The Tories aren’t dis­cussing Jewish is­sues — blame Brexit


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.

Ef­forts to or­gan­ise in­ter­views with Boris John­son have been de­railed’

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