To the Jews I became as a Jew that I might gain Jews…
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak:
I have become all things to all men…
– St Paul, 1 Corinthians
Politicians certainly aren’t saints, but they do have this in common.
On February 7, 2014 David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, delivered a rousing speech on the subject of the forthcoming referendum in which the Scots are to be offered the option of renouncing their union with the rest of the United Kingdom and becoming an independent nation. He did not presume to advise the Scots on how to vote, but addressed himself to the rest of the UK – the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish – urging them to use their influence with their Scottish relatives and friends in favor of preserving the Union.
“Such is the fusion of our bloodlines,” he declared, “that my surname goes back to the West Highlands and, by the way, I am as proud of my Scottish heritage as I am of my English heritage. The name Cameron might mean ‘crooked nose’ but the clan motto is “Let us unite” – and that’s exactly what we in these islands have done.”
On March 12, 2014, David Cameron was in Israel. Addressing the Knesset, he augmented his English-Scottish origins.
"My Jewish ancestry,”
he informed the assembled MKs, and through them the rest of the Jewish people, in both Israel and the diaspora, “is relatively limited, but I do feel just some sense of connection – from the lexicon of my great-great-grandfather, Emile Levita, a Jewish man who came from Germany to Britain 150 years ago, to the story of my forefather Elijah Levita, who wrote what is thought to have been the first ever Yiddish novel."
Cameron’s Jewish heritage
was first revealed in 2009, when one of Britain’s leading rabbinical authorities, Yaakov Wise, of Manchester University’s Center for Jewish Studies, traced his family tree back to the 16th-century Jewish scholar Elijah Levita.
Levita, who was responsible for the first dictionary of the Targums, or Aramaic commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, wrote his novel, The Bove-Bukh, in about 1507. It was published in 1541, the first non-religious book to be printed in Yiddish. A high popular chivalric romance, it went through at least 40 editions over the next five centuries. The Bove-Bukh became known in the late-18th century as the Bove-mayse or "Bovo's tale" – and this title was in turn corrupted, and passed into the Yiddish language as bubbe meise (literally "grandmother's tale").
Britain’s prime minister was bold enough not only to declare his one-sixteenth connection to the Jewish people, but to pledge himself to oppose the boycott of Israel, because the main purpose of his visit was to enhance UK-Israeli trade. His plane to Israel was full of the men and women whose businesses are contributing to what has recently turned into a bilateral trade bonanza. That is the reality of the British-Israeli relationship – which is why attempts to destroy it via the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are doomed to irrelevance. As Cameron himself said, back in December 2012
: “We are going to keep on working with Israel, doing business with Israel, trading with Israel.”
In that address, Cameron was fulsome in his admiration for Israeli achievements.
“Israel has got more start-up businesses per head than any other country. How do they do it? It’s about the aspiration and drive of its people. These are people who have innovated around every problem that life has thrown at them. So we want to work much more closely with Israel – on innovation, on technology.”
The success of that policy is clearly apparent in the just-released trade statistics
for 2013. Total UK-Israeli bilateral trade rose over those 12 months by 5.7 per cent, or $300 million, to stand at very nearly $5.5 billion in all.
Trading activity is weighted heavily in favor of Israel. Israel imported some $2 billion-worth of goods from the UK, but exported some $3.5 billion-worth. The UK is, except for the US, Israel’s largest export market.
UK demand for Israeli medicines
helped take bilateral trade to its record high, as British patients benefited from Israeli pharmaceutical advances, including drugs for Parkinson’s disease, such as Azilect, developed by Technion scientists, and generic versions of drugs produced by Teva. Other Israeli goods popular with Britons included fruit and vegetables, coffee, tea and spices.
“Given Israel’s status as the ‘start-up nation’, consistently developing new technologies across sectors,” said Hugo Bieber
, chief executive of UK Israel Business, a leading organization promoting trade relations between the two countries, “we expect to see trade between the UK and Israel continue to increase.”
Economic development is a key plank in the movement towards some sort of Israel-Palestine détente – development, that is, in the moribund Palestinian economy. Early on in his current push towards a peace agreement, US Secretary of State John Kerry wholeheartedly endorsed “Breaking the Impasse”, a new business-led initiative aimed at fostering Israeli-Palestinian peace and prosperity. The project was launched
at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Jordan in May 2013, by a group of prominent Israeli and Palestinian businessmen.
Kerry, convinced that fostering economic growth will profoundly improve the chance of the political peace process, clearly sees in “Breaking the Impasse” a valuable instrument for furthering his policy. He has, accordingly, invested the initiative with both US cash and dynamic leadership. He has got Quartet representative, one-time UK prime minister Tony Blair, to head an ambitious plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Cameron met Blair in east Jerusalem
, as the UK prime minister prepared for talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas. The pair discussed Blair's Palestinian economic initiative, and afterwards Blair gave his backing to Cameron's drive to boost economic links.
“If we don't build the Palestinian economy up at the same time as pursuing the political negotiation,” said Blair, “then a state for the Palestinians seems a dream and not a reality."
In the joint press conference held by Cameron and Abbas after their meeting on March 13, Cameron promised a package of UK support for Palestinian businesses and farming communities, which the World Bank estimates will boost the Palestinian economy by some $700 million.
Cameron stopped short of claiming Canaanite, Arab, or Palestinian lineage – unlike PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. “I am the proud son of the Canaanites,” Erekat recently maintained
, “who were there 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun burned down the town of Jericho.” His family tree
, posted on Facebook, shows his clan, part of the Huwaitat tribe, descends from Arabia, not Canaan.
The writer is the author of One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com)