What Friends of Israel Face in Britain

December 1st, 2011 at 11:28 am David Frum | 26 Comments |

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As an example of the attitudes my friends at the Anglo-Israel Association bump up against in contemporary Britain, there’s this:

A Labour MP has caused outrage by suggesting that Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel has divided loyalties because he has “proclaimed himself to be a Zionist”.

Challenged by the JC to clarify his comments about Matthew Gould, who took up the post last year, Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, said ambassadors to Israel had not previously been Jewish “to avoid the accusation that they have gone native”.

Britain needed, he said, “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty”.

Paul Flynn has not hitherto been known (I’m told) for this kind of derogatory comment. But he’s tapped a rich vein:

[Flynn] said doubts had been raised about Mr Gould’s loyalty by two of his constituents, Pippa Bartolotti and Joyce Giblin, who had been held in prison in Israel after taking part in the “flytilla” demonstration against the Gaza blockade in July.

“When they were briefly imprisoned in Israel, they met the ambassador, and they strongly believe… that he was serving the interest of the Israeli government, and not the interests of two British citizens,” he told the committee.

Ms Bartolotti is the deputy leader of the Green Party in Wales and stood against Mr Flynn at the last election.

Mr Flynn added that the same question of divided loyalty would apply to anyone with a “foreign” family background, including former Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane, whose father was Polish.

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • Fart Carbuncle

    “…doubts had been raised about Mr Gould’s loyalty by two of his constituents, Pippa Bartolotti and Joyce Giblin, who had been held in prison in Israel after taking part in the “flytilla” demonstration against the Gaza blockade in July…”

    Lunatic fringe fantasy. Whatever.

    Having been to Londonistan myself twice, I understand the residual politics of years of Muslim immigration to the island.

    • armstp

      I would include you in the “lunatic fringe”.

    • Secessionist

      + 1, good point. Having been de facto colonized by aliens and ceded by the British government, London is no longer a British city. That definitely changes the political dynamic.

  • sparse

    i am confused. mr. flynn questions the undivided loyalty of an ambassador based on him being a self-declared zionist, not based on him being a jew. isn’t that really perfectly legitimate? aside from the (incredibly slim) risk that the ambassador in question would betray his country to serve the interests of israel, there is the more likely serious damage to third-party relationships. it is not appropriate for an ambassador to have a committed perspective on an issue that is not perfectly in line with his government’s, especially when that issue is of such central importance to the post. i think the criticism presented here is perfectly fair.

    in our own diplomatic corps, we rotate people around and make sure they serve plenty of time stateside because the phenomenon of diplomats identifying with the interests of their host countries is real, it is a matter of fact, and it is a matter of vital security to our government.

    these concerns raised are difficult because they rotate around identity, religion and other things, but they are hardly unfair criticisms. if the ambassador wants the luxury of publicly declaring himself a zionist, or pro-palestinian for that matter, he needs to leave the diplomatic corps and enter politics. that’s just the nature of those jobs.

    is it the nature of david frum’s job to howl at every perceived slight? flopping and playing the refs makes for pitiful basketball.

    • balconesfault

      is it the nature of david frum’s job to howl at every perceived slight?

      Not the nature of his job … but certainly his nature.

    • armstp


    • Frumplestiltskin

      yeah, great post. I am not sure that declaring yourself a Zionist quite fits the bill of divided loyalty only because the term Zionist is open to so many interpretations. If Zionism simply means supporting the rights of Jews to their own homeland then it has to be a pre-requisite to be a Zionist before you are appointed Ambassador. The US obviously would not accept a Brit who called the US British colonies. Because it is not clear cut what he means by being a Zionist it is perfectly fair to question how deep the commitment towards Israel by Gould is.

      • Houndentenor

        Yes, it is perfectly legitimate to ask someone to clarify a statement, but the rest seems like an overreaction to me.

      • Holmes

        Not so many interpretations. Who would disagree that zionism refers to a Jewish state in the ancient homeland, and who would disagree that many in the Arab world reject the concept of a Jewish state in their neighborhood.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          uh…Judea and Sumaria? Of course there are other interpretations, does the Zionist state include the Biblical lands of Judea and Sumaria, even though they are populated by Palestinians? Or is Zionism a modern entity encompassing lands where the Jews are a clear majority? Jews have been living in those parts since forever, but left other parts centuries ago, if not millenia. So is the West Bank part of the Zionist state or not?

  • potan221

    How is this any different from an British-Asian ambassador to India declaring himself to be a Hindu nationalist or an ambassador to Iraq calling himself an Islamist or Baathist. The Israel lobby needs to stop with its tired old tactics of hurling accusations of anti-semitism whenever Israel or Israelis are criticized. Perhaps the Western world, Britain and America, need to realize that Israeli interests are not always our interests.I would say Zionism as an ideology is not in the interests of British foreign policy.

    • jakester

      Apparently just believing that Israel has a right to exist makes you a racist Zionist pig.
      Meanwhile the same people who are ok with dozens of explicitly Islamic cesspool countries seem to seethe with righteous First Amendment ire at the one explicitly Jewish country.

    • armstp


      Not sure it is in the interest if Britian to have a Zionist as an Israeli Ambassador. It would be like Frum becoming the U.S Ambassador to Canada. Nothing would be wrong if someone questioned that choice.

  • Secessionist

    There is some genuine anti-Jewish sentiment in those comments IMO. The person initially spoke out on the basis that the ambassador self-identifies as a Zionist, but when asked to clarify his remarks, he shifted his focus to the fact that the ambassador is also a Jew.

    If he had stuck to arguing that it is not appropriate for any Israeli ambassador Jewish or not to be a Zionist, then he would have been on firmer ground. The clarification makes it clear that his real concern is that the man is a Jew. It does not get any more clear cut than that.

    • Reflection Ephemeral

      Yeah, I agree with that. I thought that saying that the UK needed “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty” is beyond the pale. I think that an accusation of “Jewish loyalty” with regard to policies toward Israel is quite offensive.

      Now, Glenn Greenwald has noted that in the US, we do see this game played both ways: http://www.salon.com/2008/07/02/israel_iran/

      the very same right-wing advocates who scream “anti-semitism” at anyone, such as [Joe] Klein, who raises the issue of devotion to Israel themselves constantly argue that American Jews do — and should — cast their votes in American elections based upon what is best for Israel. They nakedly trot out the “dual loyalty” argument in order to manipulate American Jews to vote Republican in U.S. elections (e.g.: “the GOP supports Israel and Obama doesn’t; therefore, American Jews shouldn’t vote for Obama”), while screaming “anti-semitism” the minute the premise is used by their political opponents.

      Now, I think that any kind of “gone native” accusation, or “too loyal to [ethnicity x]” accusation, is a cause for concern. I don’t think it would have been a fair criticism, of, say, Henry Kissinger or Zalmay Khalilzad or Zbigniew Brzezinski. And it seems to me that this might be worse. I understand anecdotally, & from Frum’s speech that he posted today or yesterday, that there’s a more pervasive attitude of… if not overt anti-Semitism, certainly something… well, untoward, towards the Jewish state and towards Jews in general in Europe. (I’m pleased to back down from that if others are better informed; it’s just something I’ve heard). It was, at best, a very ill-considered phrasing, and possibly something worse, from Mr. Flynn, IMHO.

  • LauraNo

    It seems perfectly reasonable to wonder about the man’s loyalties, since he has already stated he has a personal bias. Why is it a fact that anything at all somehow related to Israel a cause for neurotic hand-wringing? I sure as heck would not want to see Mr. Frum as our ambassador to Israel. Let’s presume I am an average American (since I think I am). On my list of concerns, or priorities, Israel would number maybe #50. On Mr. Frum’s list it’d be #1. He is not able to represent us on this matter and I certainly have the right to question his credentials, why wouldn’t the British people have the same questions of their ambassadors?

  • Frumplestiltskin

    one other thing though about divided loyalties, the current Israel Ambassador to the US is a former US citizen (he had to give up his citizenship to accept the post as our constitution forbids it). Of course he has divided loyalties but Israel made the determination that he would be best for the job. You can have affinity and affection for the country within which you serve. I feel a great attachment to Ireland and have no problem saying so, but I can’t see a situation where there would be any conflict if I were an Ambassador there, especially since the job of Ambassador is a lot for show with the real work being done by the embassy personnel.

    And I would have zero problem if David Frum became Ambassador to Canada, we are allies, he knows the people there, there is zero chance for any cloak and dagger things, lets not blow this notion of divided loyalties out of proportion.

    • sparse

      excellent points. i think the divided loyalties question is a red herring. i think the appearances of divided loyalties or of lack of impartiality, and the consequences that can have on effectiveness is the real issue.

    • nitrat

      I find it offensive for the US to accept someone as ambassador who has renounced their American citizenship.
      Has this happened before?

  • sparse

    another take on the same question: if you found yourself falsely accused of a heinous crime, and you found your court-appointed lawyer is a self-described law and order type, would that not give you pause? is it inherently anti-conservative to have reservations about that, or can one remain a loyal conservative and question the appointment of that lawyer?

  • gmat

    You’re missing the salient point, Frum. In the UK, there are apparently sufficient incentives for a politician such as Flynn to take such a position (“incentive” = “helps him get elected”).

  • Primrose

    I think the biggest hurdle that friend of Israel have is the current Israeli administration (executive) to cater to the extreme religious conservatives in policy.ows that Israel can’t keep the West Bank. Everyone knows that continued settlements only support the more extreme strains in the Palestinian political array. Everyone knows that both sides will have to make unpleasant and unpalatable compromises. That in a sense both sides will get the shaft.

    But Netanhayu keeps running around pretending the moon is made of cheese, so he can gain a vociferous, minority’s votes. Why don’t you focus on this man’s failure to govern? His failure to do the hard things, not to mention his corruption.

    We can not make 2000 years of persecution, slavery and pogroms and genocide even by taking away all the land and rights of the Palestinian people. They were violent? Of course. There is rampant anti-Semitism. Yes, but try to escape it in the world. Have they ever had detailed discussions for those Christians who have suddenly embraced Zionism? You’re worried about Fatah and Hezebollah, these people want you to burn in a fery pit for all eternity. And yet Israel looks past this and accept their support. Surely, they can be neighbors with a Palestinian state.

    On the other hand, clearly, the Jews need a homeland. Do they have a right to it? Eh. They have a right to survive, which trumps the Palestinian right to live in a non-Jewish state.
    It’s not more fair if Israel is Uganda. And it is macabre to put it in Germany. I can’t think I’d want to move to where 6 million of my people, (and an entire culture) were murdered. Thus, it only makes sense to put it in their traditional and spiritual homeland, where the Jewish people came from, where they still pray to.

    So the Palestinians of Israel have to suck it up as well, and make do with a half a loaf.

    We need to stop worrying about what’s fair in the Middle East. There is no fair. History served these two marginalized people badly, as it does, and to some extent they just have to take their lumps, and move the hell on.

    Better we answer the problems both states need. This tit for tat serves neither well since there is, was and never will be any just answer. All we can do is ensure that both have a chance at a future.

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