Israel envoy rides into farce up north

Mr Prosor at Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue’s Purim party

Mr Prosor at Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue’s Purim party

A visit by Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor to Leeds turned into a “fiasco” after proposed receptions and appointments with civic leaders failed to materialise.

The two-day tour this week was intended to improve interfaith and community relations but was hampered by a series of security concerns and rejected requests for meetings.

On Monday afternoon, the Israeli Embassy issued a press statement outlining the ambassador’s “disappointment” at the cancellation of a meeting with Muslim leaders.

Mr Prosor complained that moderate British Muslims had been put “under intense pressure from more radical elements determined to sabotage any effort at constructive engagement”.

But it has emerged that his prospective hosts at the Hamara Centre had not issued a formal invitation or finalised plans for a meeting before his arrival in Yorkshire.

Leeds City Council, which funds the centre and had attempted to arrange a wider schedule with dignitaries, said “community relations issues” had made it inappropriate for the visit to go ahead.

Mr Prosor had also expected to attend a reception at Leeds Town Hall with “all faith and community leaders” on Monday.

But when he arrived he was greeted only by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Frank Robinson, and council leader Andrew Carter for a private meeting.

Later that day he took part in a Purim party at the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue in Street Lane, but community members had not been told he would be attending for fear of a surge of congregants from other synagogues.

Philip Margolis, of the Zionist Federation, said: “When it was announced that the ambassador was coming to BHH, people thought it was a Purim spiel.”

One senior Jewish community figure, who had not been informed of the trip, said it was “a sad situation that the ambassador’s visit had turned out to be such a damp squib. The whole thing was a fiasco”.

If more substantial details had been provided earlier, he said, the community would have ensured the trip ran more smoothly.

Referring to the Hamara cancellation, Mr Prosor declared: “I am determined to stand strong and carry Israel’s message in the face of all those who cynically, aggressively and maliciously attempt to crush our freedom of expression.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We worked closely with the ambassador’s office to try to arrange a visit as requested, but unfortunately while putting together the itinerary, we encountered a number of community relations issues.

“It was therefore considered appropriate not to proceed with the visit in the form originally proposed. We can confirm that the council leader and Lord Mayor did meet in private with the ambassador [on Tuesday].”

There were some successful aspects to the trip, however, with Mr Prosor giving a well-received speech at a British-Israel Chamber of Commerce event for business leaders, meeting Jewish students from the city’s universities, and attending a UJIA lunch.

As the trip concluded on Tuesday, the ambassador declared it a success, saying he was “pleased” with how it had gone.

Mr Margolis said the community expected Mr Prosor would return to the city at a later date, by which point “the problems will be sorted out”.

    Last updated: 11:37am, March 17 2009