At a time when political courage appears to be in hibernation, recent comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron stand in sharp relief. The Prime Minister said unequivocally that Israel had a right to defend itself when it initiated Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer.
Mr. Cameron made this comment in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle during the course of his hotly contested reelection campaign. He had the courage to say what many pols think but are unwilling to express: “there was a clear ‘difference’ between Gazan militant groups making ‘indiscriminate’ attacks on Israel and the response of the Israeli Defense (IDF), which was trying to ‘stop the attackers’.”
This defense of the Israeli position is right, justified and appropriate in my opinion, but nonetheless surprising that it comes in the midst of an election, and at a time when this point of view isn’t necessarily popular. Moreover, the Prime Minister contends those who engage in moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies are misguided. As he noted, there is a huge moral gulf between those who initiate attacks and those who defend themselves. Quoting Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, Cameron said, “Israel uses its weapons to defend its people and Hamas uses its people to defend its weapons.”
This is not the first time Cameron has spoken in behalf of Israel. By contrast his Labour Leader opponent Ed Miliband has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military operation in Gaza last year, calling the operation “unacceptable and unjustifiable.” If he succeeds in becoming Britain’s leader, he said Palestine would immediately be recognized. It is instructive that Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon is arguably the most avowedly pro-Palestinian political leader in the election campaign and has pledged “to support the formal recognition of a Palestinian state.”
It is, therefore, even more significant than might have been the case for Cameron to express his views on Israel. This, of course, is not to suggest that Mr. Cameron has always displayed political fortitude. It is a matter of giving credit where credit is due.
With the growth of its Muslim population and an increasingly hostile stance to Israel, including many violent encounters with demonstrators at the Israeli embassy, anti-semitism and its ugly manifestations are on the rise in the United Kingdom. In a sense most journalists will not acknowledge, Cameron has his finger in a metaphorical dyke holding back the tide of miasmic hatred.
Anti-Semitism in England once hid behind the veneer of respectability and common British deportment. That appears to be changing. The things one might have said in private are increasingly said publicly – a condition that explains the large Jewish migration to Israel.
It remains to be seen whether Cameron will be reelected. Should that not occur, the trickle of emigration could emerge as a niagra – a blow to British economic health and to a tradition that once welcomed Jews in its borders. Based on my conversation with Jewish friends in the U.K. this is not yet a moment of despair, but it is a time of uneasiness and indecision. The active pro-Palestinian position often flows into active anti-semitism; the meme that one can be anti-Israel and favorably disposed to Jews has less resonance than ever before.
Hence Cameron emerges as not merely the Conservative candidate but as a symbol of Jewish aspirations. Surely there aren’t enough Jews to get him elected and just as surely Jews do not vote as a bloc. But for those who wish to retain a semblance of tolerance and civility, he may turn out to be Britain’s best hope for the Jewish people.
Cameron’s stance may actually influence American opinion as well. Since President Obama has tilted very far in the direction of Iranian interests and, in the process, has tested the U.S. alliance with Israel. Cameron’s position shines a bright light on the criticism of the president. Inadvertently, Cameron is a voice for Israeli interests in the United States, an unexpected but welcome development.