One of the first meetings I had when I took the job as political editor of the JC was with the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The chief executive and president were curious to know why a gentile had taken the job and who I believed I was writing for. At the time, I thought this a rather peculiar question as I thought one clue at least lay in the title of the newspaper.
I explained that, as a political journalist, I would hope to explain the goings-on at Westminster for a Jewish readership. I said I was sure UK Jews were interested in much the same political issues as everyone else: the education of their children, care of their sick and elderly, the security of their community, the protection of their culture and traditions. What I had not quite reckoned on, in my ignorance, was the place that international politics plays in the life of the community, and the visceral connection between British Jews and Israel.
As we enter 2013, I remain convinced that my initial instinct was correct and that community politics should not be the politics of the ghetto.
This week sees one of the regular meetings between the Prime Minister and Jewish leadership to discuss issues of concern to the community. I took the opportunity to ask someone close to these regular discussions what are likely to be the five big political issues for the community this year.
Three of the issues were inter-connected: Iran, the Middle East peace process and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy. It is plain that the growing danger of a nuclear Iran and the existential threat to Israel is something that will continue to exercise the Jewish community. The stance of David Cameron and William Hague has been firm and consistent on this and there is no reason to believe this will change.
There are no particular grounds for optimism either with regard to the Middle East peace process or the delegitimisation movement, and the British government can do little more than make reassuring noises.
A fourth international issue that should be of concern is the continued fallout from the Arab Spring. One consequence is the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and the increased confidence of its cheerleaders around the world. At the same time, supporters of democracy in Britain and Israel should not lose the opportunity to reach out to genuinely anti-totalitarian voices in the Muslim world.
On the domestic front, faith-based education will continue to preoccupy the Jewish community. In particular, the Jewish leadership will be seeking reassurances from the government that the implementation of the Equality Act will not affect the ability of Jewish state schools to select on the basis of religion or charities to restrict their activities to the Jewish community.
One issue which unites and concerns all communities is the long-term care of the elderly. The LibDem care minister, Norman Lamb, has been trailing a decision on capping the costs of individual liability for some time. However, the government’s mid-term review this week was vague, merely stating that a decision would be made in due course.
Jewish charities have been pioneers in this area and the community representatives meeting David Cameron this week should be pushing for a swift announcement.