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On this day: Matthew Gould appointed British ambassador to Israel

December 8 2009: Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel

    “As someone from a Jewish background...it's even more of a fantastic opportunity,” he said, as he began his new job.

    Although Herbert Samuel, who served as was the first high commissioner to the British Mandate of Palestine, was also Jewish, Matthew Gould is the first Jew to represent Britain in Israel since the state was founded.

    He’s only been in Israel since September, but in that short time he and his wife Celia have made something of an impact. The couple have met Noam and Aviva Shalit, parents of captured Israeli soldier Gilad, at their protest tent in Jerusalem, and taken fashion advice from British duo Trinny and Susannah at a star-studded party.

    Mr Gould was appointed to replace Tom Phillips, who is now posted to Saudi Arabia. His grandfather arrived in Britain as a refugee from Poland in the 1920s; other family members did not survive the Holocaust.

    In 1993 he began working for the Foreign office. Formerly a speech writer for Robin Cook, he served as Principal Private Secretary to David Miliband when he was Foreign Secretary and has held positions in NATO, Manila and Washington. He was also posted in Tehran for a period, serving as the deputy head of mission, where he made a pointed statement attending synagogue.

    The 39-year-old, who was awarded an MBE when he was just 26 , has put scientific collaboration between Britain and Israel as a high priority. Speaking soon after his arrival in israel, he said: “When people call for an economic boycott, we push commercial collaboration and when people call for a cultural boycott, we push cultural collaboration.”

    What he told the JC: “I am and always will be a friend of Israel. But I am going out there as the British ambassador, and going to promote British policies…The most important thing is to go and listen, to find out what the Israeli public is thinking, and to come to my own view as to how I should best advise the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary how they should calibrate British policy towards Israel…the single most important thing I can do is to get under the skin of the country. That means emphatically talking to everyone, not just those who agree with British policy; left and right, secular and Charedi, settlers and Israeli Arabs.”

    See more from the JC archives here

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