Gordon Brown's cabinet reshuffle yields a mixed bag

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 7, 2008

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's reshuffle this week yielded a mixed bag as far as Jewish and Israeli interests were concerned, with some appointments greeted with quiet satisfaction and others with mild concern.

Aside from obvious comments on the surprise return of Peter Mandelson, who one Israeli diplomat insisted had been "extremely friendly" towards Israel as the EU's trade commissioner, the appointment which drew the most response was that of Sadiq Khan as the new minister for Community Cohesion.

As they will have to work with him closely in the next few months, none of the community leaders who spoke to the JC was willing to be quoted. But they admitted to a certain degree of concern at the arrival of the MP who had fought as a solicitor for antisemitic preacher, Louis Farrakhan to be allowed to enter the UK; who was probed by MI5 for his alleged ties to suspected terrorists; and is a regular participant in events organised by the Muslim Council of Britain.

Mr Khan will be in charge, among other things, of implementing the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry on antisemitism. Some observers believe that his promotion was a "balancing act" by Mr Brown, who had enraged Muslim groups a day earlier by making outspoken Phil Woolas the new Immigration Minister.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband (according to his Rosh Hashanah message now officially one of "us") remained in his post and the reshuffle gave further advancement to his brother Ed. But premature announcements on Monday on changes in the Foreign Office caused a stir when it seemed that Lord Malloch-Brown, never seen as a pro-Israel minister, would be moving sideways to take the Middle East brief.

A few hours later it emerged that Lord Malloch-Brown would remain minister for Africa and the UN, while Bill Ramell is to become the new minister in charge of Middle East affairs, instead of Kim Howells. The demotion of Dr Howells is considered a loss as he is seen as a staunch friend of Israel, as is Europe Minister Jim Murphy, who also left the Foreign Office. But at least he was promoted to the Cabinet as the new Scottish Secretary.

His replacement, Caroline Flint, is also a keen supporter of Israel, but Mr Ramell is still viewed with some suspicion. As Universities Minister, he was in charge of the government's campaign against the anti-Israel boycott, but UK-gazers in the Israeli Foreign Ministry stressed that he was acting on Tony Blair's orders and even during his visit to Israel last year, could be termed at best as "lukewarm." Another appointment at the Foreign Office is junior minister Gillian Merron, a Jewish MP who has not been closely associated with community or Israel affairs.

Another Jewish parliamentarian in the reshuffle is Ivan Lewis, the health minister, who has been moved sideways, to a junior post in the Department for International Development. Mr Lewis who is deeply involved in community affairs and is a former vice-chairman of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) was recently involved in a text-messaging scandal with a female assistant and was also marked down by the Brownites as a potential rebel. So despite his slight demotion, he can count himself lucky for surviving in government at all.


Last updated: 2:12pm, October 7 2008