A fine appointment

Picking Daniel Taub, an Anglo-Jew, as the next Israeli ambassador to the UK was an excellent choice on the Foreign Ministry’s part.

Despite taking a bit too long to decide, the Foreign Ministry has made an excellent choice in picking Daniel Taub to be Israel’s next ambassador to the UK. It’s not easy to step into the shoes of Ron Prosor, an eloquent advocate for Israel’s cause, but if anyone can do it while bringing finesse and understatement to the task, Taub can.
Israel used to have hangups about sending senior diplomats back to their countries of origin, not least because the countries themselves were not very receptive to having an individual who had chosen to leave for greener pastures. When Moshe Arens became ambassador to the US, and Yehuda Avner ambassador to the UK, there was much talk about “dual loyalties,” but this became irrelevant as each proved that his background enabled him to have an insight into the society that did not require a two- or three-year learning process. By the time Michael Oren was appointed ambassador to the US, this was no longer an issue, as has been demonstrated by the difficult choice among ex-Anglo Jews on the London shortlist.
Taub is also religious, has no hangups about his Jewish identity, and probably doesn’t spend much time wondering whether his Jewish, Israeli or Zionist identity takes precedence. Like so many of us growing up in a religious and Zionist environment in the Diaspora, these have always been part and parcel of a single identity. We had no problem about demonstrating our Jewishness or our support for Israel in an alien (and reasonably liberal) society, just as we have no problem displaying our continued closeness with our country of origin.
Nor did we leave the UK or Israel because of any overarching feelings of anti-Semitism, but because of a strong and positive Jewish education, as members of communities, schools, youth movements and Jewish student associations within which there was no separation between being Jewish as a religious identity and desiring to live in Israel as a national identity. It was something intrinsically positive, in contrast to the way Israel today attempts to artificially create new modes of Jewish and Israeli identity through recourse to the lowest denominator of anti-Semitism.
Prosor was an excellent ambassador, and a breath of fresh air for a country that had, for the previous decade, suffered some of the poorest ambassadors ever – not least because they were largely political rather than professional appointments.
This contrasts strongly with the excellent ambassadors sent by the UK to Israel during the past 15 years, from Patrick Cornish to Sherard Cowper Cowles to Simon Macdonald to Tom Philips and now Matthew Gould – all of them accomplished individuals who promoted joint interests and cooperation. But Prosor’s tenure was dominated by the growth in attacks on Israel and its legitimacy, not least the recurring (but totally failed) attempts to impose an academic boycott.
Prosor had to spend much time defending Israel against these attempts at delegitimization, and obviously did it so successfully that he has now been appointed to an even more difficult forum, namely the United Nations.
BUT GIVEN the time and space, Taub should be able to refocus the debate on what Israel is all about, rather than having to devote his tenure to defending the country against its detractors. It is to be hoped that Taub will incorporate the many liberal, pro-peace, left-of-center supporters who have been excluded from pro-Israel lobbies in recent years. These groups have risen to prominence in the US, continental Europe and, most recently, the UK, and have a major contribution to make in balancing the more centrist and center- right positions of such pro-Israel lobbies as AIPAC in the US or BICOM in the UK.
Taub will also be a regular at the local synagogues, as his religious predecessor Avner was back in the 1980s. He will not be one of those diplomats who feels uncomfortable having to attend anything that has Jewish, as contrasted with Israeli, content, or is unfamiliar with the most basic of traditional practices. For Taub, like so many similar-minded religious and traditional olim, his Israel experience is an integral part of his being Jewish, and not vice versa.
The one thing Taub would do well to hide are his football (soccer) affiliations, if he has any. The North London Jewish community (making up approximately 70 percent of the entire Anglo- Jewish community) is split between their favorite teams – Arsenal and Tottenham – and this is perhaps the only topic that competes with the diverse attitudes toward Israel and its policies, when it comes to discussion and rivalry.
But it must not be forgotten that Taub, like all Israeli ambassadors, represents one sovereign country to another, and is not only a representative to the Jewish community. Sometimes the local Jewish communities demand too much of an Israeli ambassador’s time, and if they want Taub to do an excellent job, they will have to know when to let go – once, that is, he has made the rounds of his former schools and communities.
The Foreign Ministry is to be congratulated for an excellent appointment. By all accounts, his legal expertise is second to none. When he taught international law to students at Ben-Gurion University a few years back, he received excellent feedback. It is to be hoped that his tenure as ambassador to the Court of St. James will result in even stronger relations between Israel and the UK.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University.