David Newman 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite taking a bit too long to decide, the Foreign Ministry has made an
excellent choice in picking Daniel Taub to be Israel’s next ambassador to the
UK. It’s not easy to step into the shoes of Ron Prosor, an eloquent advocate for
Israel’s cause, but if anyone can do it while bringing finesse and
understatement to the task, Taub can.
Israel used to have hangups about sending senior diplomats
back to their countries of origin, not least because the countries themselves
were not very receptive to having an individual who had chosen to leave for
greener pastures. When Moshe Arens became ambassador to the US, and Yehuda Avner
ambassador to the UK, there was much talk about “dual loyalties,” but this
became irrelevant as each proved that his background enabled him to have an
insight into the society that did not require a two- or three-year learning
process. By the time Michael Oren was appointed ambassador to the US, this was
no longer an issue, as has been demonstrated by the difficult choice among
ex-Anglo Jews on the London shortlist.
Taub is also religious, has no
hangups about his Jewish identity, and probably doesn’t spend much time
wondering whether his Jewish, Israeli or Zionist identity takes precedence. Like
so many of us growing up in a religious and Zionist environment in the Diaspora,
these have always been part and parcel of a single identity. We had no problem
about demonstrating our Jewishness or our support for Israel in an alien (and
reasonably liberal) society, just as we have no problem displaying our continued
closeness with our country of origin.
Nor did we leave the UK or Israel
because of any overarching feelings of anti-Semitism, but because of a strong
and positive Jewish education, as members of communities, schools, youth
movements and Jewish student associations within which there was no separation
between being Jewish as a religious identity and desiring to live in Israel as a
national identity. It was something intrinsically positive, in contrast to the
way Israel today attempts to artificially create new modes of Jewish and Israeli
identity through recourse to the lowest denominator of
Prosor was an excellent ambassador, and a breath of fresh
air for a country that had, for the previous decade, suffered some of the
poorest ambassadors ever – not least because they were largely political rather
than professional appointments.
This contrasts strongly with the
excellent ambassadors sent by the UK to Israel during the past 15 years, from
Patrick Cornish to Sherard Cowper Cowles to Simon Macdonald to Tom Philips and
now Matthew Gould – all of them accomplished individuals who promoted joint
interests and cooperation. But Prosor’s tenure was dominated by the growth in
attacks on Israel and its legitimacy, not least the recurring (but totally
failed) attempts to impose an academic boycott.
Prosor had to spend much
time defending Israel against these attempts at delegitimization, and obviously
did it so successfully that he has now been appointed to an even more difficult
forum, namely the United Nations.
BUT GIVEN the time and space, Taub
should be able to refocus the debate on what Israel is all about, rather than
having to devote his tenure to defending the country against its detractors. It
is to be hoped that Taub will incorporate the many liberal, pro-peace,
left-of-center supporters who have been excluded from pro-Israel lobbies in
recent years. These groups have risen to prominence in the US, continental
Europe and, most recently, the UK, and have a major contribution to make in
balancing the more centrist and center- right positions of such pro-Israel
lobbies as AIPAC in the US or BICOM in the UK.
Taub will also be a
regular at the local synagogues, as his religious predecessor Avner was back in
the 1980s. He will not be one of those diplomats who feels uncomfortable having
to attend anything that has Jewish, as contrasted with Israeli, content, or is
unfamiliar with the most basic of traditional practices. For Taub, like so many
similar-minded religious and traditional olim, his Israel experience is an
integral part of his being Jewish, and not vice versa.
The one thing Taub
would do well to hide are his football (soccer) affiliations, if he has any. The
North London Jewish community (making up approximately 70 percent of the entire
Anglo- Jewish community) is split between their favorite teams – Arsenal and
Tottenham – and this is perhaps the only topic that competes with the diverse
attitudes toward Israel and its policies, when it comes to discussion and
But it must not be forgotten that Taub, like all Israeli
ambassadors, represents one sovereign country to another, and is not only a
representative to the Jewish community. Sometimes the local Jewish communities
demand too much of an Israeli ambassador’s time, and if they want Taub to do an
excellent job, they will have to know when to let go – once, that is, he has
made the rounds of his former schools and communities.
Ministry is to be congratulated for an excellent appointment. By all accounts,
his legal expertise is second to none. When he taught international law to
students at Ben-Gurion University a few years back, he received excellent
feedback. It is to be hoped that his tenure as ambassador to the Court of St.
James will result in even stronger relations between Israel and the
UK.The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
at Ben-Gurion University.