Following his surprise victory in last week’s general election, British Prime Minister David Cameron has named his new cabinet, which includes two well-known supporters of Israel.
The first all-Conservative cabinet in eighteen years (during his first term as Prime Minister, Cameron was forced into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who were decimated in last week’s elections) includes a record number of women ministers. Among them is Theresa May, who returns to the post of Home Secretary. Included in the brief for that job is combating the rise in anti-Semitism; speaking in the wake of the January 2015 terrorist atrocities in Paris, during which a kosher supermarket was attacked, May declared that the UK had to redouble its efforts to “wipe out anti-Semitism,” adding that she “never thought I’d see the day when members of the Jewish community” would be “fearful” of staying in the UK.
Two of the Conservative Party’s most vocal supporters of Israel also find themselves in the cabinet: Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, has been promoted to Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, while Robert Halfon enters the cabinet for the first time as minister without portfolio. Halfon has also been appointed deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.
As well as frequently expressing his support for the State of Israel, Gove has rounded on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the UK. Speaking to the Holocaust Education Trust shortly after the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Gove explicitly compared the BDS campaign to the boycotts of Jewish stores and goods imposed by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
“We need to remind people that what began with a campaign against Jewish goods in the past ended with a campaign against Jewish lives,” Gove said. At the same time, he denounced those pro-Palestinian activists who equate Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians with the Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews. Such analogies are a “deliberate attempt to devalue the unique significance of the Holocaust,” Gove argued.
Views like these have made Gove something of a bete noire on the British left. “[H]is hawkish, neo-con approach to security is an area where Gove is appreciated by the Tory right,” sniffed The Guardian in its review of the new cabinet.
Even so, Gove is one case in which the term “neo-con” has been deployed with a degree of accuracy, rather than for the purposes of abuse. In 2004, Gove published an essay in Irwin Stelzer’s collection The Neocon Reader entitled “The Very British Roots of Neconservatism.” In the passages dealing with foreign policy, Gove was critical of “traditional Conservative realists,” writing, “Neoconservatives are…more inclined than Conservative realists to countenance interventions to support democratic forces and liberal trends or to prevent tyrannical abuses.”
Robert Halfon, meanwhile, is a rising star in the Conservative Party, having reinforced the party’s appeal to blue-collar voters through a campaign for lower gas prices. “During the election campaign he spent hours each day sitting by the side of busy roads in his constituency with placards, urging voters to send him back to parliament,” the Jewish Chronicle reported today. “The former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel was rewarded with a vastly increased majority, up to 8,350 from 4,925 five years ago.”
The Chronicle added: “Last October, following the historic House of Commons vote on Palestinian statehood, Mr Halfon criticized the efforts of pro-Israel campaigners in Britain. He said Jewish communal organisations had failed to move with the times and challenged British Jews to make a fundamental revolution in how they support Israel in public.”
All in all, Cameron’s cabinet lines up as arguably the most sympathetic to Israel in Europe. Over the coming months, both the nuclear negotiations with Iran, along with the Palestinian public relations offensive around unilateral recognition, may well result in Britain’s government—like that in Canada—staking out explicitly pro-Israel positions.
[Photo: BBC / YouTube]