Mixed bag of Cabinet posts in reshuffle
PRIME MINISTER Gordon Brown’s reshuffle this week yielded a mixed bag as far as Jewish and Israeli interests were concerned, with some appointments greeted with quiet satisfaction and others with mild concern.
Aside from comments on the return of Peter Mandelson, who one Israeli diplomat said had been “extremely friendly” towards Israel as EU trade commissioner, the move that drew the most response was that of Sadiq Khan as minister for Community Cohesion.
As they will have to work with him closely, none of the community leaders who spoke to the JC was willing to be quoted. But they admitted to a certain degree of concern at the arrival of the MP, who as a solicitor fought for antisemitic preacher Louis Farrakhan to be allowed to enter the UK, and who is a regular participant in events organised by the Muslim Council of Britain.
Mr Khan will be in charge of, a mong o t h e r things, implementing the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry on a nt i s e miti s m. Some observers believe that his promotion was a “balancing act” byMrBrown,who had enraged Muslim groups a day earlier by making outspoken Phil Woolas immigration minister.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband (according to his Rosh Hashanah message, now officially one of “us”) remains in post and the reshuffle gave further advancement to his brother Ed. But premature announcements on Monday on changes in the Foreign Office caused a stir when it seemed that Lord Malloch-Brown, never seen as a pro-Israel minister, would be moving sideways to take the Middle East brief.
A few hours later it emerged that Lord Malloch-Brown would remain minister for Africa and the UN. Bill Ramell becomes the new minister in charge of Middle East affairs, instead of Kim Howells.
The demotion of Dr Howells is considered a loss as he is seen as a staunch friend of Israel, as is Europe Minister Jim Murphy, who also left the Foreign Office to become Scottish Secretary.
Mr Murphy’s replacement, Caroline Flint, is also a keen supporter of Israel, but Mr Ramell is still viewed with some suspicion. As universities minister, he was in charge of the government’s campaign against the anti-Israel boycott. But sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry suggest that he was only acting on Tony Blair’s orders and even during his visit to Israel last year could be termed as at best “lukewarm”.
Another new appointment at the Foreign Office is junior minister Gillian Merron, a Jewish MP who has not been closely associated with community or Israel affairs.
Ivan Lewis, the health minister, has been moved sideways, to a junior post in the Department for International Development. Mr Lewis, a former chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Federation, and a former vice-chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, was recently embroiled in a controversy involving a female assistant.
Sadiq Khan: controversial
Gillian Merron: low-profile