Marcus Dysch

Dysch on politics: Israel witnesses the new low-profile BoJo

No mucking about this time: BoJo had no opportunities for rugby-tackling, fish-wielding or bicycle-pedalling..

March 09, 2017 10:01

Boris Johnson’s visit to Israel this week went almost completely unnoticed in this country — and uncharacteristically, that was the effect he was hoping for.

It would have ranked as a low-profile trip for any British minister. By the Foreign Secretary’s standards it was virtually a disappearing act. Barely any public statements, few photo calls, and certainly no mishaps.

Contrast with Mr Johnson’s last business visit to Israel and the West Bank in November 2015. On that occasion, travelling as Mayor of London and with the unofficial intention of portraying himself as a serious statesman, Mr Johnson ended the week banned from visiting a Palestinian charity after telling an Israeli audience that boycott campaigners were “snuggle-toothed lefties” dressed in corduroy.

No such mucking about this time from BoJo. Mr Johnson was not provided with opportunities to replicate his rugby-tackling, fish-wielding, bicycle-pedalling stunts of years gone by.

After arriving in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, he spent Wednesday in high-profile meetings with leading figures including President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Some subsequently dismissed the visit as unimportant but, even if the meetings were low-key, these various political heavyweights were not sitting around discussing the weather.

One flicker of interest came with Mr Johnson meeting Peace Now, the Israeli group which campaigns against the West Bank settlements. But given the UK government’s long-standing opposition to settlements and their expansion, even this session could hardly be deemed ground-breaking.

Critics of Mr Johnson have been desperate for him to present a more professional front since he moved to the Foreign Office. Now they have got what they wanted.

Additionally, for all the talk on social media and in grassroots groups about boycotts and apartheid, the reality is rather different. Weeks after Mr Netanyahu came to London to meet Theresa May, Mr Johnson goes in the opposite direction and continues the discussion and deal-making, working on trade, security and geopolitics.

Last month, we reported Mr Netanyahu’s desire to see Israel operate within a new alliance of like-minded, right-wing, conservative-led nations — with Britain and the United States at the centre. Mr Johnson’s engagements in Jerusalem are another step along that road.

Mr Netanyahu has the ear of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and has become a key conduit for those who, like Britain, must work with both.

After years as the court jester, Mr Johnson finds himself as a serious player at the top tables — with obvious implications for his career, at home and abroad.

March 09, 2017 10:01

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