EXCLUSIVE: Israel’s envoy reveals her hate convoy ordeal

Tzipi Hotovely left 'shocked' over racist abuse on Britain's streets


Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely speaks to Jewish Chronicle reporter Ben Felsenburg at the Embassy of Israel in London. Byline John Nguyen/JNVisuals 31/08/2021

Israel’s Ambassador to the UK has revealed her family had to endure hearing vile antisemitic slogans spewed out by the “hate convoy” that snaked through north London during the Gaza war this year.

In an interview with the JC, Tzipi Hotovely said her husband had been left “shocked” by extremists shouting out extreme racist abuse as they drove cars draped with Palestinian flags through Jewish neighbourhoods.

The ambassador also extended her New Year greetings to JC readers, and spoke of her hope that Covid restrictions would be relaxed so she can visit more members of the community in person and to allow easier travel to Israel.

Recalling her horror at the antisemitic protests that erupted as Israel defended its civilians from Hamas missiles in May, Mrs Hotovely said: “Some of the attacks happened in my neighbourhood, some of the cars were driving next to my house.

“My children had to hear people shouting and screaming horrible things. Some of those lines are not appropriate even to repeat.”

The ambassador’s husband had been out driving to the shops when he heard the slogans being shouted out on a megaphone. She said he had spoken of his “shock” when he returned home.

Expressing her disbelief over the eruption of shameless racism on the streets of Britain, Mrs Hotovely said: “The issue is that this jihadi ideology has got to the capital of freedom and liberalism that London symbolises.

“I’m not just speaking about my own experience, I’m speaking about the Jewish community’s experience.”

Video footage of the hate convoy which circulated online at the time attracted widespread condemnation, including from Boris Johnson, who described the obscene slogans as expressing “shameful racism”.

Mrs Hotovely said: “The military operation in Gaza exposed the fact that the Jewish community here is dealing with rising antisemitism.

“As Israelis we don’t experience antisemitism the way Jewish people here do. As people that live now in London we are experiencing it the way that Jews here experience it.”

During the conflict the ambassador had faced an often hostile British media accusing Israel of disproportionality as it responded to missile attacks from Hamas launch sites situated in civilian areas. On the BBC’s Newsnight the opening question she faced was: “How ashamed are you of your government tonight?”

“It wasn’t an easy moment for me,” Mrs Hotovely recalled. “My mother who’s over 60 was sitting in a shelter, kids in Israel were sitting in shelters instead of going to nurseries and schools.

“But my reaction was very clear, we are a democratic country defending its people being attacked by a terror organisation. This is the truth.”

Looking back over the pandemic, Mrs Hotovely highlighted how the world and particularly Britain looked to Israel for its pioneering vaccine rollout.

She said: “Israel and the UK did wonderful things when it came to health cooperation. As we speak we are doing wonderful things with the NHS. Israel was a role model because we were the first country in the western world to vaccinate the majority of the people, and now we are doing the booster.

“This is how we see ourselves, as a leading country, and this is where the UK sees the very special benefit Israel has in the post-Brexit era. So I think the British government sees Israel as an asset and we see ourselves also as learning a lot from the British experience.”

Looking ahead, the Ambassador spoke of the importance of Britain and Israel together meeting the looming threat of Iran and its nuclear programme with new hardliner president Ebrahim Raisi in office.

She said: “The Iran issue is the most important issue on our national security. I think when it comes to the UK, we always used to share the same views, on where Iran is heading.

“Now that it’s very clear that the Iranian regime is not willing to get into any kind of compromise or negotiation we all need to get back to the table and rethink how to make sure Iran won’t reach its goals. We need to make sure that historic mistakes won’t be repeated.”

Some political observers had recently called Mrs Hotovely’s future as ambassador into question, amid reports that having been appointed by Benjamin Netanyahu last year she was being recalled by the new government of Naftali Bennett. However, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday confirmed that she is to remain in London for the full three years of the posting.

Mrs Hotovely denied there had ever been any truth to the reports. She said: “All those rumours, basically it was social media. The foreign minister called me last week, he said that I support you, you’re going to finish your term, I have full trust in your work here in London.”

Wishing the readers of the Jewish Chronicle a Shana Tova, Mrs Hotovely expressed her sadness over the disruption to travel between Britain and Israel because of covid. She said: “My prayer for this year is both our countries getting over the pandemic, to see more Jews coming to Jerusalem, to Tel Aviv. I really hope people can come to Israel.”

Issuing his Rosh Hashanah greeting, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said he wished everyone “a year of health and coming together”.

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