Prince Edward became the first royal officially to participate in Israel’s independence celebrations at a JNF-UJIA dinner at Windsor Castle on Monday.
Standing in for his father, the Duke of Edinburgh who had been hospitalised with a chest infection several days earlier, the Earl of Wessex attended a champagne reception for the 300-strong gathering.
Even though he left before dinner, he greeted guests including Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.
And a number of leading community names were also absent. Sources suggested that the venue and the £5,000-per-couple price had been seen by some as exclusive and prohibitive.
The charities declined to provide a copy of the guest list after the dinner, but it is understood that those who did not attend included Sir Trevor Chinn, Lord Levy, Lord Kalms, Lord Young, Lord Woolf, Gerald and Dame Gail Ronson, and Bicom chair Poju Zabludowicz. More than half of the Jewish Leadership Council were not present.
There was also disappointment expressed that no Israeli government official had attended in place of President Shimon Peres. Those who did attend, however, praised the “magnificence” of the evening, describing it as “moving” and a “wonderful experience”.
Guests entered the castle via the Cambridge Gate, to be escorted by footmen to the Waterloo Room for champagne and canapes.
They were then ushered into St George’s Hall for a sumptuous
dinner, prepared by kosher caterer Carole Sobell.
Outside the castle, held well back by police, were a small number of anti-Israel demonstrators, including members of Neturei Karta, who tried to barrack guests as they entered the royal apartments.
Before the evening ended, guests were given an opportunity to visit the Grand Reception room, not generally open to the public. Music, including Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, was provided by the band of the Irish Guards.
The dinner, where guests ate rack of lamb and plum and Armagnac tart, was presided over by Superintendent of the Castle, Major Alan Denham, with Steven Warwick as toastmaster. Toasts to the Queen and the state of Israel were proposed by Stephen Rubin and Colin Wagman.
Speeches were made by Mr Prosor, JNF UK president Gail Seal and UJIA chairman Mick Davis. Michael Gross, who helped to organise the event, gave the vote of thanks.
Guest Shimon Cohen said: “We were made to feel like heads of state. It was a wonderful experience to be escorted in, and ushered up stairs framed by suits of armour, swords, shields and coats of arms.
“The Earl of Wessex said how much he had enjoyed his recent visit to Israel. The band played a range of music from contemporary pop, to ballads to klezmer, and songs from Fiddler on the Roof. It was quite wonderful to hear it play Hatikvah.”
In his address, Ambassador Prosor expressed the significance of Israel’s independence being celebrated at Windsor Castle and recognised Jewish loyalty to the Crown.
“In the home of the kings and queens of the United Kingdom, we mark this historic occasion in a spirit of friendship,” he said.
“It was of course unfortunate that the Duke of Edinburgh was not well enough to attend. But it is my sincere hope that we one day have the opportunity to reciprocate the Royal Family’s hospitality. We in Israel look forward to someday welcoming Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip in our ancient capital, the home of our kings and queens.”
UJIA chief executive Douglas Krikler said the evening displayed “a wonderful show of unity working towards a shared goal — to celebrate 60 years of the people and state of Israel”.
JNF UK chief executive Simon Winters added: “The rousing singing of Hatikvah in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle to the accompaniment of the Irish Guards band was a unique and particularly moving tribute to the UK Jewish community. JNF UK are thrilled to have been able to jointly host such a magnificent occasion.”
But one senior communal figure, who decided not to attend, said after the event: “This was not the way to do things. If you wanted to hold an event at Windsor Castle, you cannot just pick only rich Jews to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. In my view, you must invite intellectuals, academics, people who would not be able to afford to pay £5,000 a couple.
“For example, how can you have a royal event for an occasion like this and not invite the president of the Zionist Federation? It doesn’t make sense. I know others felt the same and that was why some well-known people in the community decided not to go. I hope the organisers learn a lesson.”
Another communal activist claimed that UJIA had turned down an offer for academics to attend the dinner, sponsored and paid for by a communal leader. The charities insisted: “There was no set ticket price — all money raised was through voluntary
ZF president Eric Moonman confirmed that he had not received an invitation to the event. He said this week: “I have had a number of phone calls from people asking why I wasn’t there.
“I think this was a lost opportunity. It would have been better if all corners of the community had been represented.
“People have been saying to me that when the Jewish community is given an opportunity to come to Windsor Castle to help celebrate Israel’s 60th, they turn it into a fundraising event.”