Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party in Britain who wants to be Prime Minister, is on a trip to Israel that many see as a political pre-requisite to 10 Downing Street. During his first two days of travel, Miliband has been proclaiming his Jewish roots and pro-Israel cred.
The Financial Times notes the political needs he is serving:
Conservatives say lack of foreign experience is a serious failing in an aspiring prime minister
The trip has been following a predictable pattern. Miliband visited Sderot to meet people who are subject to rocket attacks from Gaza. Notice that several tweets ask why Miliband isn’t visiting people under occupation in Gaza.
Miliband also visited Yad Vashem and spoke of his grandmother emigrating to Israel.
But he was more critical of the settlements than any American pol could be. The Guardian reports:
“I do believe the growth in settlements is a serious issue for the peace process and needs to be addressed,” he said, adding that they were illegal under international law.
The Guardian says that at Hebrew University, he ducked the Zionism issue.
He refused to be drawn on whether he considered himself a Zionist, despite the question being asked three times during an hour-long question and answer session.
Though this statement is pretty Zionistic:
“For me, Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people, and the reason I put it in those terms is because it is not just a theoretical idea for me, it’s my family’s experience.”
Miliband’s note at Yad Vashem cites his family’s loss in the Holocaust, but thankfully not a word about Israel.
The trip was announced in February, and Britain’s Jewish Chronicle noted the political angle:
The trip is scheduled to be one of the Opposition leader’s first major foreign trips and will come a year before the General Election.
He told guests at the Community Security Trust’s annual dinner on Wednesday: “I feel more part of the Jewish community than at any other time in my life”.
The Labour leader also emphasised the importance of supporting Israel and recalled how the country “provided sanctuary” to his grandmother after the Holocaust.
Miliband is from an assimilated family and is married to a non-Jew (who signed his note at Yad Vashem). He began publicly embracing his Judaism a couple of years back, and included Woody Allen and Israel in that identity:
When I was seven, my family went to visit my grandmother in Tel Aviv…
My parents defined themselves not by their Jewishness but by their politics. They assimilated into British life outside the Jewish community. There was no bar mitzvah, no Jewish youth group; sometimes I feel I missed out.
And yet, I did not miss out on many other aspects of Jewishness: my mum got me into Woody Allen; my dad taught me Yiddish phrases (there is no better language for idiomatic expressions, some of them unrepeatable). And my grandmother cooked me chicken soup and matzo balls.
Although my wife Justine is not Jewish, my Jewishness is part of me, so when we got married last year, we broke a glass at our wedding, an old Jewish ritual.
We’re just on day 2 of the visit. Count on Miliband to visit Ramallah and East Jerusalem and issue some anodyne statements about Palestinian aspirations.
(And who will put Miliband’s visit together with former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s statements about the political importance of the Israel lobby?)