Expat Israeli aims for Parliament, via London municipal elections

Expat Israeli aims for Parliament, via London municipal elections

Tal Ofer sees his run for local council as an important stepping stone on the road to Westminster

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Tal Ofer at No. 10 Downing Street while working for an MP. (courtesy)
Tal Ofer at No. 10 Downing Street while working for an MP. (courtesy)

If Tal Ofer has his way, within 10 years he may be the first Israeli elected as a British Member of Parliament. This would come, of course, after his 2019 stint as a London representative in the European parliament. But for now, Ofer is starting modestly on his quest to become the first Israeli to make a mark in British politics with a May 22 run to win one of three representative seats for Fullwell ward in the culturally diverse London borough of Redbridge.

A staunch member of the Labour Party, both in Israel and Britain, the 34-year-old’s career once seemed set on a fixed trajectory at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Born in Tel Aviv, Ofer served as an officer in the IDF, earned a BA in government at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center and graduated with honors from an MSc. program in European Politics.

After finishing his degree in London, Ofer returned home and fully expected to continue contributing to Israeli society — except for that niggling detail that he couldn’t earn a decent wage.

Calculating that under his NIS 5,000 ($1,450) a month salary as a European affairs analyst he couldn’t afford to raise a family or purchase his own home, five and a half years ago he decided to move back to London where he thought there would be more opportunities to progress and grow.

“And I was right,” said Ofer, now a proud husband, father, homeowner, and soon, he hopes, politician.

“It is very very sad, not a decision taken lightly or without thinking,” said the expat. Since his move to London, however, Ofer is increasingly taking on Israel advocacy roles, and serves the Jewish Diaspora as a member of the European Jewish Parliament since October 2011.

Tal Ofer with MP Ed Balls, who was notoriously photographed in a Nazi uniform while at university. (courtesy)
Tal Ofer with MP Ed Balls, who was notoriously photographed in a Nazi uniform while at university. (courtesy)

His pro-Israel stance has also brought him unintentional notoriety in his political party. In early February Ofer came out against Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi’s comparison of Israel’s role in Gaza to Nazi treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. He considered her remarks anti-Semitic and brought them to the attention of Labour HQ. Qureshi later made a public apology.

“I think this is a great achievement. We shouldn’t overlook [statements like these]… Too often we hear the voices speaking against Israel, and it needs to be balanced,” said Ofer.

Ofer said Israel advocacy in Britain is very difficult for those on the left, noting that most pro-Israel social media discussions are initiated by the right.

“I am Labour because I believe in the principles of the Labour movement. Within Labour there’s a lot I can do to make a case for Israel,” said Ofer. With the Jewish Ed Miliband Labor’s current leader, Ofer feels it will be easier now to give Israel a fair hearing, “but we need to maintain it, to sustain it.”

Ofer currently works full-time as a sales manager for a large Internet company. His work in business, he says, will be advantageous to his future political career and he is happy to begin it with local politics.

“I see myself as British and I’m involved within the political life on the local level,” he said.

The Redbridge borough, population 250,000, has a small Jewish community — holdouts from the Jewish migration to Golders Green and Finchley — and still has a Jewish primary and secondary school. If elected to this unpaid position, Ofer said he will try to represent the Jewish community while participating in decisions surrounding childcare, schools, garbage collection, and projects in the area.

Local office is Ofer’s way to connect with residents “on the ground before in Westminster.”

“For myself, with my experience on the ground and my knowledge, I can give a good perspective to the [Israel-Palestinian] debate within the party… When we see anti-Semitism growing in Europe, it is very important to speak against it and BDS [Boycott Divest Sanctions] and stand up for Israel,” said Ofer.

“If I become an MP, I will not be afraid to speak about Israel,” said Ofer.

read more: