Miliband had a lot to prove and to a great extent did so
Everyone seems happy with Ed Miliband’s visit to Israel. The Israeli establishment got a good look at the man who may be Britain’s next prime minister and was assured that his heart was in the right place.
The leadership of the British Jewish community, who often sense a disconnect in Mr Miliband, got a chance to see him at ease in the Jewish state.
By choosing to make this the only high-profile foreign trip of his leadership so far, Mr Miliband sought to underline one of his core messages — that he is the son of refugees who were granted every opportunity in Britain.
The last month has been a high point in Israel-Britain relations, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s almost rapturous speech to the Knesset, and now the arrival of Mr Miliband.
In many ways, the Labour leader’s visit was more significant. Mr Cameron has upped the sanctions against Iran and amended legislation on universal jurisdiction. And, of course his relations with British Jews are as smooth and as comfortable as could be.
Mr Miliband, on the other hand, had a great deal to prove. For a start, when he talks about his “strong link” to the Jewish community, he makes it clear that he does not actually see himself as part of it. Then there is the artful way he avoids calling himself a Zionist.
Part of the unease has nothing to do with his unclear Jewish identity, but simply his awkwardness in formal settings. So it was fascinating to see how he handled an hour of unscreened questions from 200 Hebrew University students. What emerged was the more relaxed Ed, joking, dealing skilfully with very tough questions, never seeming uncomfortable or evasive.
He won the audience over when he said: “Israel gets into a lot of headlines but its great achievements get ignored.”
Mr Miliband clearly needs his Israeli roots to build the story of who he is. He repeated that this was the country where his Shoah-survivor grandmother found sanctuary, and expressed deep gratitude for that. Mr Miliband’s personal story on Israel feeds into his narrative about Britain — a haven of tolerance and opportunity.