A ‘pas­sion­ate Zion­ist’

Bri­tian has elected Boris John­son prime min­is­ter

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - • NEVILLE TELLER The writer is Mid­dle East cor­re­spon­dent for Eura­sia Re­view. His lat­est book is The Chaos in the Mid­dle East: 2014-2016, and he blogs at a-mid-east-jour­nal.blogspot.com.

‘Apas­sion­ate Zion­ist” he has called him­self. Boris John­son, Bri­tain’s new prime min­is­ter, has of­ten as­serted his strong feel­ing for Is­rael and his em­pa­thy with the his­toric as­pi­ra­tions of the Jewish peo­ple to achieve self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in their an­ces­tral home­land.

John­son’s an­ces­try is un­usual. Given its Mus­lim, Jewish and Chris­tian el­e­ments, John­son has called him­self a “one-man melt­ing pot.” Through his fa­ther he is con­nected to the Ger­man royal house of Würt­tem­berg, but also to Ali Ke­mal, a min­is­ter of the Ot­toman Em­pire who was as­sas­si­nated in 1922 dur­ing the Turk­ish War of In­de­pen­dence. Through his mother, his con­nec­tions can be traced back to the revered 19th cen­tury Lithua­nian Rabbi Eli­jah Ragoler.

His feel­ings about Is­rael, though, may stem just as strongly from Jenny Sieff, who be­came his step­mother when he was 17. The Si­effs are a prom­i­nent An­glo-Jewish fam­ily. Jenny’s step­fa­ther, Teddy, served as chair­man of Marks and Spencer and was vice-pres­i­dent of the British Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion. In 1973, he sur­vived an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt by the Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine when he was shot by the as­sas­sin known as Car­los the Jackal.

In the sum­mer of 1984 Jenny’s fam­ily in Is­rael – dis­tin­guished Is­raeli diplo­mat Michael Co­may and his wife – helped

aPrange for John­son and his sis­ter Rachel to vol­un­teer at Kib­butz Kfar Hanassi for six weeks. John­son spent his work­ing day in the com­mu­nal kitchens.

In an ar­ti­cle to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion, John­son wrote, “I served a stint at a kib­butz in my youth, and… saw enough to un­der­stand the mir­a­cle of Is­rael: the bonds of hard work, self-reliance and an au­da­cious and re­lent­less en­ergy that hold to­gether a re­mark­able coun­try.”

Cir­cum­stances brought John­son face to face with a fig­ure rep­re­sent­ing the strong anti-Is­rael stance of the hard-left wing of Bri­tain’s Labour Party. Ken Liv­ing­stone, who be­came mayor of Lon­don in 2000, is on record as say­ing, “It’s not an­ti­semitic to hate the Jews of Is­rael.”

Liv­ing­stone’s two terms of of­fice as mayor were marked by a num­ber of in­ci­dents ab­horred by many in the Labour move­ment. For ex­am­ple, he twice in­vited, en­ter­tained and lauded Egyp­tian ex­trem­ist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who in­cited the mass mur­der of Is­raelis, claimed that Hitler was Al­lah’s hand for pun­ish­ing the Jews, and fa­vored wife beat­ing, gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and flog­ging ho­mo­sex­u­als. Liv­ing­stone dubbed al-Qaradawi “one of the lead­ing pro­gres­sive voices in the Mus­lim world.”

In the 2008 Lon­don may­oral elec­tion, then-prime min­is­ter David Cameron agreed to run Boris John­son against Liv­ing­stone as the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date. As­ton­ish­ingly, mul­ti­cul­tural Labour-sup­port­ing Lon­don voted John­son into of­fice, and kept him there for a sec­ond term.

JOHN­SON’S TEN­URE was a suc­cess on many fronts, but a ma­jor achieve­ment was to boost Lon­don’s global fi­nan­cial, com­mer­cial and eco­nomic links. In pur­suit of this pro­gram, John­son and a high-pow­ered team landed at Ben-Gu­rion Air­port on Novem­ber 11, 2015, on a three-day trade mis­sion with an em­pha­sis on high-tech. Amid a host of ac­tiv­i­ties, John­son vis­ited the Google cam­pus in Tel Aviv, joined by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 15 Lon­don tech­nol­ogy firms work­ing to se­cure busi­ness with Is­raeli com­pa­nies and projects.

“Lon­don,” he said, “is the lead­ing Eu­ro­pean des­ti­na­tion for Is­raeli com­pa­nies look­ing to ex­pand over­seas. It is the nat­u­ral tech part­ner for Is­raeli firms.”

Since his visit, trade be­tween the UK and Is­rael has boomed. The ba­sic facts are as­ton­ish­ing. Bi­lat­eral UK-Is­raeli trade in 2014 was $6.3 bil­lion; by 2018 it had topped $11 bil­lion, an in­crease of 75% in just four years. Un­der a John­son premier­ship, the prospects for con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of trade, to the ben­e­fit of both Bri­tain and Is­rael, are rosy. The Fe­bru­ary 2019 trade and co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment pro­vides for con­ti­nu­ity in trade re­la­tions af­ter Bri­tain leaves the EU, which John­son pledged to achieve by Oc­to­ber 31.

The UK is Is­rael’s largest trad­ing part­ner in Europe, and its third largest world­wide. One key com­po­nent is the lit­tle known UK-Is­rael Tech Hub.

A month be­fore John­son came to Is­rael as Lon­don’s mayor, the thenUK am­bas­sador to Is­rael, Matthew Gould, of­fi­cially launched the hub at the British Em­bassy in Tel Aviv. Its cre­ation fol­lowed an agree­ment be­tween UK prime min­is­ter David Cameron and Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu to pro­mote busi­ness part­ner­ships. The hub was a ground-break­ing ef­fort to do so in the fields of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion. Noth­ing of the kind had ever been at­tempted be­tween the British govern­ment and a for­eign em­bassy.

The suc­cess of the UK-Is­rael Tech Hub, and the many or­ga­ni­za­tions in the UK and Is­rael work­ing with it, was rec­og­nized on Oc­to­ber 25, 2018, when Haim Shani, chair of the hub, was awarded an honorary OBE (Of­fi­cer of the Or­der of the British Em­pire). The tech part­ner­ship had helped to boost the UK econ­omy by nearly a bil­lion pounds, en­abling British com­pa­nies to ac­cess Is­rael’s world-lead­ing in­no­va­tions, while help­ing Is­raeli com­pa­nies go global by part­ner­ing with UK firms.

Ear­lier this month, John­son gave a n in­ter­view in­di­cat­ing the di­rec­tion he is likely to lead the UK on is­sues of in­ter­est to Is­rael. On UK-Is­raeli trade he said, “I was proud to be the mayor who led the first-ever Lon­don-Is­rael trade mis­sion. I’m proud that the UK is now Is­rael’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner in Europe and we saw huge in­vest­ments both ways, partly ac­tu­ally as a re­sult of that trip. We did a lot of good busi­ness but we want to step it up. There’s much more to be done, and I will be ac­tively sup­port­ing trade and com­mer­cial en­gage­ments of all kinds.”

JOHN­SON AS prime min­is­ter is cer­tain to sup­port the con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of Bri­tain’s hi-tech sec­tor, and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion with Is­rael.

Re­gard­ing the Is­rael-Pales­tine dis­pute, John­son is a strong ad­vo­cate for some ver­sion of a two-state so­lu­tion. In a 2017 ar­ti­cle that he penned, he set out a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of his po­si­tion.

“I see no con­tra­dic­tion in be­ing a friend of Is­rael and a be­liever in that coun­try’s des­tiny,” he wrote, “while also be­ing deeply moved by the suf­fer­ing of those af­fected and dis­lodged by its birth. The vi­tal caveat in the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion – in­tended to safe­guard other com­mu­ni­ties – has not been fully re­al­ized. I have no doubt that the only vi­able so­lu­tion to the con­flict re­sem­bles the one first set down on pa­per by another Bri­ton, Lord Peel, in the re­port of the Royal Com­mis­sion on Pales­tine in 1937, and that is the vi­sion of two states for two peo­ples.”

He sug­gested what “a fair com­pro­mise,” which he saw as two sov­er­eign states – a vi­able and con­tigu­ous Pales­tine along­side a se­cure Is­rael, with borders based on the pre-Six Day War lines ad­justed by “equal land swaps to re­flect the na­tional, se­cu­rity, and re­li­gious in­ter­ests of the Jewish and Pales­tinian peo­ples.”

He called for ad­e­quate se­cu­rity ar­range­ments for Is­rael, while for Pales­tini­ans the as­sur­ance that the “oc­cu­pa­tion” was over. He said noth­ing about the dilemma posed by some two mil­lion Pales­tini­ans Gazans be­ing ruled by the re­jec­tion­ist ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion Ha­mas.

The fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion of Jerusalem, he be­lieved, should be agreed by the par­ties, en­sur­ing that the holy city is a shared cap­i­tal of Is­rael and a Pales­tinian state, grant­ing ac­cess and re­li­gious rights for all who hold it dear.

“All of the above I set out with due hu­mil­ity,” he wrote, “be­cause it is Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans – not those of us who live far away – who would bear the pain of com­pro­mise. And I am en­cour­aged by Pres­i­dent Trump’s ev­i­dent com­mit­ment to finding a so­lu­tion.”

John­son has said lit­tle about Trump’s “Deal of the Cen­tury” but does not rule out mov­ing the British Em­bassy to Jerusalem. He could see the logic of do­ing so, he said, but added, “The mo­ment for us to play that card is when we make fur­ther progress.”

Bri­tain un­der Boris John­son is likely to be a good friend of Is­rael.

(Ste­fan Rousseau/Reuters)

BRITISH SEC­RE­TARY of State for For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Af­fairs Jeremy Hunt (left) con­grat­u­lates Boris John­son af­ter it was an­nounced that John­son was the new Con­ser­va­tive Party leader and would be­come the next prime min­is­ter, at the Queen El­iz­a­beth II Cen­tre in Lon­don on July 23.

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