Friday, October 24, 2014

UK Amb. Gould

UK Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould spoke at AACI Netanya and gave a polished, coherent presentation.  This is my summary of his remarks.  Of course, he emphasized the positive in Britain's relationship with Israel, even though there has been a checkered past.  Gould is the first Jew to hold this position and has been at his post longer than any previous incumbent. His previous posting was in Iran and he found Israel to be the exact opposite, whereas in Iran no-one would talk to him, in Israel everyone wants to talk to him, this is the difference between a closed dictatorship and an open democracy.  He mentioned that before he took up his post in Israel he met with PM Cameron and received clear instructions from him to improve and expand ties.  
He emphasized that Britain was the first major power to publicly recognize Jewish rights to a "homeland" in the Holy Land.   From the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 until the White Paper policy document in 1939, that represented a change in policy, Britain kept its commitment as required by the League of Nation's Mandate that had been granted to it in 1922 to establish a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.  As he pointed out, it is doubtful that there would be the Jewish State of Israel today without the British role in its history.  In the early years of the Mandate until 1939 Britain allowed Jewish immigration to Palestine and fostered the development of the pre-State Jewish settlement (yishuv) in many ways.  However, with the results of the White Paper that favored Arab claims to Palestine, and the advent of WWII, relations between the British Administration in Palestine and the Jewish yishuv deteriorated significantly, until the British eventually withdrew in 1948. 
But, in recent times relations have greatly improved, with major trade and security ties between the two democracies.  As Ambassador, Gould has worked tirelessly to further improve these ties.  He has helped expand trade between Israel and the UK until it is second only after the US, and he has established a group of eight people dealing only with technology, that ensures bilateral cooperation between innovative Israeli science and technology and British firms with an international reach.  Gould said this is his answer to those in Britain who support the BDS movement, that frankly has not been particularly successful.
He admitted that the presence of a large Muslim minority in Britain has resulted in an increase in anti-Semitism there.  But he argued that a survey of worldwide anti-Semitism by the US Anti-Defamation League still put the UK at the bottom of the list with only 7% deemed to be anti-Semitic, while even the US was higher with 8%.  Finally, he agreed that while the threat of Muslim extemism exists in the UK, it is nevertheless actually very small numerically.  Muslims in the UK make up only 4% of the population (that is ca. 2.4 million people) of them only 0.5% are considered to be radicals, or ca. 1,200 people, which is certainly enough to cause the British security services to be worried.  However, it is important to remember that the vast majority of Muslims want nothing more to do with such extremism than their British counterparts.
Gould reminded us that the visit of PM Cameron to Israel six months ago was very successful, his speech at the Knesset, which he wrote himself, was a clear statement of support for Israel and during the recent Gaza war Cameron remained steadfast in his support for Israel's right to defend itself against the barrage of missiles from Hamas.  Although there is a tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in the UK reflected in the recent Parliamentary resolution calling for British recognition of a Palestinian State, this should not be over-stated.  This was supported by the Labour Opposition, but Cameron has said it will have no influence on British Govt. policy, that there will be no recognition of a Palestine State unless it is the result of negotiations with Israel.   Although the relations between Israel and the UK are currently good and strong, one cannot predict what the future may hold. 


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