UK Jews pay tribute to outgoing PM for being 'a true friend of Israel'
By JONNY PAUL, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday he will step down on June 27 after a decade in office.
He made the announcement at a meeting with Labor Party activists in his constituency, after earlier briefing the cabinet on his plans.
In an emotional speech, Blair acknowledged his government had not always "lived up to high expectations," but said he had been very lucky to lead "the greatest nation on earth."
Blair said he had been premier for 10 years, which was "long enough" for the country and for himself.
He said he had entered office with "high hopes and I leave it with high hopes for the future."
"I ask you to accept one thing: Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," Blair said. "I've been very lucky and very blessed, and this country is a blessed nation. The British are special. The world knows it. We know it is the greatest nation on earth."
On June 27, he will tender his resignation from the Prime Minister's Office to the queen. He will remain in office until a new leader is elected, widely expected to be Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. The process of replacing him will take about seven weeks.
Blair vowed to remain focused on the job of running the country until he steps down.
Conservative leader David Cameron said the country faced seven weeks of paralysis until Labor chooses a new leader. He accused Blair of running a government of the "living dead."
The Liberal Democrats have tabled a parliamentary motion urging the queen to dissolve Parliament and call a general election.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the Jewish community, paid tribute to a "friend and ally."
Since becoming prime minister in 1997, the Jewish community has been able to look at Blair as a friend and ally, "addressing our concerns and defending our interests, both domestically and on the international stage," the board said in a statement.
Fourteen state-aided Jewish schools have been establishment over the past 10 years. They have responded and contributed to an upsurge in demand for places at Jewish schools, the statement said.
"These schools have become models of success, demonstrating their value and also the community's ethos of hard work and traditional values, repaying the investment made by government in the sector," board president Henry Grunwald was quoted as saying.
During Blair's premiership, Holocaust studies have become firmly established on the national curriculum in high schools, significant funds have been pledged to facilitate visits by pupils to Auschwitz, and Holocaust Memorial Day has become a national annual event, Grunwald said.
"These initiatives, individually and collectively, not only contribute enormously to keeping the memory of the Shoah and its millions of victims alive, but also further the understanding of the dangers of intolerance and lessons that must be learned by everyone," he said.
"The prime minister has also proved to be a true friend of Israel, in the search for peace and in the dark days of the conflict that engulfed the region last summer," Grunwald said.
"Mr. Blair's clear understanding of the existential threats faced by Israel and its desire for peace with its neighbors will be long remembered," he added.
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