|The Queen in Abu Dhabi last year|
Speaking in London at an Anglo-Israel Association dinner just over a year ago, and more recently at a Friends of Israel function, the well-known (non-Jewish) British historian Andrew Roberts reminded his listeners that not once in all the years that she has been on the throne, has Queen Elizabeth II ever been to Israel. The Foreign Office arranges royal visits to foreign countries, and he’d tackled it on the issue, only to be reminded that many countries besides Israel have not had a royal visit.
“That might be true for Burkino Faso and Chad, but the FO has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey,” was his cynical reaction.Mr Roberts, a supporter from the beginning of J. M. Aznar’s splendid Friends of Israel initiative, has said:
“The Jewish contribution to finance, science, the arts, academia, commerce and industry, literature, philanthropy and politics has been astonishing relative to their tiny numbers. Although they make up less than half of one per-cent of the world’s population, between 1901 and 1950 Jews won 14 percent of all the Nobel Prizes awarded for Literature and Science, and between 1951 and 2000 Jews won 32 percent of the Nobel Prizes for Medicine, 32 percent for Physics, 39 percent for Economics and 29 percent for Science. This, despite so many of their greatest intellects dying in the gas chambers.”And he went on:
“Civilization owes Judaism a debt it can never repay, and support for the right of a Jewish homeland to exist is the bare minimum we can provide. Yet we tend to treat Israel like a leper on the international scene, merely for defending herself, and threatening her with academic boycotts if she builds a separation wall that has so far reduced suicide bombings by 95 percent over three years. It is a disgrace that no senior member of the Royal Family has ever undertaken an official visit to Israel, as though the country is still in quarantine after more than six decades.
Her Majesty the Queen has been on the throne for 57 years and in that time has undertaken 250 official visits to 129 countries, yet has not yet set foot in Israel. She has visited 14 Arab countries, so it cannot have been that she wasn’t in the region. Although Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice is buried on the Mount of Olives because of her status as Righteous Among Gentiles, the Foreign Office ordained that his visit to his mother’s grave in 1994 had to be in a private capacity only. Royal visits are one of the ways legitimacy is conferred on nations, and the Coalition Government should end the Foreign Office’s de facto boycott.”He’s in no doubt that the Foreign Office “has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimization of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists.”
It may be tempting to dismiss this lack of a royal state visit with a shrug and a “So What?” But economic as well as diplomatic benefits would be likely to accrue – for both countries.
As the Minister for Commercial Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London the executive director of the British Israel Chamber of Commerce pointed out in 2007, when there was speculation that Prince Charles might announce an official visit to Israel: “A visit by Prince Charles would bring with it new people and companies.” And as the Executive Director of the British Israel Chamber of Commerce remarked at that time: “At the heart of any high-profile visit to Israel is the branding of Israel as a normal country where business can flourish.” But the Foreign Office is evidently far more interested in pursuing commercial relations with the Gulf States, and the behaviour of the present Coalition government reinforces that view.
As the Daily Telegraph's deputy editor, Benedict Brogan, observes in an absolute corker of a pro-Israel op-ed (please read it: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100079268/if-we-truly-are-israel%E2%80%99s-friend-then-now-is-the-time-to-show-it/):
‘So why, then, is Israel so uneasy about Britain? What is it that prompted Benjamin Netanyahu to tell The Daily Telegraph, just days before Mr Cameron spoke, that he is “worried” about this country? Why, when our Prime Minister speaks of his “indestructible” support, did Mr Netanyahu raise the “huge issue” of the decline in backing for Israel in the West and notably in the UK?
The truth is that relations between Jerusalem and London are bad, drifting to worse. British diplomacy has lost interest in Israel as an interlocutor; Israel, in turn, is increasingly of the view that the UK has turned from an indestructible ally into a gullible host for the global campaign to undermine its legitimacy. At a time when the affairs of the Middle East should preoccupy us all, Britain gives the impression of being indifferent to the concerns of a country that is not just the only democracy in the neighbourhood, but also one of our paramount allies in the fight against militant Islamism that Mr Cameron professes to consider a priority.
It is too easy to miss the importance that Britain, and London in particular, has acquired in the insidious campaign that is patiently hacking away at the global foundations of Israel’s existence. Dressed up in modish arguments about human rights, there has been an inexorable rebranding of Israel as an oppressive colonial power. Those who peddle this idea are happy to let the unspoken implication eat its way into the public consciousness: colonial powers eventually have to pack up and leave.
Mr Cameron is not the first premier to laud the reach of the English language and the clout it gives us in a globalised world. What he does not mention is that English is being used to spread the “de legitimisation” argument, and we are providing the megaphone. Together, the BBC and the internet act as an echo chamber for a coalition of religious and political campaign groups and academics of all stripes – some of them Jewish – pumping out a propaganda campaign of explicit and implicit hostility to Israel. No other country has a media with a global reach to match that of the UK, and yet the overwhelming message that it sends around the world is that Israel is the cuckoo in the nest, the obstacle to peace and prosperity in the Arab world....
William Hague, in enough trouble this week for his inexplicable decision to make public his uncertainty about being Foreign Secretary, has made no secret of his frustration with Israel....
It seems that Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to visit the UK this year. And I am told that there are no plans for Mr Cameron to visit Israel. Yet it is more essential than ever that the relationship between the two countries be strengthened, rather than be allowed to weaken. For once, next year in Jerusalem is not good enough. The Prime Minister should find a reason to visit his friends and tell them, face to face, why our links are indestructible.’