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Of tea leaves and prime ministers

With Gordon Brown having just entered 10 Downing Street, unpredictable forces will undoubtedly come into play, writes Henry Grunwald, is President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. New challenges, crises, opportunities and pitfalls are just around the corner.

When looking at the new Prime Minister through the lens of our own remit at the Board of Deputies – to preserve, protect and defend the interests of British Jewry – it is important to take into account what he has achieved.

As Chancellor, Gordon Brown has presided over a period of growth that many claim has had long-term benefits for the country and for our community’s participation in it. And while economic stability has been good for us throughout the history of the Diaspora, Mr Brown’s own commitment to underpinning it with equity and social justice has been proven to be the right approach time and time again.

He is variously referred to as a ‘friend of the Jews’ and a ‘friend of Israel’. However these words do not adequately express what I have come to see through my personal encounters with him, which is a profound respect for our shared values and the community’s contribution to society. Indeed, in his keynote speech to the Board of Deputies at its recent annual dinner, he spoke of how the concept of tzedakah – as both ‘justice and equity’ resonated with him as a child and underpins his core belief in ‘shared national purpose’ and the notion of ‘civic responsibility’, which are woven throughout his writings.

These are not values he has adopted out of opportunism, but ones which were inculcated early on, when, as he says, he was growing up in a struggling and economically challenged post-war Britain. It was at this time, we learned – again in his speech to the Board – that his admiration for Israel both as an ideal and a reality, was formed, when his father, a Church of Scotland minister who read classical Hebrew and chaired the Church of Scotland’s Israel Committee, returned from his twice yearly trips to Israel, inspired by what the country and the Jewish people had achieved.

It is this same inspiration, I believe – and his ability to see the economic wonder that the Jewish State is – that has led the new Prime Minister to appreciate the necessity for an economic roadmap for Israel and the Middle east – one that will bring about real change and hopefully lay the groundwork for peaceful coexistence.

Domestically, he is committed to combating terrorism and its extremist impulse by improving economic conditions, and through policies aimed at increasing engagement with civic society. He emphasises the importance of community development and social cohesion, areas which are central to the remit of the Department of Communities and Local Government.

However, closer to our own concerns is his assertion – “I commit that never again will the Jewish community have to fight antisemitism alone. The Jewish community do not cause antisemitism and it must not fall on them to have to defeat it.”

He has also condemned without qualification terrorist acts against Israel and boycotts of Israel – “I recoil in revulsion at the prospect of boycotts of Israel and the Israeli academic community”, and we appreciate enormously his unprecedented grant to the Holocaust Educational Trust to enable at least two sixth-formers from every school in the country to visit Auschwitz.

The tea leaves are always difficult to read, and the Board is not a party political animal but, from a parochial point of view, I predict that the new Prime Minister will continue to show his understanding of our concerns and fears. I wish him well.

Full story at Totally

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