Israel's new ambassador to the UK, London-born Daniel Taub, pledged this week to do whatever he could to engage people across the political spectrum with the Jewish state - even those who were ostensibly anti-Israel. "Even a short visit to Israel can have a dramatic effect," the ambassador said. "Reality is sometimes our greatest ally."
The ambassador, who made aliyah in 1989 and is only the second British-born Israeli diplomat to serve as envoy in the country of his birth (the first was Yehuda Avner), warned against giving anti-Israel campaigns too much credence.
In a wide-ranging interview with the JC this week, Mr Taub said: "I think that the impression created by these campaigns is disproportionate to the size and the core of people that are involved. I don't think it's helpful to define people who are anti-Israel, as antisemites. That places the bar too low. I don't want to create a situation where the only thing a person has to do is to prove that they are not an antisemite, and then [it's as though] everything else they do is okay. If somebody has double standards for Israel, we should hold them to account because of that, and not because of something else."
Mr Taub, who was a leading light in Oxford Jewish Society during his student years, said he was "very much committed" to travelling to campuses and "difficult" venues during his tenure as ambassador, but acknowledged that he had "a sense of disappointment" about the level of rhetoric in some places. "I don't feel that campuses always live up to the principles of academic open debate," he said.
A veteran of more than 20 years of inside track negotiations with Palestinians and other Israeli neighbours, Mr Taub, who was deputy legal counsel at Israel's Foreign Ministry before his present post, is a firm believer in face-to-face negotiations. Speaking ahead of this week's events at the United Nations, the ambassador said: "My message to the Palestinians is that they need to think in practical terms in order to advance their goals. They have had decades of resolutions at the UN which have not advanced their conditions. Given that the Palestinian leadership itself is split on how to proceed - part of Palestinian society which is constructive, which has made great practical progress to date, is very unhappy over this latest tactic - both sides know that the only place [where anything will happen] is the negotiating room."
Mr Taub, who was Israel's representative on the Palmer Commission which published its report into the Gaza flotilla incident last month, warned that Turkish-Israel relations were in a parlous state.
He said: "The Turkish-Israel relationship is important to us, and we want to repair it. But it seems that it's not regarded as quite so important on the Turkish side of the equation. It's worth remembering that the friction in that relationship started long before the flotilla incident.
"We had the Turkish leader walking out on our president in Davos, inviting Hamas leaders to come and visit, increasing the rhetoric against Israel extremely dramatically, cancelling long-fixed joint exercises with Israel... as much as Israel wants to rebuild that relationship, we do watch with concern a Turkish leader who seems to think that expressing hostility to Israel is a way of bolstering his standing in the region."
V See Feature, page 43