A ‘passionate Zionist’
BRITISH SECRETARY of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt (left) congratulates Boris Johnson after it was announced that Johnson was the new Conservative Party leader and would become the next prime minister, at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London on July 23.
(photo credit: STEFAN ROUSSEAU/REUTERS)
Regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute, Johnson is a strong advocate for some version of a two-state solution. In a 2017 article that he penned, he set out a detailed explanation of his position.
‘A passionate Zionist” he has called himself. Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister, has often asserted his strong feeling for Israel and his empathy with the historic aspirations of the Jewish people to achieve self-determination in their ancestral homeland.Johnson’s ancestry is unusual. Given its Muslim, Jewish and Christian elements, Johnson has called himself a “one-man melting pot.” Through his father he is connected to the German royal house of Württemberg, but also to Ali Kemal, a minister of the Ottoman Empire who was assassinated in 1922 during the Turkish War of Independence. Through his mother, his connections can be traced back to the revered 19th century Lithuanian Rabbi Elijah Ragoler. His feelings about Israel, though, may stem just as strongly from Jenny Sieff, who became his stepmother when he was 17. The Sieffs are a prominent Anglo-Jewish family. Jenny’s stepfather, Teddy, served as chairman of Marks and Spencer and was vice-president of the British Zionist Federation. In 1973, he survived an assassination attempt by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine when he was shot by the assassin known as Carlos the Jackal.
In the summer of 1984 Jenny’s family in Israel – distinguished Israeli diplomat Michael Comay and his wife – helped aPrange for Johnson and his sister Rachel to volunteer at Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi for six weeks. Johnson spent his working day in the communal kitchens.In an article to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, Johnson wrote, “I served a stint at a kibbutz in my youth, and… saw enough to understand the miracle of Israel: the bonds of hard work, self-reliance and an audacious and relentless energy that hold together a remarkable country.”Circumstances brought Johnson face to face with a figure representing the strong anti-Israel stance of the hard-left wing of Britain’s Labour Party. Ken Livingstone, who became mayor of London in 2000, is on record as saying, “It’s not antisemitic to hate the Jews of Israel.” Livingstone’s two terms of office as mayor were marked by a number of incidents abhorred by many in the Labour movement. For example, he twice invited, entertained and lauded Egyptian extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who incited the mass murder of Israelis, claimed that Hitler was Allah’s hand for punishing the Jews, and favored wife beating, genital mutilation and flogging homosexuals. Livingstone dubbed al-Qaradawi “one of the leading progressive voices in the Muslim world.” In the 2008 London mayoral election, then-prime minister David Cameron agreed to run Boris Johnson against Livingstone as the Conservative candidate. Astonishingly, multicultural Labour-supporting London voted Johnson into office, and kept him there for a second term.JOHNSON’S TENURE was a success on many fronts, but a major achievement was to boost London’s global financial, commercial and economic links. In pursuit of this program, Johnson and a high-powered team landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on November 11, 2015, on a three-day trade mission with an emphasis on high-tech. Amid a host of activities, Johnson visited the Google campus in Tel Aviv, joined by representatives of 15 London technology firms working to secure business with Israeli companies and projects. “London,” he said, “is the leading European destination for Israeli companies looking to expand overseas. It is the natural tech partner for Israeli firms.” Since his visit, trade between the UK and Israel has boomed. The basic facts are astonishing. Bilateral UK-Israeli trade in 2014 was $6.3 billion; by 2018 it had topped $11 billion, an increase of 75% in just four years. Under a Johnson premiership, the prospects for continued expansion of trade, to the benefit of both Britain and Israel, are rosy. The February 2019 trade and cooperation agreement provides for continuity in trade relations after Britain leaves the EU, which Johnson pledged to achieve by October 31.The UK is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe, and its third largest worldwide. One key component is the little known UK-Israel Tech Hub. A month before Johnson came to Israel as London’s mayor, the then-UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, officially launched the hub at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv. Its creation followed an agreement between UK prime minister David Cameron and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promote business partnerships. The hub was a ground-breaking effort to do so in the fields of technology and innovation. Nothing of the kind had ever been attempted between the British government and a foreign embassy.The success of the UK-Israel Tech Hub, and the many organizations in the UK and Israel working with it, was recognized on October 25, 2018, when Haim Shani, chair of the hub, was awarded an honorary OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). The tech partnership had helped to boost the UK economy by nearly a billion pounds, enabling British companies to access Israel’s world-leading innovations, while helping Israeli companies go global by partnering with UK firms. Earlier this month, Johnson gave a n interview indicating the direction he is likely to lead the UK on issues of interest to Israel. On UK-Israeli trade he said, “I was proud to be the mayor who led the first-ever London-Israel trade mission. I’m proud that the UK is now Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and we saw huge investments both ways, partly actually as a result of that trip. We did a lot of good business but we want to step it up. There’s much more to be done, and I will be actively supporting trade and commercial engagements of all kinds.”JOHNSON AS prime minister is certain to support the continued expansion of Britain’s hi-tech sector, and mutually beneficial collaboration with Israel.Regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute, Johnson is a strong advocate for some version of a two-state solution. In a 2017 article that he penned, he set out a detailed explanation of his position.“I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel and a believer in that country’s destiny,” he wrote, “while also being deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth. The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration – intended to safeguard other communities – has not been fully realized. I have no doubt that the only viable solution to the conflict resembles the one first set down on paper by another Briton, Lord Peel, in the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1937, and that is the vision of two states for two peoples.”He suggested what “a fair compromise,” which he saw as two sovereign states – a viable and contiguous Palestine alongside a secure Israel, with borders based on the pre-Six Day War lines adjusted by “equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.” He called for adequate security arrangements for Israel, while for Palestinians the assurance that the “occupation” was over. He said nothing about the dilemma posed by some two million Palestinians Gazans being ruled by the rejectionist terrorist organization Hamas.The final determination of Jerusalem, he believed, should be agreed by the parties, ensuring that the holy city is a shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state, granting access and religious rights for all who hold it dear.“All of the above I set out with due humility,” he wrote, “because it is Israelis and Palestinians – not those of us who live far away – who would bear the pain of compromise. And I am encouraged by President Trump’s evident commitment to finding a solution.”Johnson has said little about Trump’s “Deal of the Century” but does not rule out moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem. He could see the logic of doing so, he said, but added, “The moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress.” Britain under Boris Johnson is likely to be a good friend of Israel. The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016, and he blogs at a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com.