British Envoy Tells Israelis Some Un-diplomatic Truths, and U.K. Jews Should Also Listen In

There is nothing new about the U.K.'s foreign policy positions; they have been in favor of a Palestinian state and against West Bank settlements for decades. But Gould was talking about ordinary U.K.citizens who don't see much to like nowadays in Israel.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Matthew Gould, Britain's ambassador to Israel's interview this evening on Channel Ten, was surprising in his willingness to tell some undiplomatic truths to Israelis on primetime. Not that there is anything new about Britain's foreign policy positions; they have been in favor of a Palestinian state and against West Bank settlements for decades. But Gould wasn't talking about Britain's policy. He was talking about the positions of ordinary British citizens who don't see much to like nowadays in Israel. He warned "anyone who cares about Israel's standing in the world" and Gould certainly is one, "should be concerned about the erosion of popular support."

Gould's central warning in the interview was this – "Support for Israel is starting to erode and that's not about these people on the fringe who are shouting loudly and calling for boycotts and all the rest of it. The interesting category are those members of parliament in the middle, and in that group I see a shift." He was trying to say to Israelis what they don't want to hear, that it's not just a group of leftist journalists on BBC and The Guardian and radical anti-Israel campaigners for Palestinian solidarity, it's the mainstream of British society, and not because British people are particularly anti-Semitic or pro-Arab – "I don’t think Britain is by any means unique in this," he said, "there is a growing concern at the lack of progress towards peace."

He refused to respond to Israeli accusations of British media bias, but he had and explanation, it was simple. "Israel is now seen as the Goliath and it’s the Palestinians who are seen as the David" and if Israelis don’t absorb that, they "might wake up in ten years time and suddenly find that the level of understanding in the international community has suddenly changed. That the level of patience for continuing the status quo has reduced.

Gould, it almost doesn't need reminding, is also the first Jewish ambassador to represent Britain in Israel. And while he was addressing himself to the Israeli public, the last section of the interview could also have been directed at the Jewish community back at home.

Ironically, this is also the only part of the interview in which he used a word in Hebrew. "The problem is not hasbara," and seemed to be talking not just to Israelis, but to those Jewish supporters of Israel back in London who always complain that Israelis just don't explain themselves well, that their hasbara isn't good enough. Israel's real problem says Gould is with "the center ground, the majority. The British public may not be expert but they are not stupid and they see a stream of announcement about new building in settlements, they read stories about what's going on in the West Bank, they read about restrictions in Gaza. The substance of what's going wrong is really what's driving this."

Not only is Gould not betraying his roots, he is doing the Jews of Britain a huge favor. Surveys have proven that they care deeply for Israel and support it, but they also support overwhelmingly support a two-state solution and a majority even think Israel should negotiate with Hamas. But community leaders who hold these beliefs are rarely prepared to speak to Israel in this vein, afraid of a vocal minority who will attack them with vehemence for forsaking Israel in her hour of need. Some voices among British Jewry will attack Gould now, accuse him of selling his birthright in exchange for a high-flying Foreign Office career, but other Jews will have been emboldened by Gould, their confidence strengthened, that they can love Israel and criticize its policies at the same time, and perhaps this is a better sort of love than unconditional support.

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould in London.Credit: Tal Cohen

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