Give Boris a Chance



Depending upon which British citizens one talks to, their new prime minister, Boris Johnson, is either an object of affection bordering on love or a target of scorn and skepticism bordering on hatred. Given the challenges he will face in the Middle East and elsewhere, we hope that his more admirable qualities will prove to be an indicator of how he will perform in office.

Johnson’s ascension to replace Theresa May came as a relief to many of the 250,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. Like his immediate predecessor, Johnson has a solid record of backing for British Jewry and a consistent and full-throated support for the State of Israel. As British foreign secretary, he opposed an anti-Israel resolution before a United Nations panel, and he has vowed to visit the State of Israel to cement positive relations between the two nations.

Another reason many members of the Jewish community welcome Johnson is that his Labour Party opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, was seen as vehemently anti-Israel, regarding Hezbollah and Hamas leaders as “friends,” and as being anti-Semitic. Among Jewish leaders who have expressed that view is the highly respected Jonathan Sacks, retired chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

Johnson is a fierce supporter of Brexit and is open to a “no deal” exit from the European Union; he has vowed to leave the EU by the end of October. May’s proposed gradual exit from the EU failed four times to get enough votes in Parliament and led to her resignation.


Detractors call Johnson an embarrassing buffoon and worry that he could make Great Britain an international laughingstock. His fierce advocacy of Brexit has caused concern that his seemingly undisciplined style would put British national interest at risk.

Johnson’s supporters like his brash, bull-in-the-china shopapproach to politics and diplomacy, prompting some supporters and detractors to call him a British version of President Donald Trump. Indeed, Trump has a positive relationship with Johnson and warmly congratulated him on his elevation to lead Britain’s government.

Admirers also point to Johnson’s admiration for Winston Churchill. He has shown great respect Britain’s World War II leader and has written a favorable biography of him. 

Interestingly, when Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, he was ridiculed by many as a brandy-addicted has-been. In his very first talk to his wartime Cabinet, Churchill promised that he had nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” and went on to provide sterling leadership not only to Britain but to the entire Allied effort to defeat the scourge of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Johnson inherits a threat that could prove to be similarly daunting: the ongoing crisis with Iran, which has shot down a U.S. drone and detained two British ships in the Strait of Hormuz. Johnson will need great diplomatic skill to work within the “special relationship” with the United States to defuse the Iran crisis through diplomacy if possible but with judicious and proportionate military action if needed.

He should be able to rely upon the longstanding cooperation between the United States and United Kingdom through two world wars, and through the post-war construction of a stable Europe and global community.

Johnson also will have to work within the framework of Trump’s veto of congressional resolutions aimed at blocking his administration from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The resolutions came despite those nations’ opposition to Iran, in the wake of concern over the administration’s determination to sell the weapons despite Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights.

Regarding Johnson’s relations with Britain’s quarter of amillion Jews, a thoughtful Jewish Telegraphic Agency article by Cnaan Liphshiz headlined “5 Jewish Things to know about Boris Johnson” begins: 

“No matter their political affiliation, all sides can agree that Boris Johnson, who has secured his Conservative Party’s vote to become the United Kingdom’s next prime minister, is a colorful figure.”

Liphshiz cites both positive and negative reactions from British Jewry, including criticism for remarks that seemed to ridicule Muslims on the negative side, and his strong support for Israel on the other side.

The JTA piece further quotes Edie Friedman, chief executive of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, as having condemned what she called “Johnson’s dog whistle racism.”

On the other hand, Marie van der Zyl, board president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, congratulated Johnson on his nomination and recalled its “long and positive relationship with him, and looks forward to this continuing as he enters Downing Street.”

As he assumes the burdens of his important office, we hope Johnson will cast off his tendency to engage in unhelpful rhetoric and will emulate his hero Churchill. If ever a time cried out for blood, toil, tears and sweat — in the Middle East and elsewhere — it is now.