The British Ambassador in Israel’s TV interview – and some home truths.

In recent weeks, Israelis have had to put up with the ‘evaporation’ of their capital city and the placing of rather revealing pictures supposedly portraying their country on the Olympics-dedicated pages of the BBC website. 

In addition, they discovered that the organisers of the London Olympic Games – whilst lacking the backbone to stand up to the IOC’s refusal to include a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich – did manage to weave a tribute to their own losses to terror into the opening ceremony and that a ‘mood of reflection’ was – appropriately – possible after all. 

Obviously feeling the heat, the UK government seems to have attempted some sort of rather bizarre damage control by sending its ambassador in Israel to an interview with Channel 10 news which was broadcast on the prime-time main news slot on August 2nd

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Somewhat uncharacteristically for an Israeli journalist, the interviewer failed to challenge the ambassador’s swift side-stepping of the BBC scandal, allowing him to fabricate the impression that the British government (and in particular the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) has no input into the BBC and that soft diplomacy is not part of the remit of certain arms of the corporation. 

Apparently attempting to deflect the embarrassment caused by the highly publicised BBC website row, the ambassador launched a classic FCO-style assault – thinly veiled with passive-aggressive pseudo pathos – ostensibly aimed at saving his Israeli audience from themselves by mirroring British attitudes towards them. 

In stark contrast to the statements made during his recent speech in the Knesset, the ambassador informed Israelis that “support for Israel is starting to erode and that’s not about those people on the fringe”. Less than a month ago, when the same ambassador was trying to drum up Israeli interest in academic and economic co-operation with recession-struck Britain, Israel’s detractors were described as being “on the margin of political life”. Now all of a sudden, the same ambassador speaks of “members of Parliament in the middle; the majority”. 

Predictably, the onus of responsibility for “lack of progress towards peace” which Gould cites as a cause of “growing concern” was placed exclusively at Israel’s door, with – according to him – British patience being tried by “a stream of announcements about new building in settlements” and anti-Israel sentiment growing as people “read stories about what’s going on in the West Bank” and “read about the restrictions in Gaza”. 

However, home truths can work both ways and it therefore must be said that it is highly regrettable that the British Ambassador refrained from honestly evaluating the role of his own government and the media in his own nation in propagating exactly the kind of stories to which he refers as affecting “majority” opinion. 

As the ambassador correctly states, the British people are by no means “stupid” but they, their politicians and apparently also their diplomats, are fed a constant largely monotone diet of one-sided and chronically misleading coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict by media organisations such as the (partly UK government-funded) BBC, the Guardian, the Independent and others, which nourishes the “Israel as Goliath, Palestinians as David ” myth. 

(And as if on cue, Harriet Sherwood was quick to use the ambassador’s interview to add further oxygen to the bubble of mutually assured myth.)

No less importantly, the blind eye deliberately turned by the UK government to lobbying, fund-raising and campaigning by organisations linked to Hamas and other terror groups and their supporters on British streets and even inside the British parliament – in many cases with Charity Commission approval and resulting tax exemptions – needs to be included  in any honestly compiled list of factors affecting British public opinion. 

And of course the fact that successive British governments have donated vast amounts of money to NGOs engaged in the delegitimisation of Israel (and continue to do so) also contributes to the adoption of warped views of the conflict, as do the decidedly undiplomatic activities of some of Mr Gould’s colleagues

In other words, the big stick carried by Britain’s soft-speaking ambassador contains no small amount of British wood. 

Israelis know exactly how much they have sacrificed in the quest for an elusive peace. They have thousands of graves to remind them of the pre and post-Oslo victims of the Palestinian refusal to come to terms with Jewish existence in the Middle East. They have many more thousands of neighbours and family members injured, maimed and disfigured in terror attacks or uprooted from Sinai and Gush Katif to remind them of the price paid by the living. Millions of Israelis live daily with the threat of terrorist missiles and attacks from Gaza in the south or Hizballah in the north. 

As a diplomatic guest in Israel, the British Ambassador should be aware of these painful testimonies to Israel’s numerous attempts to advance peace. He should be capable of recognising the fact that the responsibility for the failed outcome of  those attempts to date cannot be laid exclusively at Israel’s door and indeed that his own country has a long-standing tradition of contributing much to past and present failures. 

One would think that after almost a century of somewhat inglorious history in the Middle East, the FCO would finally have grasped that its traditionally imbalanced and inaccurate assessments have done no favours to the region. 

Some recognition on its part of the fact that whilst the Israelis are committed to pursuing peace with their neighbours, they are also very well acquainted with – and realistic about – the factors preventing that hope from materializing, would contribute significantly more to bringing about positive change than such anachronistic – if all too predictable – patronising  finger-wagging from Westminster.  

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