New British envoy to Israel challenged

Matthew Gould chats to the audience, including Frank Baigel (left)

Matthew Gould chats to the audience, including Frank Baigel (left)

The man soon to be Britain's first Jewish ambassador to Israel was given a warm reception on Wednesday when he met the Manchester community.

Matthew Gould spoke at King David High School as part of a UK tour before leaving for Tel Aviv in eight weeks' time.

But it was not an easy ride for the Foreign Office high-flyer.

Almost as soon as he finished his hour-long address, he was challenged for not having spoken about the EU's attitude to Israel.

Another member of the audience questioned the viability of a two-state solution for Israel, a firm British government position.

But he received applause when he declared: "Israel's security and Israel's legitimacy are non-negotiable.

"One of my best friends is the ambassador in Sweden. When he gives a speech he doesn't have to say Sweden has a right to exist or that Britain needs to recognise Sweden's right to security. The sad truth of it is, now, I do have to say it about Israel."

His only personal connection to the city are distant cousins and a place at Manchester Grammar School he failed to take up at 12 after one of his father's jobs fell through. But he told the audience he was inspired by Chaim Weizmann, the Manchester University chemist "who spent his life working passionately for Israel, while at the same time working passionately for everything British".

He sought to diffuse potential anger from British Jews who may find any future criticism by him of Israel "even more infuriating by the fact that I will be doing it as a Jew".

But he said that "large parts of my family were killed in the Holocaust, and you cannot have that history and not understand the real insecurity that the Jewish people feel."

He ended by promising to uphold the British government's position against academic and trade boycotts and said behind any British criticism of Israel was a government "which considers itself a friend".

    Last updated: 9:19am, July 23 2010