Hostile public opinion is threatening to undermine good relations between the United Kingdom and the Jewish State, Israel Ambassador Ron Prosor warned this week.
Ambassador Prosor was addressing the British ORT Gala Dinner on Monday where he was being honoured for his highly regarded representation of Israel as well as his support for Anglo-Jewish charities. The evening raised £400,000 ($633,500) for ORT’s network of 18 schools in the Former Soviet Union, which provide a sterling secular education as well as a route back to Jewish knowledge, pride and practice for thousands of families.
The Ambassador, who turned 52 that day, told the 245 people “ﾓ including former prime minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie “ﾓ at London’s Millennium Hotel that people such as the politician Baroness Tonge had brought the bar of public discourse so low that “the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel has become “ﾘparlour talk’; it’s acceptable”?.
“We’re not angels, Israel does make mistakes, but to have someone in the House of Lords like Baroness Tonge talk about Israel’s rescue operations in Haiti as a means to harvest organs”ﾦ It’s a blood libel,”? he said.
And he rejected the ostensible support of “self-proclaimed friends of Israel”? whose criticism of his country “gives legitimacy to people who want to thrash the State of Israel and the Jewish People”?.
“Friends can criticise but let me define who my friends are and not those self-proclaimed friends who use it as a springboard to say things with no validity and no understanding of what Israel is all about and what it’s facing,”? Ambassador Prosor said.
The ambassador framed his comments within a comparison of today’s political climate to that he encountered in the UK when he first served here 16 years ago. He said that successive British governments “ﾓ of the Left and Right “ﾓ had been more positive towards Israel than public opinion because of decision makers’ greater knowledge and understanding of the challenges facing the country.
But Mr Prosor warned that governments, whether here or in Germany, Italy or France, could not remain impervious to the pressures emanating from various levels of society. And as the gap between government and public opinion closed it would close against Israel.
“This great country is doing amazing stuff on Iran but I feel that the relationship is like an apartment building,”? he said. “The penthouse at the top is wonderful with really wonderful views but the foundations are shaky, the lifts break, there is persistent flooding and without repairs the whole building is at risk.”?
He called on everyone in the ballroom of the Millennium Hotel to work against the anti-Israel campaign: “Your support now is more crucial than it has ever been.”?
Looking back over his career, the ambassador said that travelling through Arab countries had shown him that peace is possible.
“I saw how much in common we have. Under the radar screen, when you engage and conduct dialogue you find that behind this seemingly insurmountable mountain there are people with whom it is possible to reach peace because it’s something that not only the people of Israel want and need and strive for but also some of our neighbours,”? he said.
However, as someone who had spoken out passionately in former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s Cabinet in favour of withdrawing from Gaza, Ambassador Prosor said that the experience of recent years had shown that unilateralism did not work.
“We left Lebanon and we got missiles; we left Gaza and we got missiles,”? he said, adding that while Israelis told themselves that the experience of uprooting 22 settlements from Gaza had shown the resilience of their society and democracy, to the rest of the region it looked like Israel was “running away with its tail between its legs because of violence and war; keep up the violence and terror and they will keep on running”?.
British ORT Chairman Simon Alberga paid tribute to Ambassador Prosor saying it was a privilege to be honouring him.
“You work tirelessly promoting the interests of Israel in this country and we admire the courage, energy and sense of humour you bring to this trickiest of diplomatic roles. Somehow, alongside your duties representing Israel in the UK you also find time to support and champion so many Anglo-Jewish communal causes, including British ORT, and for this we are profoundly grateful,”? Mr Alberga said.
A videotaped message was played in which former Israeli defence minister Shaul Mofaz congratulated the ambassador on the fantastic job he was doing explaining to the world the work which Israel was doing to achieve peace and security.
In doing that, the ambassador was not frightened of going into the lions’ den, World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer told guests.
“He regularly visits universities to put Israel’s case in what we all know is an increasingly hostile environment. In these challenging times we are indeed fortunate to have such an able spokesman to defend Israel’s position; it really is a case of the right man in the right place at the right time,”? said Mr Singer, who presented the ambassador with a hip flask of vodka from Russia, the country where ORT was born 130 years ago.
Ambassador Prosor was also presented with a glass globe by Mark Mishon, a member of British ORT’s Board of Trustees.
“ORT has to think globally and act locally and that’s also what you have to do every day,”? Mr Mishon said.
The evening was rounded off with laughter prompted by veteran comedian and writer Barry Cryer OBE.