May is reassuring in uncertain times

There have been few political speeches to our community as impactful as Theresa May’s address on a cold Sunday in January last year.

Only nine days before, four people had been murdered in an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris. May recognised the wave of anxiety that British Jews were experiencing about events over the Channel and at only a few days’ notice had come to our Board of Deputies meeting that day with the intention of reassuring us that anti-Semitism would be a priority of her government.

She told a packed and silent hall: “Without its Jews, Britain would not be Britain, just as without its Muslims, Britain would not be Britain; without its Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and people of other faiths, Britain would not be Britain.” She added: “I never thought I’d see the day when members of the Jewish community in the UK would say they were fearful of remaining here. And that means we must all redouble our efforts to wipe out antiSemitism here in the UK.”

It was a powerful and resonant image to see May raising a sign, boldly declaring: ‘Je suis Juif’. There was a sense that her words were not just written hurriedly by a speech-writer, but rather that May was moved by duty and conviction to stand with the Jewish community and provide reassurance. This will certainly stand both her and the country in good stead.

As a former government minister, I have an instinct for when a job is being done effectively and when the messages delivered are sincere. Since I started my job at the Board of Deputies, I have seen the woman who is now our prime minister to be an empathetic and conscientious supporter of the fight against anti-Semitism and extremism. While she joined us at annual dinners and at our Chanukah reception, she did not just show up for the big set-piece occasions.

Last September, she met a Board of Deputies delegation where we discussed the refugee crisis, anti-Semitism and hate crime. She said afterwards that she was “united” with us in “beating the extremists who wish to divide us”.

The Board is a non-party political organisation and the community we represent is politically diverse. However, on policy issues raised by us, May has always had a willingness to act in our interests. We can be assured that this will continue with her as prime minister and we look forward to working with her on matters that are important to our community.

About the Author
Gillian is Chief Executive, Board of Deputies
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