With the Conservative Party leadership contest in the UK down to two candidates, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, whoever wins will move into 10 Downing Street in September with a pro-Israel record.
As one British political insider said this week, from an Israeli perspective, the two finalists were probably the best candidates of all those who announced they were running earlier this month.
This morning I met with Israeli Finance Minister @AvigdorLiberman to discuss our ambitious UK-Israel Free Trade Agreement.I also offered my condolences over last night's terror attack and assured him that the UK stands with the people of Israel against terrorism. pic.twitter.com/8Nk1zL6ob4— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) March 30, 2022
Lord Stuart Polak, honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “I have worked for 30 years on the UK-Israel political relationship and I am very confident that the golden era that we have will continue under either leadership.”
“[Prime Minister] Boris Johnson is an outstanding friend of Israel and has been for a long period, but these two will continue that tradition,” he added.
“[Prime Minister] Boris Johnson is an outstanding friend of Israel and has been for a long period, but these two will continue that tradition.”Lord Stuart Polak
That being said, Liz Truss has a much longer record when it comes to Israel and foreign policy more broadly, as she is currently foreign secretary and served as secretary for international trade before that.
Israel is our great friend and fellow freedom-loving democracy. Great meeting President @Isaac_Herzog to discuss:✅ Deepening our economic partnership, inc. trade and investment ✅ Closer tech ties and ensuring the free world shapes tech standards✅ Security & defence pic.twitter.com/N5oLM9fpKS— Liz for Leader (@trussliz) November 22, 2021
Truss and Prime Minister Yair Lapid have built a good relationship over the past year, during most of which Lapid was foreign minister, and the two signed a strategic plan for their countries, involving cyber and other technological cooperation, as well as trade and defense. Lapid has praised Truss for being supportive of Israel and for her stances on Iran.
The foreign secretary also supported the UK’s move to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization.
A look at Truss’s tweets from the past year show that she condemned numerous terrorist attacks against Israel in the past year, though she never mentioned their Palestinian perpetrators.
As international trade secretary, Truss also prioritized a free trade deal with Israel as the UK was working on many such deals post-Brexit.
While the UK still supports a return to the 2015 Iran deal, Israeli diplomatic sources have said that the UK and Truss have been understanding of the threat to Israel and the region and tough on the Islamic Republic.
At the same time, the UK paid a £400 million ransom to the mullahs in Iran to release British hostages Nazarin Zaghari-Radcliffe and Annosheh Ashoori.
Truss met with President Isaac Herzog and Economy Minister Orna Barbivai this year.
“Israel is our great friend and fellow freedom-loving democracy,” she wrote in a tweet following her meeting with Herzog.
In an op-ed for the UK’s Jewish News last week, Truss said “many in the Jewish community feel that the bar is too high for bring[ing] forward convictions for antisemitism... As prime minister, I will do everything in my power to ensure that those spewing clear Jew hatred will be prosecuted quickly within the full force of the law.”
Truss also tweeted against antisemitism on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and expressed support for the Jewish community after the January attack on the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, by a British-Pakistani Muslim.
Truss is “outstanding at the Foreign Office,” Polak said. “She challenged a lot of their positions and proved herself to be a very good friend and built a very good relationship with [Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid in a short time.”
“As foreign secretary, [Truss] moved the dial in terms of understanding Israel’s relationship with the UK,” Polak added.
Sunak’s limited Israel portfolio is revealed in the fact that he has just one tweet in his entire seven-year political career with the word “Israel” in it.
“This morning, I met with Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to discuss our ambitious UK-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” he wrote. “I also offered my condolences over last night’s terror attack and assured him that the UK stands with the people of Israel against terrorism.”
A search for tweets by Sunak about Jews, antisemitism, or even Iran turned up empty.
Sunak has been under-secretary of state for local government, chief secretary to the Treasury and, most recently, chancellor of the exchequer, none of which would necessarily involve him in the UK-Israel relationship.
As under-secretary for local government, however, he moved in 2018 to reinstate a ban on boycotts of Israel by local councils, after a court upheld the policy following a challenge by pro-Palestinian activists.
Sunak wrote in The Jewish News last week that he supports a bill extending the prohibition against BDS to all public bodies and called the boycotts a form of antisemitism. Beyond that, he did not mention any policies relating to Israel.
United Against Nuclear Iran speculated that Sunak’s “domestic emphasis on Britain’s finances might sway him toward a pro-trade rationale and attendant support for the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal)... A Sunak government would suggest a continuation of his former boss’s [Boris Johnson] Iran policy: ongoing support for the JCPOA as a ‘least bad’ option to restrain and possibly moderate Iran in the long term.”
Sunak, who is Hindu, wrote in the Jewish News that freedom of religion in the UK is “incomplete,” because, while he feels safe when he visits his temple, that often is not the case for Jews in their community institutions.
“I am extremely concerned by the rise in reports of antisemitic hate,” he wrote. “As prime minister, I will continue the work of this government to support Jewish communities across the country...This is not an issue to be equivocal about: Everyone across Parliament and the country must take a robust position on eliminating antisemitism and I am determined to ensure this scourge on our society is eradicated.”
Polak said that Sunak was “very forceful in promoting anti-boycott policies as minister for local government, and was very helpful in the Treasury. All the people around him are good friends of Israel, and he has shown interest in the subject.”