Camel Corps gone but FCO still out of touch

By Martin Bright, June 14, 2012

This week I came to the conclusion that the Foreign Office genuinely believes it is in tune with mainstream Jewish opinion in this country. The convention of background briefings to journalists means that I can only state that I "understand" this. I cannot identify or quote my sources. But, believe me, I do understand this to be the case. The FCO is under the distinct impression that most reasonable UK Jews are opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu's stance on settlement building, that William Hague is right to express his deep concern, and that present Israeli government policy is damaging the chances of restarting the peace process.

They are possibly right for a significant proportion of liberal opinion within the Jewish community. But I wonder where they got the idea that this is a dominant or even majority view? I have not carried out scientific polling but I have certainly met significant numbers of reasonable, moderate British Jews who view settlement building as a distraction. And there were several prominent members of the Jewish leadership present at the JNF's Avigdor Lieberman event in Hendon last month who did not raise their voices in opposition to his view that it is the job of diaspora communities to be loyal to Israeli governments of every stripe.

It is no longer correct to see the Foreign Office as dominated by the "Camel Corps", as an older generation of Arabists has been replaced by a far more diverse cohort of diplomats, including the UK's first Jewish envoy to Israel, Matthew Gould.

But it would be interesting to know from where it is getting its information about British Jewry. One source must be the Jewish Leadership Council, which has regular meetings with the Foreign Secretary's team, including one just this week. But anyone who knows the individuals who attend these meetings will recognise they do not match the Foreign Office profile. They will have told officials that it is not helpful to give such prominence to the settlement issue.

I have no doubt the Foreign Office believes it plays fair by the Israeli and Palestinian people, because that is, after all, the British way. Uncomfortable though this may be, those who represent the community will need to work even harder to represent the full spread of opinion to those who make decisions that affect this country's relationship with Israel.

Last updated: 11:12am, June 14 2012