Honouring the New Year
The Prime Minister hosted a Rosh Hashanah reception at Downing Street on Wednesday
IN THE cold and lonely early hours of June 9, as her premiership teetered on a precipice, Theresa May might have momentarily wondered whether she had missed her chance — not to increase her majority and lead Britain as Prime Minister for years to come, but to host a Downing Street reception for the great and the good of the Jewish community.
Admittedly she may not have thought that — but on Wednesday evening Mrs May did mark next week’s New Year with her first festival event for Jews at Number 10 (last year’s prospective Chanukah party having not taken place because it clashed with Christmas).
Under David Cameron these soirees became the hottest ticket in town, and his successor did not disappoint, welcoming dozens of charity workers, volunteers and Holocaust survivors for steak sandwiches and champagne.
One of the nicest sights this year, was the increased number of strictly Orthodox attendees and the crossparty guestlist. In her speech, Mrs May rightly noted there were “people from all parts of our Jewish community and all parts of our society” present.
It was Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who stole the show, nailing an anecdote about David Ben Gurion, leading to whoops of laughter in the room.
As he spoke, Mrs May had a glazed expression — perhaps no surprise at the end of another long day of Brexit broiguses and a gruelling Prime Minister’s Questions. For all her protestations, there must, surely, be times when she wishes she had packed it all in back on June 9. The name of Arts Minister John Glen was as unlikely to be on the tips of the tongues of Jewish community members as it was to feature in the pages of the JC — until this week at least.
The Tory MP for Salisbury and South Wiltshire has been slowly but surely climbing the ranks since his election in 2010. While his current ministerial brief sees him deal with issues such as libraries and tourism, it also oversees museums, and it is in this guise that he has turned his attention to Holocaust restitution. His passionate introduction at this week’s major global conference at the National Gallery befitted the importance of the event. It is often easy to mock politicians or to overlook the work they do. Day-long symposiums on war-related topics rarely generate headlines or prick the public’s conscience.
And few votes are to be won in seeking to stand as an example to the world on an issue such as returning Nazi-looted art pieces to the heirs of those murdered in Europe 70 years ago. But the government and its ministers deserve praise for doing just that.
Amid the confusion and chaos of Brexit and a hung Parliament, in Mr Glen, British Jews are offered proof that we can sometimes find friends in unlikely places and circumstances.
Sir Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, is not highly thought of among Israel supporters, largely for his efforts to impose an arms embargo in 2014.
But I understand that at a recent reception he sought out Mark Regev, the country’s ambassador to Britain, to point out he actually regards himself as a friend of the Jewish state. Apparently the push for a ban — which caused a major rift in the coalition government cabinet — was all down to the civil servants advising him. Fancy that!
It’s often easy to overlook the work politicans do
John Glen (left) and Sir Vince Cable