British-Israelis Remain Skeptical After MP Apologizes to Ambassador Gould

British Labor MP David Flynn causes outrage questioning the loyalty of the U.K.'s first Jewish ambassador to Israel - because he had 'proclaimed himself to be a Zionist.'

Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren
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Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren

Prominent members of Israel's British-born Jewish community this week scorned the apology made by a U.K. lawmaker after having suggested London's ambassador to Israel might be disloyal because he is Jewish. "He apologized because he's been called out," said Andrew Balcombe, the chairman of the British Zionist Federation's Israel office. "The issue was classic anti-Semitism. There's never any mention when the American ambassador to Israel is Jewish or the British ambassador to the Vatican is Catholic."

Earlier this month, British Labor MP Paul Flynn caused an outrage when he questioned the loyalty of Matthew Gould - the U.K.'s first Jewish ambassador to Israel - because he had "proclaimed himself to be a Zionist" and suggested that someone who could not be accused of "Jewish loyalty" was preferable.

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould. Credit: Mati Milstein, courtesy of the British Council

Following intense pressure from British politicians and Jewish individuals and groups in the U.K. and in Israel, Flynn apologized for his remarks. Flynn said his comments "could imply an unacceptable prejudice" and added there is "no reason that anyone of any race or religion should be debarred from public office."

Anglo File contacted Flynn, who said he does not want to be quoted in the press at this time.

Flynn's apology was mere "political opportunism," charged Chaim Martell, the chairman of Hitachdut Olei Britannia, the British immigrant association. "Once he had realized that the rest of the world was against what he'd said, of course he apologized. But that doesn't mean that he's not biased." Flynn "wouldn't have said the same thing had a Muslim ambassador been sent to Saudi Arabia," Martell added.

Also Brenda Katten, a former chair of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, or IBCA, said was unconvinced of Flynn's sincerity. "What he said in the first place was disgraceful because he talked about someone with roots in the U.K.," Katten told Anglo File. "We know that Matthew Gould was born there, that his parents were born there - what does it mean, 'Jewish loyalty'? It was a pure anti-Semitic statement he made. And the apology didn't impress me very much."

Katten added that "unfortunately, the damage is already done." Austen Science, the outgoing chairman of IBCA, was more forgiving. After the politician's original remarks were first publicized, Science says he faxed him an angry letter, saying his comments were "unjustified and racist" and calling on him to "officially withdraw these offensive remarks and apologize" to Gould.

Within a few hours, Flynn - an MP for the Welsh district of Newport West - responded, telling Science he would consider the matter. "As far as IBCA is concerned, [Flynn] did what we asked him to do," Science told Anglo File. "The apology does remove the principle aspect of a Jewish person not being suitable because of his faith or his religion to be an ambassador in Israel."

"I don't see this as a basic anti-Semitic act," Science added. "I think [Flynn] was rather foolhardy and overreacted to the complaints made by two of his constituents about how they were treated in Israel when they were part of the 'flytilla' [a protest against the Gaza blockade that took place in July]. He claims, and I have no reason to doubt this, that he's been a supporter of Israel and thinks it's a fine country."

The scandal broke in late November during a parliamentary hearing about Adam Werritty, a controversial adviser to Britain's former Defense Secretary Liam Fox. Gould met with both Fox and Werritty, leading some to speculate they were discussing a possible attack on Iran.

"I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran," Flynn was quoted by the Jewish Chronicle as saying at the public inquiry. Challenged to clarify his comments, Flynn told the London-based Jewish Chronicle that ambassadors to Israel had not previously been Jewish "to avoid the accusation that they have gone native." Britain needed "someone with roots in the U.K. [who] can't be accused of having Jewish loyalty," the paper quoted him as saying.

A spokesperson for the British embassy in Israel declined to comment on the matter beyond quoting a statement from London's foreign office, which said it had "total confidence that Matthew Gould has acted appropriately at all times and at no stage was he acting independently, or out of line with government policy." The spokesperson added that "any suggestion that the Ambassador's reported meetings with Fox and Werritty were held in preparation of a possible attack on Iran are utterly unfounded."



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