I told an incredulous group of colleagues the other week that growing up in England, I had never heard of Thanksgiving.
Eyebrows rose as I noted that the first time I learned of it was a few years after I arrived in Israel, nearly four decades ago, when American students at the Hebrew University dorms excitedly shared their plans. When I pointed out that Britain doesn’t have an independence day, some eyebrows rose so high that it looked likes eyes were popping out in astonishment.
“What’s the point of having the queen and royal family?” an American-born colleague asked me. I (half) joked that it’s good for tourism. It is also good to have a head of state who is, theoretically at least, above politics. And, I noted, the fact that the monarch, rather than the government, is in charge of the armed forces also adds an element of stability. All in all, I said, I believe the monarchy works in the British context.
Having paid it such a compliment, I was not prepared for the royal snub that came to light this week.
A letter written by the heir to the British throne Prince Charles in November 1986 immediately after his return from an official visit to Saudi Arabia was released by the Daily Mail on November 11.
“I now begin to understand better their [Arabs’] point of view about Israel. Never realized they see it as a US colony. I now appreciate that Arabs and Jews were all a Semitic people originally and it is the influx of foreign, European Jews (especially from Poland, they say) which has helped to cause great problems. I know there are so many complex issues, but how can there ever be an end to terrorism unless the causes are eliminated?” the prince wrote.
I was so outraged that I penned my own immediate response on Facebook: “Dear Prince Charles, ‘foreign Jews’ is an oxymoron when it comes to Israel (and your letter is half oxymoronic – the latter half). If you want to blame ‘foreigners,’ the ‘Palestinian leader’ and arch terrorist Yasser Arafat, born in Cairo, comes to mind.”
The roots of the British monarchy pale into insignificance compared with the history of the Jews in this region. Just last week, Jews read the weekly Torah portion in Genesis recording how Abraham purchased the land in Hebron as a burial plot for Sarah, some 4,000 years ago. Rare is the Jew who has never celebrated Passover, marking the Exodus from Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. The monarchy here can refer to a period as far back as 1020 BCE when King Saul pulled the tribes into a kingdom, setting the ground for his successors King David, who made Jerusalem his capital, and King Solomon, whose crowning achievement was the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s death was followed by the tragic split of warring tribes into Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judea, the southern kingdom.
Where were Prince Charles’s ancestors and what were they doing while this Jewish history was taking place? The Bible was written in Hebrew, and not the English of the King James version. And although Israel is currently celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration that began the process that led to the creation of modern Israel, the Jewish state does not rely on that letter as the justification of its existence. Its roots here, Bible-based, go back thousands of years.
Prince Charles’s paternal grandmother, Greek Princess Alice of Battenberg, honored as a Righteous Gentile for helping shelter Jews in Nazi-occupied Athens during the Holocaust, is buried at the Convent of St.
Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Her body might be metaphorically spinning like my head this week.
There’s a reason this region is nicknamed “the Muddle East.” And Britain has certainly played a role in that. A few years ago, I met a Muslim resident of Jerusalem’s Old City who explained how his father had arrived from Chad in 1946. At the time, British Mandate authorities were preventing the immigration of Jews – even those who had somehow survived the horrors of the Holocaust and had nowhere to turn but the Jewish homeland. When the same man was described as a Palestinian refugee, it wasn’t my British sense of humo(u)r that made me laugh. It was the irony. Muslim families did not move from the Old City, living there under British, Jordanian and Israeli control. When Israel reunited Jerusalem in the Six Day War, they gained unofficial refugee status. The Jews who were forced to flee as the Jordanian and Arab forces conquered the Old City in 1948 were never considered refugees. Those who returned there after 1967 are considered “settlers.”
When it rains it pours, particularly in England: The publication of the prince’s letter followed hot on the heels of the Priti Patel incident. The British former secretary of state for international development was forced to resign last week after it became public that she had met with a number of Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during what was meant to be a private holiday in Israel.
There are many explanations for the downfall of the avowedly pro-Israel former minister. Some focus on infighting within the Conservative Party; others blame Netanyahu and Patel for the breach in protocol.
I feel that, as usual, a case of double standards was at play when it comes to Israel.
The timing of Patel’s forced resignation was probably not coincidental either: Thousands reportedly followed her flight path back to London from Africa, where she had just started an official visit. Her urgent recall coincided with Netanyahu’s trip to Britain for the Balfour centenary events. As noted in a Jerusalem Post editorial aptly titled “Bipolar Britain,” Prime Minister Theresa May “is undoubtedly one of the most pro-Israel heads of state in Europe, though she is bogged down with political problems.
“But Patel’s treatment is not just the collateral effect of May’s crisis-ridden government.
Rather, the Patel scandal is an uncomfortable reminder of the toxic atmosphere of anti-Israel sentiment both in British society and in the Foreign Office.”
As the Honest Reporting watchdog noted, Patel’s busman’s holiday was portrayed perniciously in the headlines and stories of several British papers, such as the Guardian’s “Priti Patel wanted to send aid money to Israeli army, No. 10 confirms.”
The headline is the true scandal. It did not reflect the fact that the program Patel wanted to help fund is the IDF’s field hospital treating Syrians injured in the civil war.
Some people prefer to bury Israel’s humanitarian efforts, even if it costs the lives of wounded Syrians.
Combine these incidents with the antisemitic cloud that surrounds Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and much of his party, and I feel both angry and sad about what is happening in the UK.
It’s unlikely that the nonagenarian queen will travel here, but it’s time for the prince to make an official visit. Instead of just snatching a trip to his grandmother’s grave, as he did when he popped over for Shimon Peres’s funeral, he could receive a royal welcome from a proudly independent country and get the fuller picture. Unfortunately, if he’s unwilling to step over the artificial Green Line, the “defender of the faith” won’t see the places where Jewish, and Christian, history began. Prince Charles needs to realize that the Jewish presence in the Holy Land is not the cause of terrorism, but on the front lines of eliminating, or at least reducing, firstname.lastname@example.org
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