Marcus Dysch

Jewishly, David’s ahead of Ed

December 17, 2013 16:17

There’s a joke doing the rounds about the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition: one is a committed Zionist, eager to visit Israel and totally at ease in the company of British Jews; the other is Ed Miliband.

There will be plenty of talk during the next 18 months about the possibility of Britain electing Mr Miliband as our first halachically Jewish Prime Minister since Disraeli.

But some would argue that the current occupant of the country’s best-known terraced home may be the closest thing to a nice yiddishe boy as we are likely to get — David Cameron’s apparent fascination with Jewish life can no longer be ignored.

He is determined to deepen his understanding of the Jewish world and has confirmed he will travel to both Auschwitz and Israel in 2014.

At last month’s Number 10 Chanucah reception, Mr Cameron went to great lengths to show the strength of his feeling, lavishing praise on Anglo-Jewry’s achievements and his solidarity with Israel.

Such warm words may be easy to trot out, but it is hard — even for a former PR-pro-turned-politician — to fake the sincerity with which Mr Cameron delivered them.

It was the second time since Rosh Hashanah that I had watched the Premier speak with such consummate ease across a range of Jewish issues. I had to remind myself I was listening to a man brought up in Peasemore, not Prestwich.

Let’s not kid ourselves that Dave is steeped in a working knowledge of kashrut and kedusha. Despite his claims to have discovered a Levite grandmother on the branches of the Cameron family tree, the Prime Minister’s background is as far from heimishe as you could find.

The Bullingdon Club may sound a little like a men’s kiddush — just substitute the caviar for chopped herring, the champagne for Kedem, and the rowdiness for a nice shluff — but it is hardly the same as cutting your teeth in the Ponevezh Yeshivah.

No doubt Mr Cameron’s friendships with Lords Finkelstein and Feldman have had a considerable influence on his understanding of our nuances, neuroses and nosh.

But there is also an obvious, deep appreciation of our contribution to charity, business and the arts.

His leadership on Holocaust issues is in no doubt. At the Holocaust Educational Trust’s 25th anniversary dinner in September Mr Cameron reaffirmed his support for Shoah remembrance, unveiling a new commission to safeguard future education.

The speech was not just a stale policy announcement; he movingly recalled meetings with survivors and the experience of taking his children to Berlin’s Holocaust museum.

The standing ovation he received was remarkable largely for the obvious warmth and authenticity with which it was offered.

And then there is Mr Miliband. He has spoken of his parents’ own Shoah survival and the subsequent struggle to find his place in the Jewish world. It is easy to sympathise with a man who grew up deprived of the chance to enjoy the pleasures of a Shabbat dinner and a barmitzvah. As he admits, “sometimes I feel I missed out”.

Mr Miliband’s most significant Jewish communal appearance since becoming Labour leader was a question-and-answer session organised by the Board of Deputies in March.

Yet faced with questions about antisemitism on university campuses and the threat to shechitah and brit milah, he appeared at ease only when discussing his beloved Boston Red Sox baseball team.

The awkward event’s only success was to spark an embarrassing row over whether or not Mr Miliband considered himself a Zionist.

Mr Cameron evidently feels more comfortable in his own skin than his opponent across the dispatch box does in his – and that difference is rarely more clearly defined than when the two men face a Jewish audience.

December 17, 2013 16:17

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