Does the British foreign secretary, the child of Holocaust survivors and New Labour wonk, have the “icicle in the heart” it takes to become prime minister?
David Miliband is known for his low-key, wonkish public-speaking style. But at this fall’s Labour Party Conference, the British foreign secretary was angry—and didn’t hide it. “It makes me sick,” he told those gathered, referring to the Conservative Party’s membership in a European Parliament coalition that boasts known anti-Semites.
In June, ahead of Britain’s general election next year, the Conservatives joined the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, chaired by Michal Kaminski of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, who has insisted that Poles should not apologize to Jews for atrocities committed during the Holocaust until Jews apologize to Poles for atrocities committed by Jewish soldiers in the Soviet Army. Another member, Roberts Zile of Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom Party, partakes in an annual ceremony commemorating a Latvian SS unit.
Miliband made the Conservatives’ unsavory partners a main talking point of his address. He decried Kaminski’s “anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi past” and accused Conservatives of giving up their values for short-term political advantage. “No one in the Tory party batted an eyelid. What do they say? All you need for evil to triumph is for good men to remain silent.”
The outburst was uncharacteristic. Miliband is the child of Holocaust survivors—and at least 80 members of his family perished—but he is also a man who until recently has said almost nothing publicly about his Jewish heritage.
As the point man for British diplomacy, the youthful-looking 44-year-old has managed to find a balance between a British vision of foreign policy and that of the United States and steer a straight course through furors set off by the United Nations’ Goldstone Report, Britain’s University and College Union’s efforts to boycott Israeli academics and the Scottish government’s release of the only man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing. And as his speech at the Labour Party conference showed, he can, when he wants to, throw a punch. Acknowledged as a bright light of the next generation of Labour leaders, Miliband is frequently spoken of as a future prime minister.
The story of how David Miliband ascended to these heights is a tale of historical forces that shaped Jewish life in Europe. Like many Jews, his paternal grandfather, Samuel, a leather worker, left Poland after World War I, eventually settling in Brussels. But on May 10, 1940, the Nazis overran Belgium. Samuel and his 16-year-old son Adolphe walked for two days to the port of Ostend, where they boarded the last boat for Britain. Left behind were Samuel’s wife and daughter, who fled to a village in the countryside, successfully hiding from the Gestapo.