We’ve all seen pictures of Ed Miliband perching timorously at the top table with Barack Obama, but something more significant has come out of his trip to Washington. The Huffington Post is reporting that he has come out on behalf of his party against Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.
“We oppose the Israeli incursion into Gaza,” he said.
The situation in Gaza was one of the subjects he discussed during his brief meeting with the US President and National Security adviser Susan Rice at the White House yesterday.
He added: “I don’t think it will help win Israel friends… I don’t think this will make the situation better. I fear it will make it worse.”
Miliband had already expressed concern over the weekend about Israel’s actions, condemning the “horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians” although adding, “I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks.” He opposed the “further escalation of violence”, but his comments in Washington are the first time he has outright opposed Israel’s methods.
Firming up his stance on this is a significant move, because he has hitherto been quite ambivelant and unclear about his attitude towards Israel, and even when referring to his own Jewish heritage.
For example, last year he caused much confusion by reportedly declaring himself a “Zionist” before his office hastily said his comments were “misinterpreted” and tried to distance Miliband from the story, insisting he hadn’t called himself a Zionist. This led to Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges writing a piece with the headline, “Ed Miliband’s Zionism lasted less than 24 hours. But he’s made it clear he is a friend of Israel, and that’s enough”, and, as reported in the Jewish Chronicle at the time, Miliband’s office did assert that the Labour leader had “made absolutely clear that he is a strong supporter of Israel”.
Also, earlier this year, he visited Israel and met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a trip during which he made the widely-reported comment: “I hope that I’ll be the first Jewish prime minister”. This showed a disregard for history (Benjamin Disraeli came from a Jewish background, although converted to Christianity before becoming PM), and also jarred slightly with his public assertions that he is an atheist.
Miliband’s latest comments about Israel ring with a conviction that has evaded him so far on the subject, and are also a rather brave move considering his own personal attempts to define his Jewish identity and relationship with Israel.