A strand of comfort for Israel in a time of uncertainty

Alex Brummer (left) with chancellor Philip Hammond (right) at the Abraham Initiative dinner
Alex Brummer (left) with chancellor Philip Hammond (right) at the Abraham Initiative dinner

Running a charity dinner in these days of turmoil in Britain is a brave act. Potential donors are more concerned with keeping their money safe than giving it away.

Brexit uncertainty is a big factor in forcing people to focus on protecting their savings. The pound has fallen 15 percent since the EU referendum and under the Bank of England’s worst-case scenario it could fall a further 30 percent.

For many in the Jewish community, an even bigger fear is the possibility of a Corbyn government. The Marxist agenda with lack of respect for private property and wealth is frightening enough. But even more so for our community is the possibility of a government which still has to combat the antisemitism in its ranks.

One tangible sign of the financial disquiet about Brexit and Corbynism is the outflow of money from long-term investments such as funds into cash which is easier to move offshore. Over the past six months, some £770bn of money has been removed from UK funds because of uncertainty about economic and political conditions in Britain.

It was with knowledge and some trepidation of these political and financial cross-currents that I hosted as chairman a ‘shared society’ dinner for the UK arm of the Abraham (Fund) Initiatives last week. In spite of being what some might regard as a minority cause, seeking to ensure the better integration of Israel’s two million Arabs into society, we were able to attract a stellar cast.

Our guest of honour was Chancellor Philip Hammond, who – despite the pressure of domestic politics – put up a gallant show of support for the Prime Minister as well as our shared-society cause. The other star attraction was Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev.

Regev was in challenging territory. As a former adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, he might not seem an obvious backer of a cause which generally attracts progressive support.

His address with its emphasis on good relations with Arabs in the region and the promise of a new diplomatic mission among the Gulf state placed Israel’s understanding of Israeli-Arab culture in a broader strategic context.

The elephant in the room was the passing by the Knesset of the ‘Nation State of the Jewish People’ law. It seeks to underpin Israel’s Jewish identity but in the view of critics circumvent the broader principles of equality for Israeli-Arabs in the 1948 Declaration of Independence.

The issue was taken on directly by the Abraham Initiatives’ Israeli-Arab co-chairman and Haifa lawyer Basha’er Fahoum-Jayouss, who said the very name of this law “poses a challenge to the equality of Arab citizens of Israel, and the word of the law goes further: prioritising Jewish settlement building; demoting the status of the Arabic language; and failing to mention minority rights or the value of equality for all citizens”.

Regev believes the law is not intended to diminish the position of Israel’s Arab citizens and that the Netanyahu government has done more than its predecessors in providing resources for Arab education and development.

In his view, the law needs to be seen in international context. Jews have been under siege in France, in Hungary, in Corbyn’s Britain and now in the US following the Pittsburgh shootings. All it does is reinforce the law of return – the right of Jews to find a refuge in Israel.

At a time of grave uncertainty for Jewish communities, there may be strand of comfort in the Nation State law.

But it is also important that the Fahoum-Jayouss message, that Israel adhere to the civil rights of its own minorities, is not forgotten in the tumult.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor
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