Is­rael wit­nesses the new low-pro­file BoJo

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

BORIS JOHN­SON’S visit to Is­rael this week went al­most com­pletely un­no­ticed in this country — and un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, that was the ef­fect he was hop­ing for.

It would have ranked as a low­pro­file trip for any Bri­tish min­is­ter. By the For­eign Sec­re­tary’s stan­dards it was vir­tu­ally a dis­ap­pear­ing act. Barely any pub­lic state­ments, few photo calls, and cer­tainly no mishaps.

Con­trast with Mr John­son’s last busi­ness visit to Is­rael and the West Bank in Novem­ber 2015. On that oc­ca­sion, trav­el­ling as Mayor of Lon­don and with the un­of­fi­cial in­ten­tion of por­tray­ing him­self as a se­ri­ous states­man, Mr John­son ended the week banned from vis­it­ing a Pales­tinian char­ity af­ter telling an Is­raeli au­di­ence that boy­cott cam­paign­ers were “snug­gle-toothed left­ies” dressed in cor­duroy.

No such muck­ing about this time from BoJo. Mr John­son was not pro­vided with op­por­tu­ni­ties to repli­cate his rugby-tack­ling, fish-wield­ing, bi­cy­cle-ped­dling stunts of years gone by.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, he spent Wed­nes­day in high­pro­file meet­ings with lead­ing fig­ures in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, and with Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas in Ra­mal­lah.

Some sub­se­quently dis­missed the visit as unim­por­tant but, even if the meet­ings were low-key, th­ese var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights were not sit­ting around dis­cussing the weather.

One flicker of in­ter­est came with Mr John­son meet­ing Peace Now, the Is­raeli group which cam­paigns against the West Bank set­tle­ments. But given the UK govern­ment’s long-stand­ing op­po­si­tion to set­tle­ments and their ex­pan­sion, even this ses­sion could hardly be deemed ground-break­ing.

Crit­ics of Mr John­son have been des­per­ate for him to present a more pro­fes­sional front since he moved to the For­eign Of­fice. Now they have got what they wanted.

Ad­di­tion­ally, for all the talk on so­cial me­dia and in grass­roots groups about boy­cotts and apartheid, the re­al­ity is rather dif­fer­ent. Weeks af­ter Mr Ne­tanyahu came to Lon­don to meet Theresa May, Mr John­son goes in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and con­tin­ues the dis­cus­sion and deal-mak­ing, work­ing on trade, se­cu­rity and geopol­i­tics.

Last month, we re­ported Mr Ne­tanyahu’s de­sire to see Is­rael op­er­ate within a new al­liance of like­minded, right-wing, con­ser­va­tive-led na­tions — with Bri­tain and the United States at the cen­tre. Mr John­son’s en­gage­ments in Jerusalem are another step along that road.

Mr Ne­tanyahu has the ear of Don­ald Trump and Vladimir Putin and has be­come a key con­duit for those who, like Bri­tain, must work with both.

Af­ter years as the court jester, Mr John­son finds him­self as a se­ri­ous player at the top tables — with ob­vi­ous im­pli­ca­tions for his ca­reer, at home and abroad.

Mr John­son finds him­self a se­ri­ous player’

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