By Adrian Needlestone, journalist and author
Jews are the perennial outsiders. So when a politician makes eyes at the Jewish community, its leaders tend to roll over like a puppy dog demanding their tummies be tickled.
To continue with this canine analogy, they say once bitten twice shy. But it’s not so with us.
From experience, we learn nothing. Put simply we just want to be loved. Not in itself an ignoble aspiration.
But after pledging undying love and support for the Jewish community in general and Israel in particular, Ed Miliband jumped ship before the first Israeli boots hit the ground in Gaza.
I can understand why Jews, especially Jewish Labour voters, feel hurt. Especially his declaration in Israel that he was one of us.
In reality there is no reason why we should be bemused and hurt. Miliband has form. When Mahmoud Abbas decided to apply to the UN for membership rather than negotiate directly with Israel, Miliband was all for it and tried to convince the Government to back the application.
Now he is haranguing David Cameron in true political opportunist fashion for not condemning Israel. Fortunately Cameron is made of sterner stuff.
We should have been more wary. We have been through it all before with Ken Livingstone. Just a year before his unsuccessful attempt to achieve a hat trick of wins as London mayor, he was invited by the great and the good of the Progressive movement (Reform and Liberal) to a clear-the-air meeting at the Sternberg Centre, in order to examine ways of how a new alliance could be forged between Livingstone and progressive political Jews.
Livingstone, a consummate professional down to his fingertips, took little time in getting the assembled audience eating out of his hand. At the end of the meeting everyone was pleased. The hosts thought Livingstone had promised them everything while in fact he promised them nothing.
It was the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. All could see he was naked but no one would shout it out. When I wrote as much for Pro-Zion News, Rabbi Tony Bayfield took me to task. That was in 2007. History, to our detriment, has long pronounced on this one.
Ed Miliband is a far more dangerous foe than Livingstone. To start with he is not a leading light in the Labour party but the leader of the Labour Party. He knows exactly where he wants to go and will take some stopping.
He has already climbed over the twitching political corpse of his brother David to the party’s top job, so a Jewish community he has never identified with poses no moral problem whatsoever.
Things were once so different between The Jews and Labour – in the balmy days of the fifties and sixties in London’s East End. Some state schools in this heavily populated Jewish area were designated by the Labour Party, which ran the area like a fiefdom, as Jewish.
Pupils there, Jewish or not, got kosher school dinners, the schools closed early on Friday in the winter for the Sabbath and all major Jewish holidays were observed.
This understanding stretched to adults who were allowed to open their shops and stalls in Petticoat Lane on a Sunday. Mind you this did not stop many of these self same stall holders applying for and obtaining trading licenses to open in Whitechapel market on Saturdays.
So what do we do? Nowadays both the Tories and Labour aim for the same middle ground. Changing allegiance from one to the other is not the trauma it once was. When I was a boy in Stepney, mothers spoke of the Tories in the same hushed tones they once used for the Cossacks. Now in many respects its hard to tell Labour and the Tories apart.
Ironically in his fourth and final attempt to become London’s Mayor, Livingstone found that though the capital had swung back to Labour, votes in North West London, where most of the capital’s Jews live, went disproportionately against him and he was defeated. This defeat contains a lesson for next years General Election.
It might mean Jews will have to bite their lips and vote against Andrew Dismore – probably the greatest non-Jewish friend we have ever had in Parliament. He will contest a marginal seat in the borough of Barnet and victory in seats like this could put Miliband in Downing street.
The Liberal Democrats are of course no third way. Not the party that persists in giving one last chance to the serial offender David Ward.
A majority for Miliband would be a disaster for the Jews and this country’s relationship with Israel. For the moment at least let’s be content with fond memories, all be they historic, of Disraeli.
- Adrian Needlestone spent 25 years as a journalist, working for the Evening Standard, News of the World, the Fleet Street News Agency and the BBC