Is he good for Israel?

The new leader of Britain’s Labor Party, Ed Miliband, has avoided making any detailed statement on the ME, but his background may give us some insight.

Miliband Brothers 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Miliband Brothers 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
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 later.
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 possible.
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.
Neither 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 Auschwitz.
Ed has described himself in the hustings as a “critical friend of Israel” and has called for the end of the blockade on Gaza.
In his 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.
David, 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 East.
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 Peace.