By Rabbi Yitzchok Schochet for COLlive.com
Each time I attend the BBC’s Big Questions on a Sunday morning, we have a vigorous warm up debate before the live televised debate. The other week the “pre-debate” was all about the first leadership debate that had taken place just a few days prior.
The point I made, reflecting on how well Nick Clegg (leader of the Liberal Democrats) did in the polls as a result, was how fickle the British were, falling for image and sound-byte and ignoring substance. “Most people,” I argued, “went for the most charismatic character without even knowing the content of their manifestos.”
This argument met with resounding applause from the audience. The election result however has proven me (and that audience) very wrong. The Lib Dems actually scored less than in the last election and we can all breathe a sigh of relief as a result. Their position on immigration is vague, their experience with the economy is nil, and their stance on Israel borders on Anti-Semitism.
Jenny Tonge, their former spokesperson for health, was not ousted from the party, even if demoted, for her deeply offensive slur against the Israeli rescue operation in Haiti (suggesting that they were involved in organ trafficking), and the Lib Dem manifesto calls for an arms embargo on Israel.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has always retained close ties to the Jewish community (something he inherited from Blair perhaps?) and Labour has proven itself reasonably well disposed toward Israel.
Of course everybody hates what’s happened to the economy and pretty much blames him for it, hence voted more to oust him than necessarily the particular Member of Parliament of their individual constituency, many who were very amenable toward Jews over the past five plus years.
Take Hendon as a case in point. Incumbent MP Andrew Dismore did many wonderful things for the constituency, both Jewish and non-Jewish. He supported National Holocaust Day, Eruv installments, and several other matters of Jewish concern.
He even came down to meet with myself and the Mill Hill Synagogue lay leadership to discuss our intended synagogue rebuilding plans, after we were rejected on the first round. That Matthew Offord, the Tory MP, claimed victory by a mere 106 votes, speaks volumes.
Would the Conservatives be favourable toward Israel? Who is to know? Between the two leading parties my view is, “better the devil you know.” Of course when voting we need to concern ourselves with more than just one issue, big though it may be.
Hence a merger of more than one party might just be the answer this country is looking for. The tension and diversity might strike the right balance to keep the economy on track, deal appropriately with immigration concerns, and keep the Anti-Israel / Anti-Semites at bay.
The Sages of old wisely counselled: “Pray for the welfare of the government, without which we would consume one another.”
This of course implies that we need to be involved in the political process, because nationally and internationally we are affected by its outcome.
But they also caution elsewhere, “do not be obsequious to government,” which plain and simply put means that no matter the end result, be weary. You really never know who you can trust.
As for me, I didn’t vote – I’m Canadian.
— Rabbi Yitzchok Schochet is Rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue, a member of the Chief rabbi’s cabinet and chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue.