Marcus Dysch

The Tories aren’t discussing Jewish issues — blame Brexit

Our political establishment is - of course - wholly consumed by the Brexit debate

September 28, 2017 12:05

For those who spend their professional lives engaged in political matters relating to Britain’s Jewish community, this is a slightly odd era.

The position for such figures ahead of the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester next week is all a little bit: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

Because while the community continues to express its concerns about how politicians plan to tackle rising antisemitism, the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, and the generation-long fight against Islamist extremism, our political establishment is of course wholly consumed by the Brexit debate.

It is difficult to convince foreign policy figures to spend their time discussing Israeli settlement policy or specifics of the Iran nuclear deal when they are confronted at every turn with the latest on Michel Barnier, the possibility of economic implosion, and endless chatter about single markets, hard borders and freedom of movement.

Indeed, the Jewish Leadership Council is spending an increasing amount of time on the issue and is putting together a paper, to be published in the coming months, on how Brexit will affect Anglo-Jewry.

Alistair Burt, the Middle East Minister, is widely-regarded as one of the most impressive figures to have held the position in decades. He is probably more engaged in the nitty-gritty of the Israeli-Palestinian situation than almost anyone else in Parliament. 

But since he was reappointed to the role in June his public profile has been minimal. He recently explained to senior communal representatives that because of the hung Parliament he is required to be in London and available to vote whenever the Commons is in session, meaning his chances of travelling to the region are limited to occasional days here and there. 

When he takes those chances, his opportunities to meet leading pro-Israel figures in Britain are thus limited, as is his time for media interviews which he carried out regularly when he held the same position for three years until 2013.

Likewise, efforts to organise interviews with Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, to discuss the Middle East have been derailed by the focus on Brexit and its associated broiguses. How Britain will leave the EU is the only show in town, and understandably so.

It means we face the Tory jamboree in Manchester with relatively little prospect of having much “Jew-stuff” to get our teeth into. When Mr Johnson gets up to speak on Tuesday afternoon, he is unlikely to spend any more time on Israel and the Palestinians than his Labour shadow Emily Thornberry’s quarter of a line in her own speech this week.

The Conservative Friends of Israel’s reception, to be held on Monday evening, is always one of the best-attended fringe events of the week. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, is likely to pull in a big crowd, but his message — as the government’s leading Zionist — is unlikely to spring any surprises. 

The Holocaust Educational Trust will hold its annual conference event the following day, but otherwise the Tory fringe is utterly bereft of the sort of sessions on Jew-hate or the community’s response to the refugee crisis that were seen as Labour met in Brighton.

Away from those much-publicised Labour matters, almost every figure I meet in politics accepts — and understands — that specific Jewish issues are a long way down the political agenda and can expect to remain so until well into the 2020s.

But for many voters in the community, having the mainstream spotlight turned away from British Jews and Israel will be seen as no bad thing.

September 28, 2017 12:05

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