The UK’s defense secretary is Jewish, a first since the 1990s

World News

(JR) — Analysts have been scrutinizing the record of Grant Shapps since he was appointed the United Kingdom’s new defense secretary on Thursday.

A fact that may not appear on his resume: he has said that he was once president of a branch of the BBYO Jewish youth movement.

Shapps, a veteran Conservative member of parliament, previously held other Cabinet-level roles under a series of prime ministers — including a total of six days as home secretary under Liz Truss, the shortest stint anyone has had in that position. He replaces Ben Wallace, who announced last month that he would resign after a failed bid to become NATO’s secretary general.

Shapps is the government’s first Jewish defense secretary since Malcolm Rifkind, who served in the post from 1992-1995.

Shapps, who was born to Jewish parents in the southern English county of Hertfordshire, moved on from leading BBYO to studying business at a Manchester university. His brother Andre, meanwhile, played in the band Big Audio Dynamite in the 1990s. The group was founded by their cousin, Jewish rocker Mick Jones — a founding member of the pioneering punk group The Clash.

Shapps, now 54, went on to form multiple printing and web publishing companies, including one that was accused of using fake customer testimonials. After several unsuccessful bids to enter parliament in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he broke through in 2005, winning the seat in Hertfordshire’s Welwyn Hatfield district.

He explained his Jewish identity, religious observance and thoughts on Israel in an interview with the London-based Jewish Chronicle in 2010.

“I don’t eat pork, we only buy kosher meat and we don’t mix meat and milk. I like being Jewish and I married a Jewish girl. It’s like a way of life and it’s good to be able to instil some of that sense of being in your kids,” he said. “All of that makes me seem as though I am quite observant but actually the flipside of this is I don’t know if there is a God or not. But one thing I am absolutely certain of is that God wouldn’t care if you were Jewish or Christian or Muslim.”

He said that while he believes that Israel has a right to exist, he also thinks the country “could have more forward thinking policies,” adding, “I think it is absolutely inevitable that Palestinians will, and have to, have their own state.”

Shapps reassured observers on Thursday that he would continue to take a hard line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, something his predecessor became known for. A little more than a year ago, Shapps and his wife Belinda took in a Ukrainian family fleeing the war, “inspired by the fact that our families were chased out by pogroms three generations ago in eastern Europe,” he told the U.K. Jewish News.

He traces his interest in politics and his understanding of how it works back to his leadership of BBYO, which has chapters for Jewish teens in several countries.

“It was the first time I was involved in chairing committees, understanding that process, how hidden agendas work, all sorts of leadership training through that period that most people wouldn’t get until they were in work,” he told the Jewish News.