Michael Howard joins the Council of Christians and Jews
Frank Field one can understand – a Christian of devout spirituality and great conviction, a Synod member, a politician with principles, a noted author of religio-political books and a life-long commitment to helping the poor, the oppressed and the underprivileged. There isn't an MP in the Commons closer to sainthood, and even the Blessed Margaret touches the hem of his garment.
But Michael Howard?
He is a member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, and quite detached from its institutional functioning. He is not known for his diplomacy and dialogue. He has never written about his faith and has never talked of its influence on his politics.
The CCJ says it is in search of ‘influential characters’ capable of increase its impact and reach.
But, as politically influential and experienced as Michael Howard is, he is not noted for his work in the promotion of religious and cultural understanding between Judaism and Christianity.
David Gifford, chief executive of the CCJ, said that Mr Howard would provide insight into the Jewish community. He said: “Michael also brings an understanding of government and the issues of society. He has a lot of ideas and is very vocal.” He said that the board’s new focus will be tackling anti-Semitism, and so he wishes to bring in people ‘with special insight and skills and tackle this, big time’.
This is indeed a most pressing issue, wholly worthy of being tackled ‘big time’. And the CCJ has been at the forefront of the necessary dialogue since its foundation in 1942: it is the oldest of Britain's inter-faith organisations. But it is not clear at all what Michael Howard can bring to the table, save a high-profile name which might attract other high-profile parties and assist with fund-raising. Frank Field has a long track record of speaking out about important ethical issues. Michael Howard has dodged every one of them. Yet, according to Mr Gifford, he brings ‘a real perspective and insight into interfaith communities as well as what’s happening in government’.
Cranmer has a better idea for raising awareness of anti-Semitism and of helping people to understand the plight of their Jewish neighbour.
Sundown on September 27th marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the most solemn and important of the Jewish festivals, being concerned with atonement and repentance. Observant Jews mark this holy day with fasting and prayer.
The Mayor of London should visit a synagogue and exhort Gentiles to fast on this day – to gain a greater understanding of Judaism and help contain the resurgence of anti-Semitism. If one should do it for Islam, how much more important in the present context would it be for Judaism?
The CCJ ought to invite Boris Johnson onto its board. He would help to raise its profile and increase fund-raising considerably more than Michael Howard ever could, and would certainly reinvigorate it. And he has a track record of writing on religious issues, even manifesting signs of conversion.