British Labour party leader Ed Miliband said Friday he hopes to become the United Kingdom’s first Jewish prime minister in the next elections, and won’t be held back by anti-Semitism still present in Britain.
Speaking during his visit to Jerusalem, Miliband, whose family is of Polish-Jewish origin, was quoted in the British media saying that he considers himself a “Jewish atheist.”
“I have a particular faith. I describe myself as a Jewish atheist. I’m Jewish by birth origin and it’s a part of who I am,” the Daily Mail quoted him saying. “I don’t believe in God, but I think faith is a really, really important thing to a lot of people. It provides nourishment for lots of people.”
The British opposition leader said that if his party wins the next UK general elections, which are scheduled for May 2015, he would seek to tackle lingering anti-Semitism in the UK.
“That’s one of the great things about Britain. There are elements of anti-Semitism, [and] it is really, really important to tackle those and have no truck with them,” the Telegraph quoted him saying. “I have said I hope that I’ll be the first Jewish prime minister if we win the election, but it is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.”
Miliband, 44, was in Israel for a three-day visit during which he met with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and Israel’s chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni. His visit was his first major foreign trip since he became the leader of the opposition in 2010.
In comments reported by Britain’s Sky News Saturday, he criticized Israeli settlement building during a visit to a Bedouin encampment in the West Bank, saying, “The more we see an expansion of settlements, the more it becomes difficult to construct that (Palestinian) state.”
During a meeting with Israeli students at Hebrew University earlier in the trip, he said he considered Israel to be the “homeland for the Jewish people,” but stopped short of calling himself a Zionist. He did, however, speak about his personal connection to the state of Israel.
“I come here very conscious of my family’s history and also with a deep sense of gratitude to Israel for they did for my grandmother,” Miliband said. “Israel was a sanctuary for her from the most indescribable grief. So it’s a personal journey for me as well.”
Miliband’s aspiration to become the UK’s first Jewish prime minister may not be strictly feasible, however. Benjamin Disraeli, Great Britain’s two-time prime minister during the mid-19th century, was born to Jewish parents, although he was baptized at the age of 12.
While he was a practicing Anglican during his adult life, he nonetheless identified himself as a Jew. Disraeli famously rebutted an opponent in parliament who raised his Jewish heritage saying, “Yes, I am a Jew and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.