Promises, promises: which ones will be kept?

The JC’s political editor Martin Bright looks at the year ahead


January 6, 2011
Follow The JC on Twitter

If 2010 was the year of promises, 2011 has to be the year of action. In the run-up to the election, the parties courted Britain's ethnic and religious communities in the chase for their votes.

Will the coalition come good on pledges made to the Jewish community by the Conservative Party? And will the new Labour leader hold them to account if they fail to do so? Let's look at the issues.

Universal jurisdiction

● The Coalition introduced legislation at the end of last year to shift the responsibility for issuing arrest warrants in cases of alleged war crimes from magistrates to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Much of the debate in this area has focused on Israel, particularly after a warrant was issued for opposition leader Tzipi Livni in December 2009, although the legislation applies to any foreign national accused of being a war criminal.

The change to the law is contained in the Police Bill, which received its second reading on December 13. The bill now enters the committee stage, which is where the detail will be thrashed out. The deadline for written evidence is January 18 and the bill committee will take around a month to consider submissions.

The section on Universal Jurisdiction is just one small part of the bill, which is primarily designed to abolish Police Authorities and replace them with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners. However, it will continue to prove controversial and act as a magnet for anti-Israel campaigners when it returns to the Commons later in the year.

Delegitimisation

● For too long, Israel refused to recognise the international significance of the delegitimisation movement in the UK. Two important reports by leading Israeli think tanks at the end of last year put paid to that problem.

The Reut Institute identified London as the "Mecca" of delegitimisation and urged supporters of Israel to make the British capital the centre of the fightback. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs examined the roots of the alliance between the hard left and international Islamism at the heart of the anti-Israel campaign. The JCPA report identified that British-based activists lay at the heart of "an international effort to deny Israel's right to exist in its current form".

The fightback has already begun behind closed doors. Indeed the major Jewish institutions in the UK have been urging Israel to take this problem seriously for several years.

However, it is likely that supporters of Israel will take the struggle into the public arena in 2011. Some would argue this is essential as Israel continues to lose the argument within Britain's liberal elites. In the face of initiatives such as the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund, set up by prominent QC Michael Mansfield to help "give Palestinians their day in court", it will be all the more necessary to develop the progressive case for Israel in the year ahead.

Project Ed

● The new Labour leader made a catastrophic start by singling out Israel for condemnation in his conference speech while failing to condemn Hamas or Israel's other enemies in the region. On such diplomatic conventions are reputations made or broken.

Ed Miliband's position on Israel remains opaque, although he used
a JC interview in November to clarify his position on Hamas. On universal jurisdiction he said he would wait until the government published its proposals before pronouncing on the issue. However, when the time came for Labour to back the law change, it was Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls who made the announcement.

Labour Friends of Israel and other supporters of Israel on the liberal-left are now working on "Project Ed" in an attempt to repair some of the damage done by the conference speech.

The key moment in the year ahead will be Mr Miliband's first visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Labour leader promised he would make this trip as soon as he could on winning the leadership race.

But it will be vital to get the choreography of this trip right. One suggestion has been to organise it jointly with the Israeli and Palestinian trade unions to avoid claims of sectarian bias towards either side in the conflict.

The Big Society

● Senior Tories, including David Cameron himself, have cited the Jewish community as an inspiration for the philosophy of the Big Society. Self-help, philanthropy and volunteering have always been at the heart of Jewish charitable work and there is much the government can still learn in this area.

A report from the Jewish Leadership Council last month commended the Prime Minister for the Big Society agenda: "Charity, citizen service, volunteerism, connected communities, co-operation and collectivism - the entire lexicon of the Big Society could have been drawn from a study of the institutional base of the UK Jewish community".

However, it recognised that cutbacks in government funding would affect Jewish charities every bit as much as other parts of the so-called "third sector". The report also warned that the new Equalities Act introduced regulatory restrictions that could provide hurdles for charities which had specific faith-based remit.

This will make 2011 a challenging year for Jewish charities, which may have to reach out to the wider community in order to survive.

The same applies to Jewish schools, although Education Secretary Michael Gove has given assurances that the specific ethos of faith schools will be maintained.

Mobilisation against extremism

● The Jewish leadership has been robust in its opposition to the English Defence League and its attempts to reach out to the community with its anti-Muslim message. The Community Security Trust has been particularly energetic in distancing the community from a tiny minority which has set up a Jewish chapter of the EDL.

There is comfort to be taken from the success of the Hope Not Hate campaign in smashing the British National Party in Barking at the 2010 General Election. However, the rise of the EDL demonstrates the battle is not over.

The changed nature of this struggle has been recognised by the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, which has turned its attention not just to the anti-Muslims of the EDL, but to tackling the Islamist extremism which feeds this prejudice. Later this year, Searchlight will launch a think tank to examine the racist identity politics that unites the bigots of the extreme right and radical Islamism.

Searchlight has an impeccable record in fighting the extreme right and it will be fascinating to watch whether it can be equally effective as it enters new territory.

At the same time, the important work of the new All Party Parliamentary Committee on Islamophobia will begin, now shorn of its association with the controversial anti-Zionist campaign group Engage.

    Last updated: 1:48pm, January 6 2011