Photo: Mati Milstein
British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould
Photo: Mati Milstein

Three resolutions for Jewish New Year

Op-ed: UK will continue to uphold clear and unequivocal line that separates genuine concern regarding Israeli policy from anti-Semitism, says British ambassador to Israel.

Rosh Hashana is a moment to reflect on the past year and consider what lies ahead. We in Britain are reflecting too.



During the conflict, the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased sharply. Many Israelis I have spoken to have pointed to the rise in incidents since Operation Protective Edge. They are worried. So is the British Government, which has responded quickly and unambiguously.


Prime Minister David Cameron said in the British Parliament, "I am deeply concerned by growing reports of anti-Semitism on our streets in Britain. Let me be clear: We must not tolerate this in our country. There can never be any excuse for anti-Semitism, and no disagreements on politics or policy should ever be allowed to justify racism, prejudice or extremism in any form."


It is vital that we treat with utmost seriousness this rise in anti-Semitic incidents and exercise zero tolerance. It is equally vital that we do not hand the anti-Semites a perverse victory by exaggerating their impact, or increasing the level of fear beyond what is warranted.


The good news is that hardly any of the reported incidents have involved violence, and according to every study, Britain is among the least anti-Semitic countries in the world. By almost every metric, the Jewish community in Britain is flourishing. Britain is not an anti-Semitic country; most Brits are revulsed by the actions of a tiny, unrepresentative minority.


But if the good news is that anti-Semitism is still restricted to a small, marginal minority, the bad news is that criticism of Israel has become much more widespread following the conflict. Every round of fighting has a lasting impact on international opinion towards Israel – we know this from the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead and the Marmara incident. But this time the damage has gone wider, and deeper – not just in Britain.


Israeli friends ask me why this should be, given that this conflict was triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, indiscriminately targeting civilians in contravention of humanitarian law. Is it ignorance, anti-Semitism, media bias or a hasbara failure? But the simple and inescapable truth is that fifty days of television coverage of the conflict and the harrowing pictures of dead Palestinian children has taken a huge toll.


What is to be done? Here are three resolutions for the New Year.


First, we should draw a clear and unequivocal line that separates genuine concern regarding Israeli Government policy (a legitimate difference of opinion) from anti-Semitism. The British government will continue to uphold that line and in doing so continue to build our partnership with Israel – in tech, science, culture, security, trade and investment, whilst steadfastly opposing boycotts of Israel.


Second, we should work together to find a new future for Gaza, so we are not condemned to a further round of conflict. That means Israel getting the security it needs, knowing that Hamas is not using the calm to restock its rockets and rebuild its tunnels. It means Israel lifting its restrictions in order to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians and allow the Gaza economy to grow.


The people of Gaza need a chance to rebuild their lives, homes, and livelihoods so that they have a future, and the ideology of hatred finds fewer takers. I believe passionately that we need to create this better reality, and urgently. I know what huge impact the conflict has had, on the people of both sides of the fence.


During the conflict I made a point of going down to the south and meeting Israeli residents in places like Kibbutz Be'eri, who talked to me about living under rocket attacks for 14 years and their fear of the tunnels threat. I have seen for myself the level of suffering and wasted human potential in Gaza.


Third, we should not give up on the search for peace. So soon after the conflict, this feels to many like a cry of naivety and unwarranted hope. But as this summer showed, the choice is becoming an increasingly stark one, and Israel’s future depends on finding a way to live with the Palestinians.


None of this will be simple. All of it will be difficult, controversial, painful and costly. But through it all, as Israel takes those difficult decisions, Britain will be with Israel.


Matthew Gould is Britain's ambassador to Israel.


פרסום ראשון: 09.24.14, 23:32
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