Netanyahu 'doesn't care what Britain thinks of Israel'

Leading members of Jewish community say Israeli premier's visit to UK was a 'missed opportunity'

Kate Youde
Sunday 30 August 2009 00:00
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The editor of The Jewish Chronicle has accused Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of not caring about British public opinion after he refused to give any interviews during his visit to London last week.

In a comment piece in the newspaper, Stephen Pollard – though essentially supportive of Mr Netanyahu – concludes of his office: "The truth of it is that for all they moan about coverage of the Middle East, they don't actually care. They don't care if Brits end up thinking they are warmongers. They don't care if they are losing the PR war. And they don't care if those of us who do care are left fuming at their wilful refusal to do anything to help us counter Israel's appalling image."

Mr Netanyahu's three-day trip included meetings with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, as well

as a visit to the Palestine Exploration Fund. But Mr Pollard's view that the Israeli leader's refusal to speak on the record to the British press, aside from a "blink-and-you-missed-it-stage-managed press conference" in Downing Street, was a wasted PR opportunity has received widespread support.

Rabbi Danny Rich, the chief executive of Liberal Judaism, the third-largest sector of the Jewish community in this country, said the failure to invite some senior members of the Jewish community – himself included – to meet Mr Netanyahu or his officials was "like shooting yourself in the foot" in the media war.

"The embassy of the State of Israel wants and expects the Jewish community to understand and to be advocates of its position in Britain," said Rabbi Rich. "This clearly needs to be a partnership between the embassy and the representatives of the State of Israel and leaders of the Jewish community. The presence of the Israeli Prime Minister in Great Britain would have been a good opportunity to build that partnership and it was missed."

The historian Geoffrey Alderman, author of Modern British Jewry, said Israelis had "nothing but contempt for Britain". From an Israeli point of view, Britain was now "of no importance" and it was opinion in America – "Israel's guardian angel" – that mattered, Mr Alderman added.

"Whether the Israelis should pay more attention to the public opinion in Britain, given that Britain is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, that's another question," he said. "Of course, they haven't written off Britain but they have a limited number of resources and put them elsewhere."

Monroe Palmer, chairman of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, said the country "should have lost no opportunity to put its case" and that some Israelis were "so committed to fighting for Israel's security and its future that they sometimes, or very often, underestimated the power of the press and international opinion".

However, Anthony Julius, the lawyer who defended the author Deborah Lipstadt against a libel suit from the Holocaust-denying historian David Irving, said: "I think friends of Israel, the Anglo-Jewish community, are obviously concerned about Israel's reputation, but I also think that is a view that can overshadow more important considerations for Israel and the Middle East – and if the Prime Minister of Israel was here setting up the peace conference which may be taking place, and he's avoided the press for that reason, it is very sensible."

The Israeli Embassy in London and Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs were unavailable for comment.

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