Why must Israel be the focus of this election?

November 24, 2016 23:17

Can it really only be four months since the election? For anyone following the Labour leadership campaign, it seems light years since we were debating whether Ed could really win , or whether we were facing another hung parliament.

But by the time the shofar is blown, the results will be in. While I'm not going to speculate about the result - though you can probably deduce my preferences from my Twitter feed - all I can do is breathe a sigh of relief. Not just because the campaign has felt like a suicide attempt by the centre left, but because I need a break from the interminable discussion of what British politicians think about Israel.

At times, the Labour leadership campaign has felt like an election for a party chief in Jerusalem. Search "Israel Labour Leadership UK" and Google brings up 11,400,000 results (the NHS reveals just 4,440,000). I've lost count of the number of times Jeremy Corbyn's name has come up in the context of when legitimate criticism becomes antisemitism.

Friends with little-to-no interest in politics, let alone the minutiae of Labour's identity crisis, constantly talk about this, and it seems that almost his or her two cents' worth.

Here's mine. As a Jewish British voter who supports Israel, I am sick of feeling that how I vote is forever framed in the context of the Israel question.

As we know, Israel always gets more than its share of airtime - endless parliamentary debates and questions, a disproportionate number of op-eds and early day motions. Some of this is straight out prejudice, some is natural curiosity, some just the cycle of coverage generating more coverage. Whatever the cause, it is unrelenting.

This time, Corbyn's past associations - and the rhetoric of his fan club - have pushed the issue front and centre, and it's been reassuring to see so many people recognise the serious implications of a potential leader who declares Hamas and Hizbollah to be his chums . Yet it's not just this candidate and it's not just this campaign.

Where a politician stands on Israel rears its head in every election; for councils in places with no Israelis to speak of, and nationally, too. There was a whole paragraph of the Conservative manifesto devoted to Israel, yet not a word about Italy or Spain. And the last London mayoral election was framed repeatedly as a contest between a supporter of Israel and an adversary, despite the office bringing no real say in foreign policy.

To an extent, it's no surprise that Israel comes up, at least on the national level. We are trading partners, we - Britain - have a voice in Europe as the debate about the peace process rages there, and we played a central role in the path to 1948. Our politicians are going to have to talk about it unless and until there is a robust, true, two-state solution.

But I worry that we - Israel's supporters - talk about it too much, suggesting to the wider world that it's the defining issue in how we vote, and telling politicians that repeatedly stating their credentials on Israel is the main way to win our backing.

Yes, we want leaders who will support the Jewish state, rather than isolate and endanger its security. Of course that matters. But does it have to be our first and last question, as opposed to where a candidate stands on education or paying for NHS services - or indeed, on wider foreign policy issues - over which they have more control. At the JW3/JC hustings it took almost until the end for a question on a non-Israel or antisemitism topic, yet I can't believe everyone there was aligned on, say, where the top tax rate should be set.

The dream is not for an election in which candidates only talk supportively of Israel. The dream is for a campaign where candidates don't feel the need to talk about Israel period, except as one of many foreign policy questions. If that's unrealisable as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, we can at least make clear that we want to talk about other things too.

Jews don't vote as a bloc. We like to emphasise that, and if the heated arguments I've had across the Shabbat table are anything to go by, it's true. So, as one campaign comes to a close and we head towards the London mayoral election, let's stop implying only one issue matters.

November 24, 2016 23:17

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