Analysis: Brown's (endearingly mis)pronounced friendship

The British premier's mangled Hebrew barely distracted from his pronouncements, which were notable, too.

brown knesset 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
brown knesset 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As Gordon Brown, the first British prime minister ever to address the Knesset, told our parliamentarians on Monday, his father was a lifelong friend of Israel who chaired the Church of Scotland's Israel Committee, visited at least twice a year and learned Hebrew. Evidently, he didn't teach his son. Brown admirably attempted, in Hebrew, to utter a phrase of greeting at the start of his speech and to quote Herzl's "If you will it, it is no dream" at the end - but rather mangled both. Indeed, his pronunciations were notable on several occasions, including an "Auschwitz" rendered as "Ouchwhich." Still, this barely distracted from his pronouncements, which were notable, too. Brown expressed fierce solidarity with Israel in its struggle to survive, outraged rejection for "those who question Israel's right to exist," abhorrence at the Iranian president's calls "for Israel to be wiped off the map" and a robust "determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program." Indeed, he upped the ante on Iran, declaring that the British now stood "ready to lead in taking further sanctions and ask the whole international community to join us." If Iran did not suspend its nuclear program, he warned, it would face "growing isolation and the collective response not of one nation but of many nations." At the same time, this leader of a Britain that, he said, "shares an unbreakable partnership" with Israel, "based on shared values of liberty, democracy and justice," set out familiar, if emphatically non-generous, positions on final-status issues. Insisting that "peace is within your grasp," he spoke of an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation built, among other fundamentals, upon "a two-state solution based on 1967 borders," with "Jerusalem the capital for both," a "just and agreed settlement for refugees" and Israel "freezing and withdrawing from settlements." Having spent the vast majority of his speech extolling Israel's virtues, he rather rushed through this section on its obligations, so that he was back praising the Jewish people's contribution to global history by the time the NU-NRP's Uri Ariel had registered the "shared Jerusalem" and "withdrawn settlements" content and huffily departed from the chamber. With Brown echoing that other recent Knesset visitor President George Bush in this implausible insistence that peace is just around the corner, it strangely fell to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who just the other day had assured us that an accord was closer than ever, to tell the House that profound differences still remain between the sides on key issues. It must have been a rare pleasure for Brown to be visiting a country where the prime minister is significantly less domestically popular than he is. But as has all too often been his fate in a brief British premiership marked by a staggering decline in his standing, Brown still found that his timing here was a little off. He has had the misfortune to be touring just a couple of days before that rock star of global politics, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, arrives on a whirlwind trip, US network anchors in tow. One of Brown's Labor prime ministerial predecessors, Harold Wilson, famously remarked that a week is a long time in politics. Earnest and warm though it was, far less than a week will pass before Brown's brief visit to the land so beloved by his father is forgotten - eclipsed by the world's preeminent political headliner.