UK: Pro-Israel Rishi Sunak gets 2nd shot at PM job

Conservative frontrunner has been supportive of anti-BDS legislation and moving Britain’s embassy to Jerusalem.

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Rishi Sunak ran for Britain’s top job and lost. Now he has another shot — and the chance to say, “I told you so.”

The former U.K. Treasury chief was runner-up to Liz Truss in the contest to replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. But Truss quit after a turbulent 45-day term, and Johnson has abandoned a comeback attempt, leaving Sunak a strong favorite to finally assume the office he missed out on less than two months ago.

Victory in the Conservative leadership contest would be vindication for Sunak, who warned in the last campaign that Truss’ tax-cutting economic plans were reckless and would cause havoc. And so they did.

Truss resigned last week after her package of tax cuts spooked financial markets, hammered the value of the pound and obliterated her authority.

If he wins, he will be Britain’s first nonwhite leader and the first Hindu to take the top job. At 42, he’ll also be the youngest prime minister in more than 200 years, a political prodigy whose youthful looks, sharp suits, and smooth, confident manner saw him dubbed “Dishy Rishi” by the British media.

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Views on Israel

During his campaign for party leadership, Sunak appeared at a Conservative Friends of Israel gathering in July, where he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s “historic capital” and supported Truss’s views on relocating Britain’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying there was a “strong case” for the move.

At the same meeting, Sunak said he wanted anti-BDS legislation on the parliamentary agenda and criticized Amnesty International’s controversial report accusing Israel of carrying out apartheid against the Palestinians, calling it “completely wrong, and quite frankly, offensive.”

In an August interview with London’s Jewish Chronicle, Sunak called Israel a “shining beacon of hope,” and called for more British institutions to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. Britain adopted IHRA’s definition in 2018, the first government to do so.

Can Sunak win?

To win, Sunak still must overcome allegations by opponents that he was a turncoat for quitting Johnson’s government as it foundered amid ethics scandals. The near-simultaneous resignations of Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid on July 5 set off a chain reaction. Within 48 hours, some 50 members of the government had quit, and Johnson was forced to step down.

Sunak painted it as a matter of principle, saying he wanted to repair the “breakdown of trust” in politics. He also accused Truss of offering “fairy tales” by promising immediate tax cuts when he felt curbing soaring inflation was a bigger priority.

“I would rather lose having fought for the things that I passionately believe are right for our country, and being true to my values, than win on a false promise,” Sunak said in a BBC interview.

Sunak was born in 1980 in Southampton on England’s south coast to parents of Indian descent who hailed from East Africa. He grew up in a middle-class family, his father a family doctor and his mother a pharmacist, and says he inherited their hard-working ethos.

“I grew up working in the shop, delivering medicines,” he said during the campaign. “I worked as a waiter at the Indian restaurant down the street.”

He has described how his parents saved to send him to Winchester College, one of Britain’s toniest and most expensive boarding schools where he mingled with the elite. After high school, Sunak studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University — the degree of choice for future prime ministers — then got an MBA at Stanford University.

He worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs as a hedge fund manager and lived in the U.S., where he met his wife, Akshata Murty. The couple has two daughters.

Harder job than ever

Returning to Britain, Sunak was elected to Parliament for the safe Tory seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015. In Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum, he supported leaving the European Union — a risky career move, since it went against the Conservative government’s policy.

When “leave” unexpectedly won, Sunak’s career took off. He served in several junior ministerial posts before being appointed chancellor of the exchequer — head of the Treasury — by Johnson in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

Critics have said Sunak’s family’s vast wealth and Silicon Valley past put him out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people.

In his first leadership campaign, he depicted himself as the candidate of grown-up decisions and fiscal probity, criticizing Truss’ plans to lower taxes and increase borrowing, and vowing to get inflation under control.

That’s now a harder job than ever.

The winner of the Conservative Party leadership race will automatically become prime minister without a general election. The opposition Labour Party is demanding an election but the in the UK, the citizens vote for parties, not for individuals.

Unless the Conservatives agree to a vote, Britain’s next national election will be in January 2025.

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