A slice of Britain in Israel lures ambassador

By Jessica Elgot, December 1, 2011

The small Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, boasts about its English tea and homemade scones.

Beit Shemesh is the Israeli city with a British accent. The city, which has seen ongoing conflict between its strictly Orthodox and secular residents, has around 100 British families and many synagogues have predominantly British membership.

Last week the UK's ambassador Matthew Gould brought the head of Parliament's foreign affairs committee, MP Richard Ottaway, for a traditional afternoon tea, with a cup of PG Tips, with the city's British residents.

They debated British foreign policy with residents and saw a local charity's efforts towards putting the UK government's "Big Society" into practice in Israel, by helping local people manage their finances and improve their career prospects.

Harrogate-born David Morris, who has lived in Israel for 20 years, runs poverty charity Lema'an Achai, which translates as "For My Brothers".

The charity, which was founded in 2000,"helps people in poverty manage their finances and develop their careers, offer para-legal services and help develop small businesses," Mr Morris explained. "We heard from the ambassador about Prime Minister Cameron's idea about the 'Big Society.' That's exactly what we are doing here."

Mr Morris, who was nominated for the Israel Prize in 2010, added: "Israel is widely associated with high-technology innovation. We are thrilled to have been identified by the British government as Israeli innovators in the field of social welfare."

There is a web of personal links between us

He said the ambassador had expressed an interest in maintaining a long term relationship with the charity.

Ambassador Gould and Mr Ottoway also met other British residents of the town, together with Mayor Moshe Abutbol, to debate current British policy on Israel and the Middle East.

Mr Gould said: "The visit really brought home to me the impact that British olim are making on Israel. As British ambassador it is great to see the web of personal connections that exists between Britain and Israel, and the positive impact that British olim are having on communities such as the one we met in Beit Shemesh."

Last updated: 12:16pm, December 1 2011