Travels and travails in the British Foreign Service

British Ambassador Matthew Gould speaks candidly on Pakistan; Haim Oron steps back into public life; the Shatz family endows a scholarship.

Shatz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Koteret)
Shatz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Koteret)
THE SUBTITLE of the lecture was intriguing: “Travels and Travails of a Nice Jewish Boy in the British Foreign Service.” The speaker on Tuesday night was British Ambassador Matthew Gould, whose audience at the Herzliya Pituah home of Renee and Arie Goldstein included not only members and supporters of ESRA – the English Speaking Residents Association, but also his parents, who are vacationing in Israel.
If anyone imagined that the word “travails” implied being forced to eat pork chops or to send dispatches on Yom Kippur, Gould quickly put such suspicions to rest. Admittedly, when he joined the Foreign Office in 1993, he had been told by British relatives and friends that he was mad. To them, the Foreign Office was a bastion of anti- Semitism, but Gould never found it so.
As far as he was concerned, “it’s a fantastic organization to work for,” and it couldn’t care less about religion or ethnic background.
Perhaps that was the reason he was posted to two Muslim countries – Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan was his second posting after the Philippines. In his first posting, he found only 30 Jewish families, who were divided into two communities that absolutely hated each other.
In Pakistan he didn’t look for Jews, if there were any there at all, nor did he make it known that he was one. He was sent there just after 9/11, when the rest of the embassy was being evacuated back to the UK. Even so, he said, he had a life there, though he finds it scary that all the hotels and restaurants that he frequented have since been firebombed.
“I worry more about Pakistan than Iran,” he said candidly. He arrived in Tehran in 2003, toward the end of the presidency of Muhammad Khatami, and left in the summer of 2005 after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had not yet taken office.
Putting aside all the negative connotations of Iran, said Gould, the country is beautiful and hugely varied. “What you hear about Iran is regime and ayatollahs, but the place is beautiful and remarkable.”
Although Gould, in his capacity of deputy head of mission, initially kept a low profile about being Jewish, he stopped after receiving a phone call from his brother in London, who wanted to know whether he would be attending his nephew’s bar mitzva.
After that, Gould drew the conclusion that the Iranians tapping his phone had already worked out his religious affiliation.
He is among the few Western Jews to have visited the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, but he also went to the synagogues, which were always vibrant and full. While Iran does allow Jews to practice their religion openly, Jews cannot go to state-owned universities, nor can they be employed in state-owned companies, said Gould.
There are somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews left in Iran, and for the most part, they choose to stay. “They are proud of being Jewish, but also very proud of being Persian,” he explained.
Although Ahmadinejad, with his denial of the Holocaust and his call for the destruction of Israel, is arguably the most vocal person in the regime, he is not the most powerful. In Gould’s perception, Ahmadinejad “is very much secondary” to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
On the subject of Tehran’s nuclear program, Gould said that the idea of the Islamic Republic of Iran with its finger on the nuclear trigger “is just as troubling to the UK as it is to Israel.”
Careful not to confuse the Iranian people with the Iranian regime, Gould said that most of the Iranians he’d met didn’t understand why Iranian money was going to Hezbollah and Hamas instead of to them.
Summing up the difference between Iranians and Israelis, Gould said the difficulty in Iran was getting people to talk, whereas in Israel “you can’t get them to shut up.”
Gould also expressed his fervent hope that the news about the impending release of Gilad Schalit was true.
He has met on several occasions with the abducted soldier’s parents, Noam and Aviva Schalit, and after the conclusion of the ESRA event, he tried several times to contact Noam by phone – but the line was constantly busy.
IT ISN’T always possible for the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association to hold its annual Balfour Dinner on the exact anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, but choosing November 9, as it has this year, is an indication of historical amnesia.
November 9 is the anniversary of Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass, when pogroms erupted across Germany, Austria and Sudetenland, and Nazi hoodlums smashed glass windows and doors of synagogues and Jewish-owned business enterprises, looted the premises and caused severe injury to anyone who dared resist them. To mark the anniversary of a day of jubilation and its own 60th anniversary on that of a day of destruction that ultimately led to the Holocaust is not exactly in good taste.
Traditionally there are two guest speakers at the Balfour Dinner – one Israeli and one British. The Israeli speaker will be Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and the British speaker will be Col. Richard Kemp, a highly decorated retired army officer who saw service in Northern Ireland, Germany, Kenya, Cyprus, Iraq, Bosnia, Macedonia and Afghanistan, where he was commander of the British forces. Kemp is best known in Israel for publicly defending the IDF against allegations of war crimes in Gaza. He also made a presentation to the UN Human Rights Council in which he again defended the IDF and stated that Hamas trained women and children to fight, that it collected intelligence and that it transferred arms and ammunition.
VISITORS TO Jerusalem are familiar with Schatz Street, named for Boris Schatz, who founded the Bezalel School of Art in 1906. The school, which is now the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, also has a more updated Shatz connotation, and in December will launch the Deane and Paul Shatz scholarships and prize, in partnership with the Shatz Family Foundation. The family, which has dropped the “c” from the spelling of its name, nonetheless has a blood tie with Boris Schatz, and as part of its own association with Bezalel has decided to inaugurate the Deane and Paul Shatz Scholarship and the Prize for an Outstanding Project in the Field of Community Involvement.
The Shatz family is returning to Bezalel 80 years after Schatz died while fundraising on behalf of the academy in the US in 1932. Their gift will enable students who cannot afford tuition to study at the prestigious academy. The first of these awards is due to be announced during Hanukka.
“We chose to partner with Bezalel as we saw an opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives while being part of the Schatz legacy,” said stockbroker Paul Shatz. “We also felt it was something that our children would be inspired to continue when we’re no longer around.” All their children and grandchildren are artistic or involved in art in one way or another.
WHEN HE stepped down from the Knesset and the Meretz leadership in March of this year – two days before his 71st birthday – after having served for almost 23 years, Haim Oron gave the impression he was going back to the farm, or at least to his home in Kibbutz Lahav, where he would do whatever chores he was asked to do. But essentially he would no longer be engaged in public life.
Well, that didn’t last long.
He was recently elected chairman of the managers’ club of the Kibbutz Industries Association, replacing Gedalia Gal, who held the position for three years. The club has a relatively large membership, comprising chairmen and CEOs of the various kibbutz industries, heads of these industries’ finance divisions, and kibbutz secretaries who not only come together regularly to discuss common issues but also tour the country to monitor developments and meet with experts in different spheres. In recent months, they met with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, toured Better Place to get a hands-on understanding of electric cars, and visited the Weizmann Institute to learn about some of its research projects.
Kibbutz Industries Secretary- General Amos Rabin lauded Gal for the many initiatives he had introduced and welcomed Oron as someone with a wealth of experience in working with government institutions, whose intimate knowledge of how to deal with these institutions would be extremely useful.
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