Mathew Gould 248 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amid a bitter diplomatic dispute between Britain and Israel over a legal loophole that leaves senior Israelis facing arrest for alleged war crimes when visiting Britain, the incoming British ambassador to Israel has stressed that his country's policy on Israel is "unchanging" in its fundamental commitment to Israel's legitimacy and security.
Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post soon after he was named as the first Jew to be appointed to the job, Matthew Gould, who will not take up the post until the second half of 2010, would not comment directly on the arrest warrant crisis, which most recently saw Kadima leader Tzipi Livni forced to cancel a trip to the UK for fear of arrest.
Nor would he comment on other specific issues straining the bilateral relationship, such as Britain's failure to vote at the UN against the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead and the British government's newly issued guidelines to stores requiring labels to differentiate between settler and Palestinian produce coming from the West Bank.
However, he did robustly assert Britain's enduring commitment to Israel's wellbeing.
"What gives me a great deal of confidence is the fundamental of British policy towards Israel," said Gould.
"The unchanging fundamental is first, a very strong belief in Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist. Secondly, the strong desire for Israel to live in security based on peace. And thirdly, the desire to have the best possible relationship between Israel and Britain.
"I'm going to go out to Israel as ambassador passionate about promoting each of those three fundamentals. Those have long been the fundamentals of our policy towards Israel and will long continue to be," he said.
Interviewed last week, Gould, 38, said he was "very proud" to be representing Britain to Israel as his country's first Jewish ambassador.
"It's a fabulous job and it is an extraordinary
country in which to be appointed ambassador,"
He told the Post he had no illusions as to what the job entails.
"It's a big job and an amazingly important range of issues that I will have to be dealing with. As a British Jew, it means a great deal to me and it's an enormous honor," he said.
Brought up in the north of London and a member of West London Synagogue, Gould was raised in a home that was proud of its Jewish roots and supportive of Israel.
"I was sent off to cheder every Sunday from the age of six to 16 and I used to go to Jewish summer school every summer - Kadima, run by the Liberal Judaism movement.
"We were taken to Israel as kids and discussed Middle Eastern politics," he continued. "The events that led up to Israel's creation were keenly felt. My family was badly affected in the Holocaust, so the visceral emotions that went with the founding of the State of Israel are also emotions that were very present. So there are things my family has in common with many in Israel and indeed with the story of Israel."
However Gould was quick to say there is no conflict between his British and Jewish identity.
"I'm proudly British, proudly Jewish and they operate at different levels and I would resist very strongly any suggestion that they are in competition or that one detracts from the other," he said.
A respected diplomat, currently serving as principal private secretary to the foreign minister, Gould emphasized that he will be Britain's ambassador, representing Britain's interests, policies and values.
"I make very clear that as a Jew I am very proud to be taking this job. But I [also] make very clear that the job is British ambassador and I will be there representing Britain and Britain's interests and Britain's values and policies," he said.
Having served as deputy head of mission in Teheran between 2003 and 2005, Gould sees himself as in a good position to keep open discussion on the threat posed by Iran.
"I hope one of the things I will be able to do is
sustain what is already a pretty good dialogue between Britain and Israel on Iran and regional issues. I know very well the seriousness which Israel takes the threat from Iran and the importance that Israel attaches to a very good open discussion with its strategic partners, like the UK, on that.
"And having been there, having dealt with the Iranian government every day for two and a half years, I ought to be in a position to keep that discussion going."
When posted in Teheran, Gould made a point of going to synagogue on a regular basis.
"I went often to synagogue so the Jewish community and Iranian authorities knew I was going. I also went to the houses of [Jewish community members] for Pessah which was amazing.
"To see the different traditions [was] really nice. But I also thought it was important in a place like that, that we made clear that we are interested in how Iran's minorities are being treated and that we made clear to minority groups that the world in interested in how they are treated."
Talking about the underlying principles that he hopes will guide him he and paying tribute to the current ambassador, Tom Phillips, Gould said: "In my mind, what I would like to pursue is an open, honest dialogue with Israel on the issues that matter, on the basis of a very clear understanding that we are both trying to achieve the same thing.
"I'm taking over from Tom Phillips, who has been
an absolutely outstanding ambassador, is widely and rightly respected and liked and will be a hard act to follow."
Asked about the principles he hopes will guide his role, Gould said: "One guiding principle, which one friend who spent a long time in the region [suggested and] which I hope will stay with me is, to remember I am there to cover a country, not a conflict. So anything I can do to help the UK contribute to the search for peace is of paramount importance.
"Also important is developing the relationship between Britain and Israel - the cooperation in science, technology, economics and cultural cooperation...[T]he politics and peace process will be a bit part but won't be the whole.
"Both countries are really impressive centers of
excellence in numerous different areas. One thing Britain and Israel have in common is a completely disproportionate achievement in science and place in Nobel laureate league tables, and so it has to make sense for our countries to work as closely as possible and for our universities and scientists to work as closely as possible together.
He also reiterated Britain's opposition to the boycott initiatives against Israel.
"Whatever you think of the peace process, the British government has been very clear that we don't believe that boycotts are the way to go. We need to be bringing people together, not pulling them apart, so anything that pulls people together in concrete terms I think is something in which I will be enthusiastic to support.
"The UK has very strongly and very clearly said it
is opposed to boycotts," he added.
Gould said he hopes to travel around Israel and learn more about Israeli life.
"I think I still have a long way to go up the learning curve, and I'm not going out laboring under the misapprehension that I'm an expert or that I have a depth or subtlety of feel for all the issues in Israeli politics that I would like to have. But what I have is a huge enthusiasm to throw myself into the job, to travel around Israel as widely as I can, to learn about what is going on, to learn about Israeli politics, Israeli culture, Israeli film.
"There is so much my wife and I are so keen to
explore. One of the great things about the job is that you'll have several years in which to do it."
He said his wife, Celia Jane Leaberry Gould, went backpacking around Israel last summer and is currently learning Hebrew.
Asked how his Hebrew is, Gould smiled and said, "My Hebrew is coming on very slowly. I have just learned there are seven different types of verbs, which has sent me into a state of shock."