Much has been written in the pages of this newspaper of late about the state of
the Jewish community in the UK and about relations between the UK and Israel.
Some of it has given the impression that Britain’s Jewish community is cowering
from an unstoppable wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the country.
is this wrong, but it offends me – both as Britain’s ambassador to Israel and as
a member of Britain’s Jewish community. The UK is not an anti-Semitic country,
and Britain’s Jewish community is proud, strong and flourishing. The community’s
leadership is robust, and speaks up about its concerns both in public and with
On Sunday, I spoke at the Jewish Living Expo in Wembley,
not too far from where I grew up. It was an amazing event. There was a real
buzz, with over 9,000 people coming from across the community and across the
country. It was a demonstration of confidence, and of the community’s
I do not pretend that the UK is free from anti-Semitism and
that there are no threats to the Jewish community.
Threats to Jewish
communities exist everywhere – this was brought home to us once again this week.
There is no complacency within either the community or the government about the
challenges, but let us not be hysterical about the situation of British Jews,
nor plainly misleading about what the community and the authorities are doing
about the threats that exist.
The government and police rightly take a
zero-tolerance approach toward anti-Semitic attacks. We have established an
interdepartmental task force on anti-Semitism bringing together nine government
departments and key community bodies. It is a unique model, and is repeatedly
held up internationally as the best practice, along with other British
organizations such as the Community Security Trust and the Parliamentary
Committee Against Anti- Semitism.
Recent surveys show consistently that
Britain is among the least anti-Semitic of countries.
Last year saw a
fall in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK for the second year
running. Britain is simply not a country where it is dangerous to be
There has also been a caricaturing of Britain’s
I despair when Israeli parents tell me they do not want
their children to study in the UK because of the dangers on campus. I know why
they think this way – the bad news is widely reported, while the vast majority
of Jewish and Israeli students who have a great time at British universities
hardly counts as news.
It is true that in a small number of our
universities there is strong anti-Israeli sentiment among the
But these are only a small minority of Britain’s
And the prime minister has made clear that we will not tolerate
intimidation or coercion on campus – and it is the job of university authorities
to stop it. In 2010, there were 44 anti-Semitic incidents reported in British
Two of them were violent.
This must be – and is
being – dealt with. But it is just a gross exaggeration to say that all British
universities have become cauldrons of anti-Semitism, or that it is no longer
safe for Jews or Israelis to go to university in the UK.
Last week, I
visited Manchester University to meet with the university president and to
address students. I spoke to the Middle East studies faculty, the Jewish
society, and a group of young British Muslims. The Middle East studies students
had strong opinions, but healthy debate is what universities are supposed to be
about. And it is right that people should be able to challenge Israel’s
policies, just as they do the UK’s. I was grilled by the Muslim students about
British policy, but they seemed genuinely pleased to know that I was Jewish –
that a member of a minority could become a British ambassador. And the Jewish
students told me forcefully that the campus was not anti-Semitic. They were
proud of going to Manchester University, and were fed up with the negative
portrayal of their university in the media.
I was also struck by the
links Manchester has with Israeli universities.
Their partnership with
the Weizmann Institute is a source of enormous pride. It is one of a huge number
of academic links between our countries. Some British academics call for
boycotts – but the facts speak for themselves.
For example, in November
we held the first UK-Israel conference on Regenerative Medicine at Ben-Gurion
We had 60 British scientists attend, from 20 different
British universities. They were there for the science, not for the politics.
They were there because Britain and Israel are world leaders in regenerative
medicine, and they were excited at the opportunity to collaborate with the very
best in their field. Over the next five years, we aim to raise £10 million to
support 15 major UK-Israel research projects through the BIRAX regenerative
And this week, the British Council brought out a
delegation of leading academics in the humanities from six of the country’s top
universities – Oxford, University College London, Southampton, Nottingham,
Queens University Belfast and Kings College London. They want to build the sort
of collaboration in the humanities that we are already putting in place in
Our foreign secretary calls Israel a strategic partner and a
friend. When I was sent as British ambassador to Israel, he instructed me to
build the strongest possible relationship between Britain and Israel. And we are
making real progress.
We have just announced the trade figures for 2011 –
up 34 percent to a record-breaking £3.75 billion. And we are busy building a
tech partnership between Britain and Israel that I believe will make a
difference to both our economies – we have had a stream of ministers lead tech
delegations, we have launched the UK-Israel Technologies Hub at the embassy, and
we have just had the first meeting of the UK-Israel Tech Council.
cooperation is not just on the economic side. On Iran, our countries cooperate
very closely indeed. Britain has helped to lead the global campaign for tougher
economic sanctions. We share a determination to stop Iran from getting nuclear
weapons. Of course, there are areas where we do not agree.
We do not
agree with Israel’s approach on settlement construction for one, or on its
approach to Gaza. But our relationship is strong and goes well beyond the sum of
our disagreements. We can have open and frank discussions on these issues,
without it meaning that our friendship is questionable or our belief in Israel
Not everything in Britain is perfect. There are problems, and
we are tackling them.
And we would rather people stopped claiming that
things are much worse than they really are. I am proud to be Her Majesty’s
ambassador in Israel. I am proud of Britain. I am proud to be building the
strongest possible partnership between Britain and Israel.
And I am proud
to be a member of Britain’s Jewish community.