Foreign Secretary David Miliband paid a warm and emotional tribute to the Anglo-Jewish community on Wednesday, along with a trenchant warning that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were “a challenge that Britain will not duck” for the sake of stability for Israel and the whole of the Middle East.
The Foreign Secretary was the guest of honour at UJIA’s annual patrons’ dinner, held in the Foreign Office’s Locarno Rooms, where, he reminded guests, the seven Locarno Treaties had been signed in December 1925.
“The Locarno Rooms are testimony to the catastrophe of attempts to build a brighter, more peaceful future in Europe in the inter-war years.
“As a result of the treaties signed in this room, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations. The consequences were desperate: the treaties were seen as an excuse for Germany to attack Eastern Europe as the price for stability in Western Europe. The lesson is very clear: nations cannot be built on false promises, on fudged commitments, on insecure borders, on promises made on paper but which are vapid as thin air.
“Nations are built through the toil and graft of a people, through a commitment to a common dream — and that takes something else”.
Praising UJIA, he said its spirit was to unite people behind a common cause. “Britain need look no further for a model of how to mobilise people for a common cause than its Jewish community. This is the community, with its institutions and its leadership, its philanthropy and its values, which so many in this country take so much pride in, whether or not they are Jewish.” He went further, saying that the whole of Britain could learn from UJIA’s values.
It was, he added, “important to say loud and clear that a strong and independent and secure Israel is actually the foundation of stability in the Middle East, not a threat to it. That’s what nation-building is about.”
But there was an “unwritten chapter, in which Israel and its neighbours are permanently written into the book of peace. In some ways, it’s the most significant chapter of all.
“It’s the hardest to write because it involves big responsibilities for Israel. And there are responsibilities for its neighbours.” These included Iran.
“The Iranian nuclear programme is not a marginal issue, it’s fundamental, not just for Israel but also for the whole region. The message to Iran is simple: your people need economic growth and investment, your region needs stability, not a nuclear arms race. There is a very clear offer on the table if you want to engage. If you don’t want to engage, there will be further sanctions, and the challenge is one that Britain and the other countries will not duck.”
It was, he said, a shared ambition of Britain and Israel to bring the time of peace closer.
Mr Miliband began his remarks with a tribute to the families of the two dead soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whom he had met in New York at the UN last year. “We are grieving with Israel,” he said. He hoped for a speedy conclusion to the Gilad Shalit hostage crisis.