Britain’s Israel Ambassador Matthew Gould has dismissed the idea that better advocacy would improve Israel’s standing in the Western world.
In a lecture in London in which he voiced fears of a growing erosion of sympathy with Israel, he said: “I don’t think this is primarily a failure of hasbarah, a failure of public diplomacy.”
Israel was diplomatically as well represented in any country in the world and its British Ambassador, Daniel Taub, was “a very effective voice”, he said.
But no ambassador could have softened the impact of pictures of dead Palestinian children in Gaza which appeared daily on the news during the summer, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict, he argued.
“There is no amount of hasbarah or public diplomacy that is going to convince the vast majority of the British public that settlement announcements are a good thing,” he declared.
“There is no amount of hasbarah… which is going to convince the British public that Israel is the underdog in this conflict.”
Mr Gould expressed fears that Israel was “slowly losing, bit by bit, the elite centre ground of British public opinion”.
The recent parliamentary vote in support of British recognition of a Palestinian state, while it had made no difference to British government policy, reflected “a level of impatience and frustration with what’s happening, with Israeli settlement building and continuing waves of conflict”.
On the positive side, he noted record levels of bilateral trade between Israel and Britain, growing scientific and academic links and a shared sense of cultural affinity in some areas.
Mr Gould - who was delivering the Morris and Manja Leigh memorial lecture for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research – said that when he became ambassador in 2010, he had been given a brief to build “the strongest possible partnership” that he could between the two countries. “I know my successor is being given the same instructions,” he said.
But without progress towards a peace settlement, he added: “I wonder if in four or five years’ time, their successor is going to be given the same instructions and I certainly wonder if in 10 years’ time, their successor will be given the same instructions.”