Brown vows security and support for Israel

July 25, 2008

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to Israel this week was a diplomatic success. But from the public-relations angle - at least, from the side of the Israeli media - it proved a damp squib.

An official at Israel's Foreign Ministry said: "Brown was eager to show that he is a close friend of Israel and spoke very forcefully about facing the Iranian threat."

But Israel was disappointed that Mr Brown did not mention publicly his opposition to the academic boycott, though the two agreements signed during the visit, on research and film-making cooperation are both seen as answers to the issue.

Most of what Mr Brown had to say was music to Israeli ears. He spoke in all his meetings with Israeli leaders of the need strongly to oppose Iran's nuclear-weapons programme and of Britain's commitment to Israel's security.

He also told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel should freeze settlement activity and said that the separation barrier was "graphic evidence of the urgent need for justice for the Palestinian people, the end to the occupation and the need for a viable Palestinian state".

He repeated his call for the end of settlement activities in his address to the Knesset, in which he raphsodised at length on learning about Israel from his father. He also said that a peace agreement would include Jerusalem as a capital of two states. This caused a walkout by one right-wing Knesset member.

Much was made about the fact that he was the first British premier to speak from the Knesset podium. But in reality, the reason that no former PM had done so was that in the past, the Knesset speakers were adamant in upholding the rules whereby only formal heads of state are allowed to address the Knesset. Under current speaker Dalya Itzik, that rule has already been waived.

But despite the round of high-profile meetings, Mr Brown's visit received scant notice in the Israeli media. Israel's largest-circulation newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, did not even mention Mr Brown in its Monday edition and neither did the highest-rating TV news programme on Channel Two. In part, this can be put down to Mr Brown's refusal to give interviews or even answer questions during the press conference at the Prime Minister's office.

Last updated: 11:50pm, July 24 2008