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First UK PM of color, and, at 42, the youngest in 200 years

New British PM has called Jerusalem Israel’s ‘historic capital,’ vowed to fight BDS

Rishi Sunak has also hailed the Jewish state as a ‘shining beacon of hope,’ expressed determination to eliminate ‘scourge’ of antisemitism

New UK Conservative party leader and incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak waves as he leaves the party's headquarters in central London having been announced as the winner of the leadership contest, on October 24, 2022. (Justin Tallis/AFP)
New UK Conservative party leader and incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak waves as he leaves the party's headquarters in central London having been announced as the winner of the leadership contest, on October 24, 2022. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

Rishi Sunak, who will be the new British new prime minister after becoming Conservative party leader on Monday, is considered a strong supporter of Israel and a friend of the UK’s Jewish community.

At a Conservative Friends of Israel event in August, Sunak declared Jerusalem is “indisputably the historic capital” of Israel and that there was a “very strong case” for moving the UK embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv.

“It’s something I’d like to do,” he said.

But Sunak, a former Treasury chief, also acknowledged “sensitivities” over the issue.

“If it was that easy, it would have been done by now,” he said.

The incoming premier made those remarks during his failed leadership bid against Liz Truss, whose resignation as prime minister last week after a tumultuous six-week stint in office paved the way for Sunak’s elevation to leader, after his lone challenger for the post bowed out of the race on Monday.

Truss told Prime Minister Yair Lapid last month that she was reviewing the UK embassy’s potential relocation to Jerusalem, but did not end up acting on the matter during her record short term in office.

The British flag hangs at half-mast after the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the British embassy in Tel Aviv, September 9, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90/File)

Also over the summer, Sunak hailed Israel as a “shining beacon of hope” in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle. And when writing for the UK Jewish News, a partner of The Times of Israel, he stated his opposition to the boycott movement.

“I will continue to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill, that will prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion,” he wrote in July.

“The Jewish community is right to call out those who seek to damage the only Jewish state in the world,” he added.

Sunak voiced concern over a rise in antisemitic incidents in the first half of 2021.

“This is not an issue to be equivocal about: everyone across parliament and the country must take a robust position on eliminating antisemitism and I am determined to ensure this scourge on our society is eradicated,” he said.

Sunak, who is expected to take office on Tuesday, will be the first British prime minister of color and its first Hindu leader — a milestone for a country with an extensive colonial past, and one that is still contested.

The challenges facing Sunak, the UK’s third prime minister this year, are enormous: he must try to shore up an economy sliding toward recession and reeling after his predecessor’s brief, disastrous experiment in libertarian economics, while also attempting to unite a demoralized and divided party that trails far behind the opposition in opinion polls.

In his first public statement, Sunak said, “The United Kingdom is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge.”

“We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together,” said Sunak, who at 42 is Britain’s youngest prime minister in 200 years.

New UK Conservative party leader and incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak is greeted by colleagues, as he arrives at the party’s headquarters in central London, after having been announced as the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest, on October 24, 2022. (Daniel Leal/AFP)

Victory was a vindication for Sunak, after he lost out to Truss in the Conservative election to replace former prime minister Boris Johnson, when party members chose her tax-cutting boosterism over his warnings that inflation must be tamed.

Truss conceded last week that she could not deliver on her plans — but only after her attempts triggered market chaos and worsened inflation at a time when millions of Britons were already struggling with soaring borrowing costs and rising energy and food prices.

The party is now desperate for someone to right the ship after months of chaos — both during Truss’s short term and at the end of Johnson’s time as prime minister.

As finance minister, Sunak steered the economy through the coronavirus pandemic, winning praise for his financial support for laid-off workers and shuttered businesses.

He now faces the huge challenge of calming markets and trying to tame inflation at a time of weakened government finances, a worsening economic outlook and a wave of strikes. Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, appointed by Truss 10 days ago, is due to make an emergency budget statement October 31 — if Sunak keeps him in the job.

Britain also faces broader economic problems stemming from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the country’s exit from the European Union in 2020. Sunak was a firm supporter of Brexit.

Sunak was cheered wildly by Conservative lawmakers during a packed private meeting in Parliament minutes after he won the contest on Monday.

But Sunak still faces resentment from supporters of Johnson for quitting the government in July, a move that helped topple the then-leader. His background as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and his wife’s vast wealth — she is the daughter of an Indian billionaire — also fuel a sense that he is out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people.

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