Earlier this month, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary took it upon themselves to meet a delegation from the Jewish Leadership Council. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are extremely busy people and for either of them — let alone both — to set aside time to meet the supposed representatives of what is numerically one of the smallest of Britain’s ethnic minorities, comprising much less than one half of one per cent of the UK’s total population, can mean only one of two things.
Either some genuinely urgent matter had arisen, necessitating an emergency summit, or Gordon Brown and David Miliband had calculated that, as tiresome as such a meeting might be, for the sake of appearances it might be better to get it over with.
I suggest that it was the latter and not any grave or urgent matter that impelled Messrs Brown and Miliband to agree to the meeting.
Consider, for example, the press statement issued by the JLC after the meeting had taken place. Noting this was the first formal encounter between “the senior leadership of the Jewish community” and Mr Brown since his move to Number Ten, the statement recorded that the first item discussed was the terrorist outrages in Mumbai. The Prime Minister apparently expressed his “specific concern” at the successful attempt to seek out Jewish people to harm.”
If you feel at all reassured by this “specific concern” I have more good news for you.
The topics next addressed were “the ongoing security concerns of the community and the large costs of providing security for Jewish schools and synagogues”. On this matter the Prime Minister did not mince his words. He was, he declared, determined “to look into how the cross-departmental task force that has responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism was addressing antisemitism on campus”. So, although (alas and alack) no money was pledged, there’s plenty of other evidence of really decisive action there, isn’t there? I mean, Gordon Brown promised to “look into” something. We are bound to sleep more soundly now that this firm and resolute action is being taken — or at least promised.
Then, JLC members “expressed the full extent of communal concern” about extreme Islamists being granted entry to the UK. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary might well have asked themselves how the delegation could possibly have expressed “the full extent” of Anglo-Jewish communal concern on anything, since the JLC is a completely unrepresentative body, on which some of the most important communal organisations have no voice whatever.
Instead, the Prime Minister “stressed the importance” of maintaining sanctions on Iran— as if the JLC could do anything about the Iranian regime — before moving on to Anglo-Israeli relations. Here Mr Brown “confirmed that the UK was positive about the EU working more closely with Israel on common issues”. Well, it was one hell of a relief to me (I can tell you) to know that the UK was “positive” about anything these days. But as to what these “common issues” might be: the press statement is significantly silent.
What we do know is that there was “a detailed discussion of community cohesion in the UK during which the Prime Minister spoke of the need to bring UK faith groups together to discuss shared challenges and highlighted the Government’s desire to fund and support projects at a local level that could demonstrate success in promoting cohesion”.
So, at last, there’s money on the table. Not to assist British Jewry with the cost of communal security. Not to put the weight of the Government against those calling for an end to faith-based state schools. But to support projects “demonstrating success in promoting cohesion”. Bringing Reform and ultra-Orthodox Jews together? Addressing anti-Jewish prejudice in the established Church of England? We shall have to wait and see.
Following the meeting, JLC chairperson Henry Grunwald declared: “Members of the Jewish community often feel threatened by the support for terrorism and the antisemitic statements made by certain visitors to this country… We are heartened that the Prime Minister recognises this and will be monitoring the situation moving forward….”
So there you have it. Mr Grunwald is going to monitor the situation “moving forward”. Who could ask for anything more?