U.K. Ambassador Engages Salon Crowd in Tel Aviv

British Ambassador Tom Phillips engaged in a lively discussion Wednesday with a group of mainly young Anglo professionals, fielding questions ranging from Iran and Dubai to criticism of his country's policies toward Israel. Fielding a slew of hardball questions from British "hypocrisy" in its policy toward Israeli settlements to London's inaction to curtail the boycott Israel movement, he told Anglo File: "I didn't have any idea what tonight was going to be like, but if I can't defend my government's position anywhere, what the hell am I doing here?"

The ambassador's address at Beit Heseg on Rothschild Avenue was part of the Tel Aviv International Salon lecture club - a forum set up last year by four young Anglo professionals - Terry Newman from the U.K, Lisa Segal from Australia, Jay Shultz from the U.S. and Ariel Rodal from Canada. A seasoned public speaker, his answers were off the record, which may have allowed for the frank dialogue.

"It didn't feel like being in the lion's den. I am a Zionist, so there's no problem here." Phillips added about the session, which lasted over 90 minutes. "I understand why both sides distrust each other. The case for peace has got to be accepted by Israel as whole, not only by the people who already believe in it."

The ice at Beit Heseg broke after Phillips urged the crowd to share ideas for a regional solution. One of the ten or so who raised their hands proposed introducing financial sanctions against Fatah as well as Hamas. Another raised the 2002 Saudi Initiative.

After 50 minutes, Phillips - who skirted several questions about the recent U.K. elections - received his first and only personal question of the evening, about the things he will miss about Israel when he leaves in July. Phillips will be replaced this summer by Matthew Gould, who is the first Jewish ambassador to Israel from Britain.

"Three unrelated thoughts come to mind: One is biking with other biking freaks. I'm a biking freak myself, and we talk about biking - which makes us biking nerds, really," Phillips said. "The second thing is Yom Kippur, when the entire country, religious and seculars, engages in self reflection. I also go biking then. And thirdly, all the wonderful people I've met here, with many of whom I will keep in touch."