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Making friends with Israel:
Britain appoints Judaeo-centric Zionist diplomat as ambassador to Israel

By Gilad Atzmon

13 December 2009


Gilad Atzmon asks how the appointment by Britain’s Jewish foreign secretary, David Miliband, of a fiercely Zionist diplomat as the UK ambassador to Israel is likely to serve British interests in the event of a conflict with Israel.

"Considering Israel's crimes against humanity in general and Palestinians in particular, one would expect Britain to send an impartial ambassador to the Jewish state. Judaeo-centric by admission and Zionist by education, Gould is certainly not the man for the job."

In case you want to learn how to appeal to the Jews, British diplomat Matthew Gould gives a free lesson. Haaretz has reported that Gould, the newly-appointed British ambassador to Israel, wasn't too connected to his Jewish roots until he served in Tehran. Seemingly, now he knows where he belongs.
 
"Being posted in Iran made me go to shul [synagogue] more regularly," says the new ambassador. "I did it to reach out to the Jewish community in Iran and to show that Western embassies were watching out for its welfare," Gould explains. "I was determined to go to shul to show both the Jewish community and the Iranian authorities that I was Jewish and not embarrassed of it."

Friends of Israel logo
Eighty per cent of Conservative MPs belong to the Israel lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel

Gould says that his two-year stint up to 2005 in Tehran as deputy head of mission has given him "a real expertise in an issue of profound security importance to Israel".

The religious process that began in Tehran continued in Britain. "I got more active [with Judaism] and over the last couple of years I've spent a lot more time and a lot more thought on my Jewish identity and what it means to be Jewish," says Gould.
 
Haaretz reports that Gould and his wife go to shul every week at the West London Synagogue. As a child, Gould recalls going to Middlesex New Synagogue in Harrow with his parents, who still live in London as "proud but inactive" members of the Jewish community.

In Israel, Gould says he and his wife "will keep a Jewish household” and "bring up their kids in the Jewish tradition, when those children are born”. Gould knows some parts of Israel, from his visits there as a child, when he would occasionally go to the Liberal Movement's Kadima summer camps. He also has family – second and third cousins – in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. What can we say, he is not only a Jew but a product of a typical Zionist upbringing.
 
Considering Israel's crimes against humanity in general and Palestinians in particular, one would expect Britain to send an impartial ambassador to the Jewish state. Judaeo-centric by admission and Zionist by education, Gould is certainly not the man for the job. As Gould himself admits, "the fact that I'm Jewish means I will come with a particular insight and sympathy and understanding, because the story of my family is in certain respects the story of the people of the State of Israel”.
 
A month ago British TV Channel 4 broadcast an exposè of the UK Jewish lobby. It revealed also that 50 per cent of MPs in the shadow cabinet are Conservative Friends of Israel members. The Jews in Britain, or at least the rich ones, are drifting away from the Labour Party. They gamble on the Tories. Consequently, David Miliband, the foreign minister, is doing whatever he can to bring the Jewish fundraisers back home to his Labour Party.
 
At the end of October Miliband lambasted the Conservative Party over their new alliance with the far right in Europe and with a Polish politician with an anti-Semitic past. Some prominent British Jews were not impressed. They knew exactly what Miliband was up to; they realized that Miliband, himself a Jew, was attempting to destabilize the new Jewish alliance with the Conservatives.
 
Fatigue is not exactly one of Miliband's characteristics. As we learn from Haaretz, he is now sending the Jewish state a kosher ambassador, one who “goes to the shul every Sabbath”, one who vows to keep a “Jewish household”. One who understands and is “sensitive to Israeli security matters”.
 
Ambassador Gould maintains that he is going as “the British ambassador, to pursue British policies and advance British interests". So here are two simple questions to the new British ambassador to Israel. How are you going to act when the British interests and the Jewish ones oppose each other? How will you act when you notice a clear discrepancy between Israeli actions and humanism?



Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born musician, writer and anti-racism campaigner. His latest jazz album, "In loving memory of America", was released on 1 March 2009 and can be purchased here.



Appendix:

Israeli paper Ha'aretz, Online edition, published 11.12.2009:

U.K. envoy to Israel: I didn't ask to serve in Israel because I'm Jewish

After serving in Tehran, Britain's first Jewish ambassador-designate to Israel speaks about his Jewish roots.

By Cnaan Liphshiz

 

Britain's first Jewish ambassador-designate to Israel, Matthew Gould, wasn't too connected to his Jewish roots - until he served in Tehran. "Being posted in Iran made me go to shul more regularly," the 37-year-old diplomat from London said yesterday over the phone, in a first interview for the Israeli press ahead of his arrival next year to replace Tom Philips.

"I did it to reach out to the Jewish community in Iran and to show that Western embassies were watching out for its welfare," Gould explains. "I was determined to go to shul to show both the Jewish community and the Iranian authorities that I was Jewish and not embarrassed of it."

Gould says that his two-year stint through 2005 in Tehran as deputy head of mission has given him "a real expertise in an issue of profound security importance to Israel."

The religious process that began in Tehran continued in Britain. "I got more active [with Judaism] and over the last couple of years I've spent a lot more time and a lot more thought on my Jewish identity and what it means to be Jewish," says Gould.

Another factor that brings the high-flying diplomat - who currently serves as chief-of-staff for Foreign Secretary David Miliband - to contemplate his background, was his recent marriage to Celia Leaberry Gould, who is not Jewish. "As a result of thinking about, applying and getting this job, and also because of my marriage, I ended up being much clearer in my mind about my Jewish identity," says Gould, who studied theology at Cambridge.

Although he specifically asked to serve in Israel, Gould says this was not because he was Jewish. "I did it for a range of reasons and because I would be dealing with issues of critical importance to Britain, the region and beyond."

Gould and his wife go to shul every week at the West London Synagogue, where services follow the prayer books of the Movement for Reform Judaism. As a child, Gould recalls going to Middlesex New Synagogue in Harrow with his parents, who still live in London as "proud but inactive" members of the Jewish community, as he describes them.

In Israel, Gould says he and his wife "will keep a Jewish household," and "bring up their kids in the Jewish tradition," when those children are born. Gould knows some parts of Israel, from his visits here as a child, when he would occasionally go to the Liberal Movement's Kadima summer camp. He also has family - second and third cousins - in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

"The fact that I'm Jewish means I will come with a particular insight and sympathy and understanding, because the story of my family is in certain respects the story of the people of the State of Israel," he says. "But fundamentally I'm going as the British ambassador, to pursue British policies and advance British interests."

A possible Conservative victory over Labour in the general election next year will not affect Gould's position, he says. "In our system, this is not an issue. Ambassadors are non-partisan."

Familiar though he is with the Tel Aviv coastline, Gould has never been inside the embassy building on Hayarkon Street. "Someone told me there's a view of a hotel," he said. But he added that he remains hopeful for a view of the Mediterranean Sea.

 


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