With British Prime Minister Boris Johnson currently recovering after a three-day stint in intensive care with COVID-19, the United Kingdom – for the moment at least – has a stand-in leader of half-Jewish origin.
Dominic Raab, 46, is the son of a Czech Jewish refugee who came to England on the Kindertransport in 1938 as a six-year-old and a mother who raised him in the Church of England.
The foreign secretary has in the past brought up the subject of his Jewish origins on several occasions including in a May, 2019 article in the Daily Mail, in which he shared with the paper photos of his father, Peter.
While Peter Raab made it to England on the Kindertransport, in which some 10,000 Jewish children were brought to England from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the free city of Danzig, the majority of Peter’s family, including his grandparents, were left behind and murdered by the Nazis.
In a video, Raab invoked the memory of his father to slam Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his “inaction” on anti-Semitism and failing to stand up for the kind of “free and tolerant democracy” that had welcomed Peter Raab.
He added that his father never forgot what happened to his family, who, he said, “had been systematically murdered for no other reason that they were Jews.”
In a speech at the Conservative party’s conference the previous year, Raab also brought up his father’s past, accusing Labour of “intimidation, fanaticism, and scapegoating, especially against Jews.”
His Jewish origins notwithstanding, Raab has in the past been critical of Israel and especially the settlement enterprise.
In 2018, following an incident in which dozens of Palestinians were killed when they stormed Israel’s border with Gaza as the United States moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Raab said Israel had been guilty of a “totally disproportionate use of force,” even suggesting the possible use of “sanctions” against Israel.
However, he has also rejected a call to recognize a Palestinian state, arguing in 2011 that, “voting for a Palestinian state at the United Nations risks entrenching intransigence on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace requires political leadership, not a legal mirage.”
The Oxford and Cambridge trained lawyer started out his foreign office career after the summer of 1998 at Birzeit University, where he worked with a former PLO negotiator on the Oslo Accords, assessing World Bank projects in the West Bank.
He recalled the experience in a 2010 blog post, while a back bench member of parliament: “Shocked, I sat sweltering in a classroom at Birzeit University…. A Palestinian lecturer was asking students provocative questions about the conflict. He paused, and asked the Palestinians present: if you could, who would prefer just to drive all the Israelis into the sea? The overwhelming majority of hands shot up instantly.”
The article was written shortly after the Mavi Marmara incident, in which a flotilla of ships tried to break Israel’s security blockade of Gaza, and Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists when coming under attack with clubs and iron bars as they boarded the Marmara.
Raab defended Israel’s right to maintain the blockade. “There is no question that blockade is a legitimate means of maritime warfare, as set out in the 1994 San Remo manual, widely accepted as reflecting international law in this area. There is no doubt that Israel has a right of self-defence against Hamas, a terrorist group, running the Gaza strip… Widespread harping about United Nations resolutions stress the (undoubted) obligation on Israel to facilitate humanitarian aid, but too often ignore the recognition of a right – and duty – to act to ‘prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.’”
According to a recent report on the Hebrew-language Walla website, members of the extended Raab family also made their way to pre-state Israel: Elazar Raab and his sons Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Raab and Yehuda Raab were said to have been among the founders of Petah Tikva after walking to the Land of Israel on foot from Hungary.