UK downgraded Israeli president’s visit
FOREIGN OFFICE concern about a planned official visit to Britain by Israeli President Ephraim Katzir 30 years ago resulted in the downgrading of his trip, secret documents released by the National Archive have revealed.
In a June 1976 letter to 10 Downing Street, a Whitehall official pointed out that as Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin was due “next year” to visit Britain, “the elevation of President Katzir’s visit to an official one would upset the balance we are seeking to strike”.
Foreign Secretary James Callaghan (below) supported the official’s warning, telling Prime Minister Harold Wilson that President Katzir, a scien-scientist due in the UK to attend the Royal Academy of Sciences’ 70th birthday party for Sir Ernst Chain, the codiscoverer of penicillin and Nobel Prize laureate, “might best be left as a private visit”.
However, he added that because of the “close and friendly relations with Israel”, the Queen should nevertheless be requested to receive the president for lunch at Buckingham Palace. Mr Wilson agreed. He would also be hosting President Katzir for lunch at Downing Street, he replied in a cable to the Foreign Office, but this should “not be made public”.
There were worries too in Whitehall about the president’s feisty and outspoken wife Nina, who accompanied him on the trip. In a cable from the British Embassy to the Foreign Office — part of which is still being held back under the 40-year-rule — a diplomat attempted to sooth officials’ fears.
“I do not think she [Mrs Katzir] would be likely to do anything strange or embarrassing,” he said.
“If the Israeli government thought there was a risk of this, I am sure they would find a way of keeping her at home.” Another image of 1976: joyous celebrations at Ben-Gurion airport after the successful rescue of the Air France hostages who had been held captive in Entebbe, Uganda, by Palestinian guerrillas