Pro-Palestine efforts for naught in British election


LONDON, June 11 (JTA) — British Jewish leaders are relieved at the failure of a Muslim campaign aimed at unseating pro-Israel legislators.

Votesmart, a Web site run by Muslim volunteers, campaigned against a number of legislators who belong to Labor Friends of Israel, a lobbying bloc associated with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s victorious governing party.

All the targeted candidates won re-election in the June 7 general election, many by larger margins than they garnered in the last elections in 1997.

“The Muslim campaign had no effect at all,” said Barry Kosmin, director of London’s Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a think tank.

Votesmart’s emphasis on Palestine, to the exclusion of all other issues during the campaign, proved ineffective, Kosmin said.

“Foreign policy, and especially Palestine, doesn’t play any role in British elections,” he said.

Mike Whine, a spokesman for the Community Security Trust, an organization that deals with Jewish security issues, agreed.

“The election seems to suggest that Muslim voters are more concerned with national issues” than foreign ones, “which is to be welcomed,” he told JTA.

Mike Gapes, a target of Votesmart, said the campaign may actually have backfired.

Gapes, the vice chairman of Labor Friends of Israel, was rated a minus 5 — the lowest possible rating — on Votesmart’s online guide.

Despite the rating, he said, “I had very large support from Muslims in my community.”

“Quite a lot of Muslims decided they wanted nothing to do with this and actively campaigned for me,” he said.

The Muslims affiliated with the site campaigned so heavily against Gapes that on one occasion police were called in to keep peace between the lawmaker’s supporters and his opponents, he said.

“They campaigned outside mosques and on polling day at polling stations,” which is against the law, Gapes said. Police ordered the Muslim campaigners to move away from the polling station.

While pro-Israel activists are pleased by the overall result — a repeat of Labor’s landslide 1997 victory — there is concern about the success of the far-right British National Party in the north of England.

The BNP captured 16.4 percent of the vote in Oldham West — the best-ever result for a far-right party in England — and 11 percent in neighboring Oldham East.

A depressed industrial town, Oldham East was the scene of riots between Muslims of Pakistani origin and white residents in the past few months.

“Oldham shows the effect a racist party can have on a despondent electorate,” the CST’s Whine said.

There were few other surprises for Jewish candidates or voters in an election that Kosmin characterized as “amazing, in that it was a complete rerun of 1997.”

One of the country’s most prominent Jewish politicians, former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, failed to recapture the Edinburgh seat he lost to Labor in 1997.

Daniel Finkelstein, a top strategist for the Conservative Party, lost his bid to win a seat.

And Rudi Vis, the Labor legislator for heavily Jewish Finchley and Golders Green, was re-elected comfortably despite his opposition to an eruv — a wire boundary allowing Orthodox Jews to carry belongings on Shabbat — in the district.

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