Cameron tells Knesset that Britain’s commitment to Israel’s security is rock solid


By Anshel Pfeffer, March 13, 2014
Cameron addressing the Knesset on Wednesday (Photo: PA)

Cameron addressing the Knesset on Wednesday (Photo: PA)


On the face of it, the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel, a giant row over laws passing through the Knesset and the chaotic fall-out from a Foreign Ministry strike all threatened to overshadow Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Israel this week.

And it was, arguably, an inconsequential visit as far as diplomatic tours go. But there was a good reason for that: there is nothing that needs fixing right now between London and Jerusalem.

Mr Cameron’s speech to the Knesset on Wednesday may have been neither ground-breaking nor surprising, but it more than satisfied both the Israeli leadership and the Jewish community in Britain. It struck all the right notes.

The context is that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to point to a time when Britain-Israel ties were stronger than they are today — on just about every level.

Britain-Israel relations have never been stronger than they are today

Trade between the two nations is at an all-time high (£5.1 billion last year). Security and intelligence co-operation has never been better. And Israeli officials praise Britain for remaining vigilant on sanctions against Iran and not rushing, like some European countries, to send senior ministers on visits to Tehran.

The issue of universal jurisdiction was largely cleared up by Mr Cameron and Britain is no longer pushing for “labelling” of settlement goods in the EU (although it will go along with the majority view).

And for all the talk of delegitimisation and BDS, of which London is a hub, the actual boycotting of Israel in the UK has been negligible, shrinking to virtually non-existent when compared to the immense interest of British investors in Israeli technology and innovation.

Mr Cameron certainly deserves some credit for this, although the healthy ties between the two countries are a result of a long line of pro-Israel PMs in Downing Street — more often than not defying the Foreign Office line.

Credit is also due to a new breed of British diplomats who no longer view Israel as a malign presence in the Middle East; to the staff of Israel's embassy in London under ambassador Daniel Taub's creative leadership, and also to the efforts of so many in the Jewish community.

But the good health of the relationship is, more than anything else, down to the work of thousands of individuals, businesspeople, academics, technology developers and security professionals who have understood the incredible gain for Britain in having wider and deeper connections with Israel on every level, despite all its political problems and conflicts.

So no one is under any illusion that the Cameron visit will deliver a massive boost to the relationship — simply because no such boost is necessary.

The importance of the visit is in its sheer normalcy. In 1986, Margaret Thatcher became the first prime minister to visit Israel while in office and every one of her successors has visited. And while the fact that the Queen has not visited will remain a stain on the Royal Family’s record, it would be unthinkable today for any significant British political leader not to visit Israel.

David Cameron’s fleeting and inconsequential trip to Israel is simply an affirmation of the strength and importance of the relationship between the two countries and of the central role of Britain’s Jewish community in public life. And that says quite a lot.

Last updated: 12:43pm, March 14 2014