make it to Britain seven years after her future husband.

In less than a month's time, this son of Holocaust refugees could become the first Jewish occupant of Downing Street since Benjamin Disraeli. Whatever your politics, it is a remarkable and affecting story. But it is a tale with a twist: Miliband's relationship with Britain's Jewish community is an uneasy one -- and in this closely fought election the mutual distrust which now defines it may contribute to depriving him of the premiership.

This was made clear last month at a dinner for the Community Safety Trust, a charity which provides security for Jewish venues. When a fundraising video was screened featuring Miliband, his image was greeted with loud and widely joined-in booing. It was, says Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle , 'an astonishing moment'.

For much of the Jewish community, Miliband was a blank sheet when he was elected Labour leader. This is not altogether surprising. His parents, wrote Miliband in 2012, 'defined themselves not by their Jewishness but by their politics' and they brought up their boys outside the community.

On winning the leadership, Miliband appeared to embark on something of a journey. He was, says one former Labour party staffer, 'forced to get to know the community'. At times, he seemed to enjoy the experience of finding his Jewish self. Dinners, receptions and well-received speeches to Labour Friends of Israel's annual lunch followed. The journey culminated, last spring, in what appeared a highly personal choice for his first major overseas trip: a visit to Israel.

Miliband returned home to declare himself a 'friend of Israel', committed to ensuring 'Israel's security and right to protect itself'. That commitment would, however, be put to the test within weeks, as -- following the murder of three Israeli teenagers and a wave of rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza -- Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. Miliband responded by condemning Israel's actions and suggesting that David Cameron's 'silence on the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians' was 'inexplicable'. It was not so much Miliband's condemnation that angered many British Jews, but its fiery nature, its lack of nuance -- the apparent lack of context or empathy for Israeli civilians who found themselves under sustained attack from Islamist terrorists -- and the suspicion that he was using the issue as a political football. …

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