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Distracted by Brexit, Tories are overlooking communal issues

Amber Rudd's CST speech highlighted that senior ministers’ interactions with British Jews have continued to dry up.

    Amber Rudd's appearance at the CST dinner was a rare example of a minister directly interacting with the community
    Amber Rudd's appearance at the CST dinner was a rare example of a minister directly interacting with the community

    Amber Rudd’s appearance at the Community Security Trust annual dinner on Wednesday was a rare government venture into direct engagement with the Jewish community.

    The Home Secretary’s commitment to providing another £13.4m this year towards ensuring British Jews’ safety is, of course appreciated. But her speech also highlighted the fact that senior ministers’ interactions with the community have continued to dry up.

    Later this month, Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP, is due to speak at a Board of Deputies’ event on the opportunities and challenges for the Jewish community when Britain leaves the EU. One already obvious Brexit implication is that senior Tories’ attention is almost permanently elsewhere.

    Nonetheless, Ms Rudd’s words came after the appointment by the Metropolitan Police of Neil Basu as head of counter-terror operations in England.

    During a three-year spell as commander of police in the North-West London borough of Barnet, Mr Basu worked closely with CST and gained a strong understanding of Jewish concerns about security. Senior figures in the community will see his promotion as a positive move.

    The government’s appointment of Sara Khan as head of its new anti-extremism commission in January was also welcomed by CST.  

    This series of relatively low-key appointments offer some reassurance.

    A slight digression at this point to mention Tom Tugendhat, the Israel-friendly chair of the Foreign Affairs select committee, who, in asking an urgent question in the Commons about the Sergei Skripal case on Tuesday, made the most statesmanlike intervention I have seen from any politician in any party in recent months.

    He is definitely one Tory to watch in the leadership scrap, which is almost sure to dominate Conservative Party thinking over the next few years — if not sooner.

    Also on Tuesday afternoon, Lord Polak spoke for only the third time in the Lords since the Priti Patel affair which enforced a period of quiet reflection on the peer and his Conservative Friends of Israel group last November.

    He asked what the government was doing to promote coexistence initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians. A range of responses were voiced on all sides, including by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the standard hate-filled reaction to any mention of Israel in the upper house was thankfully avoided. 

    The efforts last week of Joan Ryan and Ian Austin, two prominent Labour Friends of Israel MPs, highlighted the government’s slackness over funding for the Palestinian Authority. Downing Street has remained silent on the issue.

    The government also stonewalled on calls to ban terror group Hezbollah in its entirety when pushed by Ms Ryan in January.

    Brexit may be clouding everything in Westminster, but peer through the cracks and the Tories have plenty of communal questions to answer.

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