In his letter to his mentor, Laurens van der Post, Prince Charles refers to the “influx of foreign, European Jews” to the Middle East…“which has helped to cause great problems”.
This is arguably the most problematic part of his controversial letter: aliyah is the very raison d’etre and lifeblood of the Jewish state. At first glance, the prince appears to be questioning the legitimacy of Israel. It is equally likely, however, that these were not his own sentiments but rather the views of the Arabs he met during his tour of Saudi Arabia.
As for the prince’s controversial comments about the “Jewish lobby”, this was clumsy language — and they are (or were) clearly his own views. Had he used the term “pro-Israel lobby”, it would have looked somewhat less offensive.
Yet the prince’s views on pro-Israel organisations in Washington were widely shared in Britain at the time, as they are today. That same year, Margaret Thatcher, an admirer and a friend of the Jewish state, became the first prime minister to visit Israel while in office. But she too expressed frustration over groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which she believed undermined the possibilities of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
J-Street, which describes itself as a “pro-Israel and pro-peace” Jewish-American organisation, was set up precisely because of the concerns raised by the Prince in his letter.
In writing about a US president who could “stand up” and “take on the Jewish lobby”, Prince Charles presumably had the Reagan administration in mind.
The irony is that President Reagan won a very important battle against AIPAC in 1981 when he went ahead with a deal to sell AWACS, the airborne radar defence system, to Saudi Arabia in spite of the organisation’s best efforts to stop it.
Five years later, after the prince’s letter was written, President George H W Bush confronted AIPAC in withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel because of its settlement building in the West Bank.
In 2015, AIPAC suffered defeat over the Obama administration’s determination to push through the nuclear deal with Iran.
The Queen has never visited Israel. The Duke of Edinburgh has done so only in a private capacity, to visit the grave of his mother Princess Alice who is buried in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. Prince Charles has attended the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, but that is as far as it goes.
No official royal visit is likely as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. This provides the context for the outcry over the prince’s comments.
Yet the offending letter was written more than 30 years ago, and may not reflect the prince’s views today. It is also unfair to rush to judgment on the basis of just one letter.
However controversial the sentiments expressed, the relationship between Anglo-Jewry and the royal family remains a strong one.