Sixty years ago, Sir Francis Evans became Britain’s first ambassador to
During his nearly three years of service in that role, Evans
became, in a sense, Israel’s guardian angel. When Sir John Troutbeck, Britain’s
ambassador to Iraq at the time and perhaps the most pro-Arab British envoy in
the Middle East, urged the Foreign Office to adopt a much more favorable policy
towards the Arab world at the expense of Israel, Evans retorted simply and
powerfully. “It would be immoral to for us to abandon Israel in this way,” said
The Balfour Declaration, said Evans, was largely responsible for
creating the State of Israel, and so Britain had a moral responsibility toward
the new country.
Furthermore, Evans questioned whether an unequivocal
pro- Arab policy would not be counter- productive. Might not the Arabs, he
asked, perhaps rhetorically, “interpret a withdrawal of our support from Israel
as a sign of weakness which they should exploit, rather than an expression of
friendship meriting gratitude?” The Foreign Office in London fully concurred
To be sure, Evans was not a blind supporter of Israel’s
Indeed, he favored trying to achieve peace between Israel and
the Arab world by “trying to bring pressure to bear on both sides.” However, he
was motivated by a moral postulate with regard to Israel. Evans thought that
Britain had to keep its obligations, notwithstanding any pragmatic
considerations which might indicate an apparent benefit to siding with the
Evans was there, so to speak, whenever Israel’s basic case was
questioned, arguing with a judicious blend of reason and emotion.
a professional diplomat, with years of experience.
No less important, he
was sensitive in understanding the Israeli side of the argument and sharp in
analyzing the undercurrents of the complex regional situation in the early
Evans had served for many years as British consul in Boston, New
York and Los Angeles. He then served in a senior position at the Foreign Office
in London before being sent to Israel at the beginning of 1952, first as
Britain’s minister and from September 1952 as ambassador, when the legation in
Tel Aviv was elevated to the status of embassy.
His first impressions of
Israel reflect his poetic streak. Drawing upon his US experience, he compared
Israel with the southern part of California. “The similarities,” he claimed,
“are largely physical.” However, it was in the human domain where he encountered
similarities which inspired him to articulate, in exquisitely vivid language, a
particularly colorful analogy: “There is here, as in Southern California, the
mingling of many races.”
He went on to compare the Californians of
Spanish stock with the Arabs, the Mexicans and the East Indians with the
Yemenites, the conservative settlers of Los Angeles City and its satellites with
the commercial and professional German Jews, the driving and optimistic
“boosters” of Southern California with the enthusiastic and no less optimistic
Russian Zionists of Israel.
“There is throughout both areas,” Evans
concluded, “a spirit of adventure, of purpose, of determined and hopeful
upbuilding, coupled with an intense – perhaps an inordinate – pride of
On the May 4, 1952, the Israeli Cabinet decided to move the
Foreign Ministry from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Israeli Foreign Ministry
explained this decision in wholly pragmatic terms. The move was not intended as
a political demonstration. It was rather an internal organizational imperative.
The permanent separation from other government ministries and from the Knesset
affected the work of the ministry, hindering its efficiency.
with, Evans argued before his government that a delay in the implementation of
the decision ought to be secured.
What is interesting is the wording used
in this regard: the move to Jerusalem was “premature,” stressed Evans. Indeed,
when Evans met the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Walter
Eytan, he conveyed to him that the transfer was considered to be
There appeared to be no opposition in principle to the
move on his part; certainly he evinced no desire to argue his case vis-avis the
Israeli government from a principled, rather than a pragmatic,
Evans suggested to his government that, if there was no general
agreement by the three Western powers (US, Britain and France) to object to the
proposed move, Britain should prepare to move its legation (later embassy) to
He argued that if Britain delayed action until the last
possible moment, “the Israelis would find our attitude a little unfriendly and
very difficult to understand.”
Evans made it clear that his suggestion
was designed to facilitate the work of the British diplomatic staff with the
Israeli government in Jerusalem.
The Foreign Office in London was
persuaded by Evans’ arguments; indeed, its legal department maintained that
moving the British Legation to Jerusalem would be in accordance with
international law as long as it was stipulated that such a moved did not entail
any legal recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the Western part of
the city which it controlled.
The Israeli government waited a year before
implementing its decision to move the Foreign Ministry to Jerusalem. By then,
circumstances had changed. Had Israel proceeded to carry out its decision
sooner, Evans’ suggestion might perhaps have become a reality. He might have
thus served not only as the first British ambassador to Israel but also as its
first diplomatic envoy to Jerusalem, its capital.The writer is a member
of the Social Sciences faculty at Tel Aviv University.