The outgoing UK ambassador to Israel has said that it is undeniable that “there is antisemitism in the UK” but it is not “a simple story of hostile Britain drifting away from Israel.”
Sir Tom Phillips admitted that the “climate can be difficult” for supporters of Israel in Britain and that the Jewish state is no longer viewed as “David” but as “Goliath”.
The ambassador, who is to leave his post in Israel after four years, told the Jerusalem Post that the historically dominant image in the UK was of “plucky little Israel against a sea of non-democratic states.
“Now the image is the other way round.”
But, pointing to trade and research links, he stressed “there’s a lot going on at the people-to-people level,” between Britain and Israel. He credited academic exchanges and
He said that Israel’s problem is not image but “substance.”
“What people see in the UK is, OK, Israel has some genuine security concerns and they’ve got to be met.
However he said, for Britain “the answer to that cannot be keeping several million people” in what he called “a state of occupation.”
He said: “The centre of gravity is becoming more critical of Israel because of this.”
Sir Tom added that he was not surprised to hear David Cameron call Gaza “a prison camp”.
Describing the situation in the Gaza Strip as “unsustainable,” Sir Tom said: “He’s used language along pretty much the same lines in the House of Commons in the past.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t welcome the steps Israel has taken to relax access to Gaza… but we think more can be done.”
He warned that “in psychological terms” the result of the blockade of Gaza is “another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel.”
However he admitted that relaxing the blockade “has got to be consistent with Israel’s security concerns.”
In the interview Sir Tom also spoke about Britain’s commitment to the two-state solution.
Referring to the “success story in the West Bank”, he said he saw Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and president Mahmoud Abbas as “serious” partners for peace.
Sir Tom is to leave Israel next month and become Britain's man in Saudi Arabia . His successor, Matthew Gould, will be Britain's first Jewish ambassador to Israel.