David Miliband, Most Secular of Jews, Trades British Politics for New York NGO

Good Match To Lead International Rescue Committee

Crossing the Pond: David Miliband will leave his home in the UK for a post at a New York-based NGO this September.
Getty Images
Crossing the Pond: David Miliband will leave his home in the UK for a post at a New York-based NGO this September.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 19, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

David Miliband, the former British foreign minister, takes great pride in his Jewish roots but lists his religion as “atheist.” Moreover, he has devoted his career to secular rather than Jewish public missions.

It’s a very particular kind of Jewish identity — and one that may put him in perfect symmetry with the New York-based International Rescue Committee, the world’s largest private refugee relief group, whose leadership reins Miliband will assume this September.

Like Miliband, the IRC has never viewed its Jewish roots as defining its identity. But they were never out of sight or out of mind.

Humanitarian Mission: Although Jews have played prominent roles in the International Rescue Committee, the group has always defined itself as non-sectarian.
Getty Images
Humanitarian Mission: Although Jews have played prominent roles in the International Rescue Committee, the group has always defined itself as non-sectarian.

“Jewish individuals have played a central role in the IRC, but the organization, from the start, defined itself as nonsectarian,” said Edward Bligh, the IRC’s vice president and editorial director. Among those Jewish individuals who shaped the IRC is Albert Einstein, who is credited with having had the idea to found an international rescue organization to help Jews fleeing the Nazi regime as Hitler came to power in Germany. Leo Cherne, a Jewish polymath, chaired the IRC for four decades, and Reynold Levy headed the organization from 1997 to 2002.

The IRC’s board still includes many Jewish names; among them writer Elie Wiesel and labor leaders Randi Weingarten and Jay Mazur.

But the organization’s focus has shifted greatly from those early days, and more recently, so have its sources of funding. The choice of Miliband to lead the IRC, which came in late March, in some ways reaffirms that amid all this, the group’s understated grounding in Jewish values remain undimmed.

The IRC’s recruitment of its new high-profile hire drew attention on both sides of the Atlantic. For British observers, it was the final sign that Miliband was indeed leaving the political arena to his younger brother, Ed Miliband, who won leadership of Britain’s Labor Party in a 2010 contest that pitted the two brothers against each other. In the United States, the selection of the group’s first ever non-American president marked the IRC’s shift toward international sponsorship, following the funds that are already coming mostly from overseas.

David Miliband, 47, served as foreign minister of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010. An early adviser to Tony Blair, who repositioned Labor as a more centrist party with a broader appeal, Miliband became one of his top aides after Blair became prime minister. After winning his own parliamentary seat, Miliband received his first Cabinet appointment as environment secretary. He became foreign secretary under Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown.

But Miliband’s stellar career came to an abrupt halt when his brother Ed bested him in his bid to lead the Labor Party. David Miliband immediately withdrew from the spotlight, keeping his seat in parliament but steering clear of top-level politics, until his career change in late March.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.