Theresa May and the Jewish community
Theresa May’s time in Downing Street has certainly not been easy. Despite her early honeymoon, she was significantly weakened by losing her majority in the 2017 general election and it now looks like she will be remembered as the Prime Minister who unsuccessfully tried to enact Brexit.
However, she should also be remembered for her positive relations with the Jewish community. May has been engaged with the Jewish community continuously throughout her turbulent premiership. On the eve of her arrival at Downing Street she honoured her prior engagement to have dinner with the Chief Rabbi. Even as she was facing a no confidence vote by her own MPs, she came straight from a hostile marathon session in the chamber to deliver a speech to the Sara Conference on antisemitism and misogyny, and made sure she found time to address the Conservative Friends of Israel Lunch.
During her time as Home Secretary she worked closely with CST to ensure the community was adequately protected. It was here that she provided an annual grant of £13m for security at Jewish community institutions, a grant that has continued to this day and rose to £14m in 2019.
May’s government became one of the first in the world to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism and her ministers were quick to encourage local councils to do the same. While antisemitism has been so prominent within politics over the last few years, May has repeatedly spoken out; at the despatch box, in her Conference speech and at community events.
In her early attempts to shake up the education system, she originally proposed the removal of the 50% cap on faith free-school admissions. As it became clear she would not have Parliamentary support for this, her government instead introduced a way for new faith schools to be built under the voluntary aided model.
Following criticism on the UK’s votes at the UN, May’s government responded positively. Her Foreign Secretaries have called out its bias against Israel and honoured their pledge to no longer support permanent agenda items critical of Israel unless this changed. At the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, she hosted the Israeli Prime Minister and said that “We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the State of Israel.” She repeated these comments at the UJIA dinner where she spoke of the need to give “young Jewish people the confidence to be proud of their identity – as British, Jewish and Zionist too.” Her Government put an end to the false distinction between Hizballah’s so called military and political wings and proscribed the organisation in its entirety.
She stood with us against antisemitism both here and abroad, and she has been a good friend to the State of Israel. Historians will debate her legacy on Brexit, but her legacy of supporting the Jewish community is not in question.