Britain wooing Israel's haredi Jews

Meetings with yeshiva heads, support for ultra-Orthodox initiatives, regular dialogue with haredi sector – what is British government looking for on streets of Bnei Brak, Mea Shearim? Partners in for advancing peace process, among other things

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould is strengthening his ties with the ultra-Orthodox sector, and not for the first time. The move is part of an overall strategy of the British government: To gain a mandate on the haredi street.


On Sunday, the ambassador held a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony for heads of the haredi sector in Israel at his private residence. "I believe wholeheartedly that I am an ambassador for all Israelis and for all citizens of the State of Israel, including the haredi society," he told Ynet.


The United Kingdom's (Jewish) ambassador welcomed his guests with a speech prepared entirely in Hebrew, noting that Britain's goal was to increase cooperation with the haredi sector in Israel.


His advisor declares explicitly that this is part of an agenda to promote the "two states for two people" initiative among the sector.


According to Ambassador Gould, "The haredim are an important part of the Israeli society. They are a key voice in politics, and it is impossible to connect to the Israeli society without connecting to the haredi sector within it."


'Haredim inseparable part of peace initiatives'

About 150 rabbis, politicians, past and current mayors, businesspeople and representatives of the media attended the unusual event, and the ambassador was instructed by his advisors in advance to avoid shaking hands with the female guests.


Israel's Chief Rabbi David Lau praised the host in his address, noting that like the haredi sector in Israel, he too has respect for his past.


So what are the Brits looking for on the streets of Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim? The somewhat vague wording used by the ambassador during the event was translated by the ceremony's guests into a series of speculations and bets, not to mention the fact that this is not the first time the British ambassador takes an active part in promoting the relations between the haredi sector and Britain.


For the ambassador's haredi advisor, the answer is crystal clear. "Britain wants to promote the agenda of two states for two people," says Avraham Kroizer. "For that purpose it understands that the haredi public must be an inseparable part of the peace initiative, and therefore it has to talk to them. That's the main reason."


A hint of such intentions can possibly be found in the ambassador's visit to the city of Bnei Brak last summer, during which he spoke to heads of the Ponevezh Yeshiva about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace initiative taking shape. The head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Povarski himself, was present at Sunday's event.


"The entire haredi public, excluding Chabad and several Hasidic movements, does not see handing over territories for peace as a great offense," adds Kroizer. "Although not to begin with, but for peace – absolutely. That was also the stance of Rabbi Shach and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who saw nothing wrong with it."


Road to UK's Jewish community

Ambassador Gould told Ynet, "We are looking into two things: We want to listen to the haredi population, to get to know it and understand the things that are important to it. Not to talk, but first of all to listen. In the second stage, as part of the relationship, there is of course the necessary need to advance peace with the Palestinians."


Other participants in the event said the road to the haredi community in Britain goes through the haredim living in Israel, and that the British government's goal is actually to strengthen relations with the local, well-established Jewish community in Britain.


One of the senior politicians in the sector, who was present at the event, noted that Britain was reading Israel's demographic map very well. "They understand that the sector will grow and become increasingly significant," he said. "Clearly, they have no intention of missing out on gaining access to it."


He received unequivocal support for this notion from the ambassador himself, who said he spent much of his time meeting with leaders of the haredi society, "in a bid to build friendship, understanding and faith between us and them, until we can reach a point in which it will be possible for us to also discuss difficulties, from a place of openness and complete trust."


And what difficulties are we talking about?


"We don't know that yet, because we haven't reached that stage yet."


Ambassador a 'proud Jew'

The work with the haredi sector, Kroizer says, is considered one of the main goals on the agenda of the ambassador – and of the British political echelon which arrives in Israel from time to time for tours and work visits.


"About two weeks ago, the director-general of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office met with the head of the Ateret Israel Yeshiva for a conversation on what they define as 'a window of opportunities,'" he says. "Meetings of this kind are being held all the time."


He refers to the British ambassador as "a proud Jew."


"The connection isn’t reflected only in what I have to ask for," he says, "but in understanding what is important to the haredi sector," including initiatives related to the haredi academia, employment and welfare, he says.


The mezuzot at the ambassador's residence were installed about four years ago by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. His son, Chief Rabbi David Lau, closed the circle of acquaintance during the event.


"The Jewish people is based on a connection between generations," Rabbi Lau said. "You showed me, here at the entrance, a picture of your grandmother's father – the face of a Jewish rabbi. And when you arrived at my bureau, the main thing you were interested in was speaking about your childhood, the children, the next generation.


"At that moment I knew that I had found a loyal partner to the Jewish arena, which is shared by everyone standing here, because everyone here maintains the tradition from the previous generations and tries to instill it in the next generations."



פרסום ראשון: 12.04.13, 14:17
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