My pro-Is­rael views cost me my top job

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY SI­MON ROCKER

THE AU­THOR of a new book sym­pa­thetic to Is­rael be­lieves his views ul­ti­mately cost him his job at the UK’s most pres­ti­gious for­eign-af­fairs think tank.

Robin Shep­herd, whose new book, A State Be­yond the Pale — Europe’s Prob­lem with Is­rael ex­plores hos­til­ity to­wards the Jewish state, says his pro-Is­rael po­si­tion put him at odds with the lead­er­ship of Lon­don’s Chatham House.

At a book launch at a Lon­don syn­a­gogue last week, Mr Shep­herd re­called an op-ed piece he had writ­ten for The Times in Jan­uary 2008 de­fend­ing Is­rael’s ac­tions against ter­ror­ism, which had re­sulted in an “ag­gres­sive” email from Chatham House di­rec­tor Robin Ni­blett.

“It didn’t re­sult in my leav­ing im­me­di­ately,” he said, “but it broke the re­la­tion­ship I had with my boss at the time.”

In the ar­ti­cle, Mr Shep­herd blamed Ha­mas for the sit­u­a­tion in Gaza and hit out at the “fren­zied on­slaught” against Is­rael among com­men­ta­tors in Europe.

He con­tended that the rock­ets fired by Pales­tini­ans since Is­rael’s with­drawal from Gaza de­feated the ar­gu­ment, put by “apol­o­gists for ex­trem­ism”, that oc­cu­pa­tion, rather than ide­ol­ogy, was the root cause of ter­ror­ism.

But Dr Ni­blett wrote that the ar­ti­cle was “polem­i­cal in tone and con­tent” and that he was con­cerned at the “po­ten­tial dam­age you have done to the in­sti­tute’s rep­u­ta­tion for thought­ful and bal­anced in­sight”.

He wrote: “I do not have con­fi­dence in your knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion in Gaza or of what mo­ti­vates ter­ror­ists there to lob rock­ets on Is­raeli civil­ians. I do have con­fi­dence in your knowl­edge of Euro­pean pol­i­tics.... I hired you for the lat­ter, not the for­mer.”

But Mr Shep­herd, who joined an­other think tank, the Henry Jack­son So­ci­ety, in March this year, said his Chatham House con­tract had in­cluded the writ­ing of a book on Euro­pean at­ti­tudes to Is­rael.

“What­par­tic­u­larlyshocked­me­about the whole af­fair is that at an in­sti­tute with a mis­sion state­ment of ‘in­de­pen­dent think­ing on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs’, I was sub­jected to such fierce in­tim­i­da­tion for hon­estly-held views about Euro­pean at­ti­tudes to Is­rael,” Mr Shep­herd said.

An­other for­mer em­ployee of the in­sti­tute re­called that “all hell broke loose” at the time of the ar­ti­cle and claimed that the in­sti­tute ba­si­cally adopted a “pro-Pales­tinian” line.

But Dr Ni­blett said this week that the in­sti­tute’s work on Is­rael was “fair and ob­jec­tive” and that the record of its Mid- dle East pro­gramme over the last two or three years “speaks for it­self. We have good re­la­tion­ships with a num­ber of Is­raeli or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing Bi­com. We do events with them, we do events on Is­rael and we have two Is­raeli as­so­ciate fel­lows at Chatham House.”

He de­clined to com­ment on Mr Shep­herd’s claims.

Asked whether the Is­raeli Em­bassy had sus­pended its mem­ber­ship of Chatham­House,Dr Ni­blett­said:“It’sfair to say that a con­ver­sa­tion is go­ing on, but their mem­ber­ship has not lapsed from our per­spec­tive, and there is noth­ing in writ­ing say­ing that it has.”

He said he was due to see the Is­raeli am­bas­sador shortly. “I’m pretty con­fi­dent we are go­ing to be on the same sheet at the end of the process,” he said.

A spokesman for the Em­bassy would say only that it was in “cand i d c o r - r e s p o n d - ence” with C h a t h a m House.

Robin Shep­herd

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