Monday, 24 December 2012

The UK and Israel in 2013

Israelis tend to regard the UK − or “Anglia” as they persist in calling it in Hebrew (a politically incorrect term in the UK these days to describe the nation) − with a jaundiced eye, for historically the relationship between Britain and Israel has been bitter-sweet.

For some the bitterness outweighs the sweetness: Britain’s failure to fulfil its League of Nation’s mandate to establish a Jewish National Home in the inter-war years, its failure to affect the course of the Holocaust as it progressed, even to the extent of refusing to bomb the Auschwitz crematoria, its heartless treatment of Jewish refugees seeking to enter Palestine after the war.

Some take a kinder view. They recall that Britain, a global super-power in 1917, was first to acknowledge the Jewish people’s historic connection to the Holy Land, and to declare to the world that it was in favour of establishing a national home for them in Palestine. They remember Lord Allenby for his conquest of Palestine and his capture of Jerusalem, and also, with affection, the Christian Zionist General Orde Wingate, a founder of the Israel Defense Forces, known to the Jewish troops he commanded as “The Friend”. They remember the “kindertransport” − the rescue mission during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, when the UK took in nearly 10,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi Germany.

The problem with Britain’s relationship with the Zionist movement, and later with Israel, has always been Britain’s need, in its own self-interest as it saw it, to maintain good relations also with as much of the Arab world as possible – and especially with the oil-rich Arab states. The resultant balancing act has led to many a wobble.

What are Israel’s prospects for a strong supportive UK in 2013?

Judging by remarks made by Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, earlier this month, they are − with just a few reservations − excellent. To deal with the reservations: Britain’s primary need in 2013 will be to trade its way out of recession, and this may well lead to stronger economic ties with a range of Middle Eastern states. For example, only last week Britain announced a multi-billion pound defence deal with Oman; other such deals are in the offing as Gulf states become increasingly nervous about Iranian ambitions and the rise of extreme Islamism on the back of the Arab Spring. As regards the Arab Spring, the UK seems as hypnotised as the USA with the idea that somehow democracy will leap, fully-fledged, from the flames of revolution. That the white-heat of rebellion might result in the accession of extremist Islamist governments – like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt − is, for the moment at least, largely discounted.

The good news is to learn that the UK’s prime minister said – as he did on 11 December − “I’m not an acquaintance of Israel. I’m not a colleague of Israel. I am a passionate friend of Israel – and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”

David Cameron was unrestrained in his admiration for Israeli achievement in a whole variety of fields.

“Israel is growing faster than Russia – and almost twice as fast as Brazil. It’s got more start-up businesses per head than any other country. The big question is: how do they do it? Yes, it’s about Israel getting its debts down, investing in education, signing free trade agreements, but it’s more than that – it’s about the aspiration and drive of its people. These are people who have innovated around every problem that life has thrown at them. The land is dry - so they come up with new water technology. There’s little oil – so they find other energy alternatives. So we want to work much more closely with Israel – on innovation, on technology.”

It seems, therefore, that in 2013 Britain will be seeking ever closer ties with Israel in terms of trade and of scientific and technical innovation. As an earnest of that intention, Cameron announced the appointment of the UK’s first technology envoy to Israel, Saul Klein − someone, he said. “with huge experience in early-stage investment.”

Turning to the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Cameron believes that the only way to secure long term peace and security is the two-state solution.

“To me it is clear what needs to happen. We need the US administration to give this priority. We need Europe to act even-handedly. We need the Palestinians to understand there is only one path to statehood, and that is through negotiations with Israel. We made that clear with that UN vote a couple of weeks ago. We said that Britain could not support a resolution that set back the prospects for peace and that did not commit the Palestinians to return to negotiations without preconditions. So we did not vote for it.”

On the other hand, it might be observed, the UK did not vote against it, either. Balancing, as ever, on the wobbly high wire, the UK abstained.

On Iran, Cameron believes that the regime must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, but that the policy of sanctions is working, that the Tehran régime is cracking. Nevertheless, he said : “if Iran makes the wrong choice, nothing – and I mean nothing - is off the table.” 2013 might be the crunch year for military action.

Cameron concluded: “I look forward to the day when the relationship between Britain and Israel is about prosperity more than about security, to the day when the Jewish people can see the future not with uncertainty but with hope, and as a friend of Israel I will work with you till that day comes.”

Not a bad prospect for UK-Israeli relations.

Published in the on-line Jerusalem Post magazine, 26 December 2012:


  1. "Not a bad prospect for UK-Israeli relations" - we've heard all this before! Words are cheap, it's actions that count.

    Can't quote the late Golda Meir too often when it comes to UK-Israeli relations: "With friends like these, who needs enemies!"

  2. Ben Gurion, to take another example, had the capacity to think straight and strategically (“Fight the White Paper as if there was no war, and fight the war as if there were no White Paper”). We simply must recognise who Israel’s enemies really are – the people who will stop at nothing in their efforts to eliminate Israel, whose basic philosophy includes the injunction to kill Jews whoever and wherever they are, who glorify death and the concept of martyrdom rather than life. I don’t think anyone could validly place the UK government in that particular box.

  3. Maybe not, but since the government does not clearly distance itself from the persistent stream of Brit. media anti-Israel propaganda, it cannot be described as "friendly".