Israel: Foreign Office is prejudiced

No member of the royal family has visited this Middle East democracy, a sure sign of Britain’s lukewarm friendship

By Andrew Roberts, December 17, 2009

One area of policy over which the Foreign Office has traditionally held great sway is in the question of royal visits. It is therefore no coincidence that, although the Queen has made more than 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor one single member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit.

Even though Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece, who was recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations” for sheltering a Jewish family in her Athens home during the Holocaust, was buried on the Mount of Olives, the Duke of Edinburgh himself was not allowed by the FO to visit her grave until 1994, and then only on a private visit.

“Official visits are organised and taken on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” a press officer for the royal family explained when Prince Edward visited Israel recently —privately — and a spokesman for the Foreign Office replied that “Israel is not unique” in not having received an official royal visit, because “many countries have not had an official visit”.

That might be true for Burkino Faso and Chad, but the FO has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the Queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she was not in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty has not been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get round to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East. At least she could be certain of a warm welcome in Israel, unlike in Morocco where she was kept waiting by the King for three hours in 90-degree heat, or at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Uganda the time before last, where they hadn’t even finished building her hotel.

The true reason, of course, is that the Foreign Office has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimisation of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists.

Similarly hypocritical thinking applies to warfare. William Hague called for Israel to adopt a “proportionate response” in its struggle with Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against Fascism. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans: 12 times the number. Hardly proportionate but a mighty contribution to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Very often in Britain, especially when faced with the overwhelmingly anti-Israeli bias endemic in our liberal media and the BBC, we fail to ask ourselves what we would not do placed in the same position? The United Kingdom population of 63 million is nine times that of Israel. In July 2006, to take one random example, Hizbollah crossed the border of Lebanon into Israel and killed eight patrolmen and kidnapped two others, and that summer fired 4,000 Katyusha rockets into Israel killing a further 43 civilians. If we multiply those numbers by nine to get the British equivalent, just imagine what we would not do if a terrorist organisation based as close as Calais were to fire 36,000 rockets into Sussex and Kent, killing 387 British civilians, after killing 72 British servicemen in an ambush and capturing a further 18? I suggest that there are no lengths to which our government would not go to protect British subjects under those circumstances — and quite right, too. So why should Israel be expected to behave any differently?

None of us can know what lies ahead for Israel, but if it decides pre-emptively to strike against the Iranian nuclear threat — in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran — then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. This should be ignored because Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel.

Andrew Roberts’s books include ‘The Storm of War: a New History of the Second World War’

Last updated: 11:10am, December 17 2009