Is the Israeli government reverting to its bad old ways by selecting the Likud politician Tzipi Hotovely as its ambassador to the United Kingdom?
On a number of occasions, Israel has seemed to treat the UK with contempt by appointing as its ambassador someone with poor English and even less diplomatic prowess.
In recent years, it seemed to have got the message with the appointments of the British-born, former foreign ministry lawyer Daniel Taub and the Australian-born diplomat Mark Regev. The British Jewish community sighed in relief at their diplomatic skills and perfect English.
The ambassador who preceded Taub, Ron Prosor, was in turn a diplomatic heavyweight who had previously run Israel’s foreign ministry and afterwards became its ambassador to the UN.
In addition to the acumen and polish of these three, the crucial point was that they effaced their own political opinions. The only viewpoint with which they were associated was that of the Israeli government.
Despite her intelligence and fluent English, Hotovely — who has yet to accept this post —would be laden with divisive political baggage.
A former deputy foreign minister, she was recently appointed settlements minister and will serve as such unless she goes to London.
A religious Zionist who opposes marriage between Jews and Arabs, she rejects the idea of a Palestinian state and dismisses criticism of the Israeli “settlements”, saying: “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that”.
Already, she has attracted criticism on account of her “ultra right-wing” views. Whether one agrees or disagrees with those views, however, is beside the point.
Ambassadors should be viewed in person as politically neutral. They are appointed to deliver their country’s story. They should not become the story themselves.
This isn’t the only reason to be concerned about Hotovely’s appointment. Her previous attempt to put Israel’s case to a hostile British public was a train-wreck.
Three years ago, on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, she appeared on BBC Radio’s Today programme to face a barrage of accusations that Israel was denying Palestinians in the “occupied” territories rights given only to Israelis, and that Balfour’s undertaking to protect Arab rights was “unfinished business”.
She should have said the disputed territories weren’t “occupied,” because under international law an occupation can only take place in a sovereign country which these areas never were.
She should have said the Arabs living there couldn’t have the same rights as Israeli citizens precisely because they are not Israeli citizens.
She should have said Balfour’s guarantee to non-Jewish communities of civil and religious rights has been fulfilled to the letter by Israel, the only country in the Middle East where Arabs actually have them. She should have said that the Palestinian Arabs were deliberately not given political rights because those were given to the Jews alone.
Instead, she spluttered emotionally about the Jews’ biblical entitlement to Judea and Samaria, and blamed the Palestinians. Whatever the truth of her remarks, she sounded to a British ear like a blustering zealot. Her failure to address the accusation that Israel behaves illegally and unjustly was excruciating.
She failed to understand that the essence of the charge against Israel is the false belief that it has always acted in defiance of international law. She failed to understand that falsehoods about the Middle East and Jewish history are the default position in Britain which treats them as uncontested truths.
In short, she didn’t have a clue how the British mind works.
Very few home-grown Israelis have anything other than a total tin ear when it comes to understanding the British psyche.
They don’t understand how the British can believe stuff — like the view that the Palestinians are the indigenous people of the land of Israel — that is patently so ridiculous. And they don’t understand that lawfulness and fairness are of overwhelming importance for the British; it’s just that they’ve got where Jews and the Arabs stand on these issues precisely the wrong way round.
So Israeli officials are constantly blindsided by the unbridled and existential malice that confronts them in Britain. Their refusal to teach fundamental facts about Israel leaves the way open for yet more Palestinian lies.
Of course, Tzipi Hotovely — if she takes the post — may come to understand all this. If so, however, she’ll need to have mastered a learning curve about Britain far steeper than the state of Israel itself has ever been able to scale.