After presenting his credentials to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday, Matthew
Gould officially became the first British ambassador of the Jewish faith in
Gould was the fourth of five new ambassadors who presented their
credentials to the president in a series of separate ceremonies.
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others, in order of arrival in Israel, were Alfredo Rivera of Guatemala, for
whom this is his first ambassadorial posting; Svein Sevje of Norway, who was
previously ambassador to Sudan, and before that to Syria; Elinor Hammarskjold of
Sweden, a great-niece of former UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold; and Paul
Hunt of Canada.
Both Sevje and Hammarskjold have served in Israel before.
From 1994-1998, Sevje was minister counselor at the Norwegian Embassy in Tel
Aviv, and Hammarskjold served as consul and deputy head of mission at the
Swedish Consulate- General in Jerusalem from 2000-2002.
Sevje also served
as a Middle East special envoy from 2005-2008.
Hunt was most recently
Canada’s ambassador to Brazil.
In welcoming Gould, Peres noted that since
the appointment of Herbert Viscount Samuel as the first High Commissioner of
Palestine in 1920, never had a Jew been appointed as the top-ranking
representative of the British government in Israel.
Israel’s history is
interwoven with that of Britain, said Peres, recalling that in November 1917,
British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour gave Baron Walter Rothschild a
letter stating that His Majesty’s government viewed with favor the establishment
of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
It was around this
period, said Peres, that the Arab and Jewish movements enjoyed a renaissance:
The Jews, after 2000 years in exile were returning to their homeland, and the
Arabs, after centuries of being subjected to Ottoman domination, were given
independence when the British and the French expelled the Ottoman Empire from
Today, Peres continued, there is a renewal of the appetite
for empire, this time on the part of the Iranians, who through enriched uranium,
terror and violence, threats against the State of Israel, denial of the
Holocaust, and accusations that the Americans destroyed the Twin Towers, want to
rule the Middle East.
Should Iranian ambitions be realized, the Middle
East will, for the first time, have to forget about separation of church and
state; “it will be just church,” said Peres, warning that the takeover would
also include Shi’ite elements.
Peres noted the irony that it was Israel
that had first recognized the Palestinian right to
“There never was a Palestine State,” he reminded
Gould; the West Bank belonged to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt. Now Israel is
helping the Palestinians to build their economy and is supporting the
Palestinian defense force, he said.
“This is an immensely happy and proud
day for me,” responded Gould. “This is the best job in the British Foreign
Gould said he was aware that he’d come with a good deal of
historical and personal baggage. Although relations between Britain and Israel
are warm, he added, they are also complex.
His personal baggage relates
to his religion.
“I’m proudly Jewish. I was brought up in a staunchly
Jewish household,” he said. It was also a Zionist household, but that didn’t
prevent him from spending two-and-a-half years in Teheran, where he was deputy
head of mission, and where in addition to dealing with the Iranian regime, he
visited the city’s synagogues and kept in touch with the Jewish
Prior to leaving for Israel, he told Peres, he had been
instructed by his prime minister to promote and develop relations in dealing
with the threat from Iran. There is close cooperation on this matter between the
British and Israeli governments in dealing with the Iranian issue, he said, but
stated that the extent of the cooperation could not be made public.
country shares Israel’s concerns, he said, and how to deal with Iran will be a
major part of his mission in Israel.
He also pledged to do everything
possible to help with the Palestinians.
It was important to Gould to
deliver a strong message to Israel and the Israelis that Israel was not as
isolated as it would appear from reports in the international media.
are not alone. You have friends in the international community,” he
“Israel should not feel that only Israel cares about Israel’s
Peres and Sevje are old friends, having worked together during
the Oslo process.
“I feel that I have come at a time when the distance to
the goal is longer and the road deeper,” Sevje said.
instanced government concessions, the change in policy vis-à-vis the West Bank,
acceptance by a primarily right-wing government of a two-state solution to the
conflict with the Palestinians, and other measures designed to improve relations
and build confidence.
While appreciative of the role played by Norway in
the Middle East peace process, Peres could not understand why more was not being
done to stop Iran.
Sevje, who has been coming to Israel for some four
decades and who is keen to improve relations between Israel and Norway, was
candid in declaring that as warm as such relations may become, “there are issues
relating to the West Bank that we don’t agree on.”
With the Swedish
Ambassador, Peres spent a long time discussing her great uncle, whom he had
known personally and whose intellect he greatly admired.
He also thanked
Sweden for its annual $90 million donation to the Palestinian Authority, and
recalled how he and Yasser Arafat had come to the Swedish Parliament to ask for
a donation to help the Palestinians build up their economy – and how forthcoming
Sweden had been.
Hammarskjold reiterated Sweden’s commitment to
At his meeting with Rivera, Peres underscored the important
contribution made by Guatemala to the establishment of the State of
In speaking to Hunt, Peres brought up the names of Canadian
political leaders who had helped Israel during its fledgling years, even to the
extent of supplying arms when most other countries refused.
heartened when both Gould and Hunt told him that scientific cooperation was high
on their respective agendas.
Meanwhile, for Yitzhak Eldan, who has been
the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol for the past seven years, Tuesday was a
sad day, because it was the last time he would be introducing ambassadors to the
president. He is due to retire at the end of October, and Hunt was his last
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