Community leaders this week paid tribute to two key ministers who have worked closely with Anglo-Jewry since the last election and left the Cabinet in David Cameron’s wide-ranging reshuffle, writes Justin Cohen.
William Hague quit as Foreign Secretary after four years at the helm of the UK’s international policy, to be replaced by Philip Hammond, while Michael Gove was replaced as Education Secretary by Nicky Morgan.
Gove was seen as one of the biggest friends of the community and Israel in the Government, but attracted criticism from within the teaching profession.
Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers reacted to the news by attacking “his pursuit of the unnecessary and often unwanted free schools and academies programme, the failure to address the school place crisis and endless ill-thought out reforms to examinations and the curriculum”.
But figures within the community praised his contribution, particularly over free schools.
Adam Dawson, who helped to set up Etz Chaim Primary in Mill Hill, said: “Michael Gove is a great supporter of faith schools and, thanks to his innovative free school programme, many thousands of children across the country are benefitting from the outstanding provision they have brought to the education world.”
Under his leadership, plans that many feared would make it nigh on impossible to find time to teach Hebrew in Jewish primary schools were scrapped.
The Board of Deputies’ Laura Marks said Hague’s frequent visits to Jewish schools and his willingness to listen to the community’s needs had been appreciated, while ZF director Alan Aziz expressed hope Morgan “will maintain Michael Gove’s focus on the threat posed by radical interpretations of Islam being promoted in our schools”.
During Hague’s time at the Foreign Office, the UK speedily changed the law of universal jurisdiction following efforts by pro-Palestinian supporters to have Israeli officials arrested.
And while settlements provided a source of tension between London and Jerusalem, bilateral trade has rocketed and Hague last year described bilateral relations as “stronger, warmer and more full of promise than ever”.
Many of Israel’s friends refused to forget his labelling, while in Opposition, of Israel’s actions during the Second Lebanon War as “disproportionate”.
But just hours before the shock announcement of his departure, in his final public act in the job, the former Tory leader declined to repeat the accusation while taking questions from MPs on the current Middle East crisis.
He will be succeeded by former defence secretary Philip Hammond. Alex Brummer, chairman of the Board of Deputies’ international division, said: “Hague has long been a good friend of the Jewish community who has worked tirelessly to support negotiations towards a two-state solution and a wider peace in the Middle East and a staunch supporter of the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the Geneva talks.”
Conservative Friends of Israel director Stuart Polak, who has travelled to Israel with Hague six times over the past 20 years, said: “While we didn’t agree on everything, I can honestly say he truly understands what Israel is about and the complexities of the Middle East.”
Under Hammond, he added, the UK-Israel defence relationship has “never been better”. Former Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, who has served as Middle East Minister for less than a year, also leaves his post at the Foreign Office.
He is replaced by Tobias Ellwood, who visited Israel in 2009 with Conservative Friends of Israel. Julian Brazier has been reshuffled to the Department of Defence.
Two years ago, he wrote to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, implying that Israeli activity in the West Bank was ”playing a major role in inciting the anger felt in Pakistan and Afghanistan”.