British Prime Minister-designate Theresa May is stepping into a position nobody seems to want, facing problems no one appears ready to resolve. In the coming months May will need to weather the greatest political storm in recent British history. She has reiterated that “Brexit means Brexit” and intends to lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union, a plan which nine out of ten British economists suggest has no favorable outcome.
Issues like the refugee crisis and the “Brexit” referendum overshadow another growing problem that the soon-to-be head of government will have to confront: anti-Semitism. The xenophobic pro-Brexit campaign has led to Britain’s worst hate crime spike on record. On the left, a string of alarming anti-Semitic events in the UK’s Labour Party caused its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to set up an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party. The same Corbyn that has funded notorious Holocaust denier Paul Eisen and has most recently compared Israel to “self-styled Islamic states or organizations”, presumably alluding to ISIS. It’s also the same Labour that just lifted the suspension of MP Naz Shaw, who among other things suggested that Israel’s Jews be deported to the United States during the 2014 Gaza War. Such incidents generate telling statistics. In a 2015 survey, 54 per cent of British Jews said they fear Jews have no future in the United Kingdom.
British Jews need reassurance that they are protected and Israel needs a friend who cares deeply about its security while supporting a two-state solution.
That is precisely why Theresa May’s appointment is important.
May’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and protecting Britain’s Jewish community has been far reaching; “Without its Jews, Britain would not be Britain,” she declared while addressing Bnei Akiva UK at a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration last year. As Home Secretary, May invested vast resources protecting Jewish schools, synagogues, and community centers. “I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say that they were fearful of remaining here in our country. And that means that we must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here in Britain”. In March, May announced that a further £13 million would be spent on providing security measures for Britain’s Jewish community.
When it comes to Israel, May knows that a viable two-state solution is the only way to preserve Israel’s democratic and Jewish character while ensuring long-term Israeli security. This was expressed eloquently in an address at the Conservative Friends of Israel reception in September, 2014.
Those of us who are sympathetic to Israel’s security predicament must always make clear that the loss of any civilian life – whatever the nationality of the victim – is an appalling tragedy. And we must remember that there will be no lasting peace or justice in the region until the Palestinian people are able to enjoy full civil rights themselves.
I say this not because I want to make a naïve and platitudinous point about the necessity of a two-state solution. When Israel faces the full range of threats I have just listed, when Israel faces enemies that are intent on its very destruction, when Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields for its rockets, when there are thousands of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, it is easy to talk about a two-state solution but almost impossible to know how to move towards one.
But that does not mean we can afford to give up. Taking even the smallest of steps towards a lasting peaceful settlement will take acts of huge political bravery and great statesmanship on both sides of the divide – but they are steps that need to be taken.
May’s words resonate and her political bravery is sorely needed. Opportunities presented, such as the Commanders For Israel’s Security report “Security First”, illustrate clear steps that will strengthen Israeli security and build confidence with Palestinians. These steps include stopping construction of settlements outside the major blocs and decreasing the visibility of occupation. On the Palestinian side, the incitement from the Palestinian Authority must stop.
It is easy to give up on a two-state solution. On the basis of yesterday, the Republican party already has – removing reference of a two-state solution from the party platform, and a majority of Israel’s current coalition have done so long ago and oppose any two-state solution.
There is no doubt about it. Theresa May is up against the odds, but she stepped up to the plate. Israeli and Palestinian politicians should learn to do the same.