When both Miliband brothers threw their hats in the ring for the British Labor
Party leadership four months ago, it was suggested that the party could save
itself all the upheavals of a contest by leaving the choice to the person who
knows them best: their mother. Was it to be David, the Oxford- and MIT- educated
former foreign secretary, and elder of the two brothers? Or, Ed, the Oxford- and
Harvard- educated former energy secretary? And did it matter either way? Aren’t
they two milipeas from the same pod?
But they are indeed different. David is
energetic, cerebral and forceful, and a vigorous debater. His mentor, Tony
Blair, has compared him to the most skilled soccer player in England. (This was
meant to be a compliment.) Ed is a close ally of Gordon Brown. He has a
reputation of being easier to get on with (and was once voted “sexiest MP.”)
David was, until this year’s general parliamentary election, which his party
lost, the youngest ever Jewish foreign secretary in Britain. (There have been
two others.) At the tender age of 42, he became secretary of state for foreign
and commonwealth affairs (the formal title for the same job – we Brits indulge
in a little too much antiquarian pomposity) under Gordon Brown. David has
greater ministerial experience of the two, and won plaudits for not dividing the
party in his repeatedly abstaining from challenging the unpopular Brown for the
leadership, confident that he would succeed him peacefully, sooner or
However, Ed has run off with his brother’s birthright, winning an
election by a mere milipede’s foot, a margin of 1.3 percent. “It’s Eds!” one
newspaper announced, hinting at the two brothers being the heads (’Eds) and
tails of the same coin. In spite of press preference for David, the young Ed
(he’s only 40) has beaten Prime Minister David Cameron in the first opinion poll
on their respective popularity. Ed has successfully wooed the left wing of his
party (winning his leadership election through trade union support). He will now
need to move toward the center to try to defeat the Conservatives as soon as
LAST YEAR, when an expenses scandal exploded, showing some
British MPs to be helping themselves to excessive amounts from the public
treasury trough, Ed emerged as one of the “saints”: He’d claimed far less than
he was entitled to. Ed is likely to become prime minister one day, but will he
be good for Israel? He has prudently avoided making any detailed public
statement on the Middle East – a hot potato here in the UK, apart from
dissatisfaction with the war against Iraq.
His background however can
give us clues as to his likely sympathies.
The brothers’ parents are both
refugees from the Holocaust. Their mother, Marion Kozak, was born in Poland and
supports left-wing Jewish groups including Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
She studied under their father, Ralph Miliband, a famous Marxist theoretician,
born in Belgium, himself the son of refugees from Poland. Ralph’s original name
was Adolphe. He changed it after fleeing to the UK from the Nazi advance into
Belgium in 1940, with the help of forged papers. He died in 1994.
brother has been active in the Jewish community or has a Jewish partner, but
they have made a point of visiting Jewish family in Israel and Moscow. On a
recent visit there, a cousin told Ed of two of their great uncles committing
suicide in Poland during the Holocaust rather than being taken to Nazi
extermination camps; a third was killed by German troops. More than 80 members
of the family are thought to have died in those years, many in
Ed has described himself in the hustings as a “critical friend
of Israel” and has called for the end of the blockade on Gaza.
maiden speech as party leader last week, he added “I will always defend the
right of Israel to exist in peace and security. But Israel must accept and
recognise in its actions the Palestinian right to statehood. That is why the
attack on the Gaza flotilla was so wrong....The government must step up and work
with our partners in Europe and around the world to help bring a just and
lasting peace to the Middle East.”
Some Jews always fear that other Jews
in public office will adopt anti-Israel views to prove they are not giving
preferential treatment to their coreligionists.
The Miliband brothers,
however, speak openly of their Jewish origins, and of their love for Britain,
being born of its giving shelter to their parents from the Nazis.
as British Foreign Secretary, was very forceful in condemning and organising
sanctions against Iranian President Ahmadinijad’s anti-Zionist rhetoric and
drive for nuclear weaponry. David has also been a powerful influence on his
younger brother and continues to support him. I believe Edward Miliband will
adopt a similar stance and, additionally, back peace moves in the Middle
He will endeavour to be fair to both sides.
The writer is an
international attorney and former fellow of the Harry S. Truman Institute for