On rulers and royal flushes of embarrassment

My Word: This being 2020, when even discussion of the weather is political, the decision by Harry and Meghan (we’re all on first-name terms now) quickly became split along Left-Right lines.

PRINCE HARRY And Meghan Markle ride a horse-drawn carriage after their wedding ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor in May 2018 (photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)
PRINCE HARRY And Meghan Markle ride a horse-drawn carriage after their wedding ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor in May 2018
(photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)
I fantasized about beginning this column with “Once upon a time....” and ending with “and they lived happily ever after.” But then it would simply be a fairy tale. Real life is rarely that easy and obliging.
Growing up Jewish in London, I learned early on that, despite the Book of Esther – recording how the eponymous heroine saved the Jews of ancient Persia after marrying King Ahasuerus – nice, Jewish girls might be teased as being “princesses” but they didn’t get to marry the prince. Especially if the prince was destined to become the head of the Church of England.
I adjusted my expectations accordingly and have followed the fortunes and fates of royalty mainly from afar.
A few events recently, however, set me thinking about “cabbages and kings.” The first was the soap opera that engulfed the British royal family with what has been universally dubbed “Megxit” or even more brilliantly: “Harryvederci.” Meghan kissed a prince and ended up in tears with a frog in her throat. She might have learned from Grace Kelly, who reportedly had little to sing and dance about after she left Hollywood to marry and become the Princess of Monaco.
By now, most of the world knows that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have announced they are stepping back from royal duties and moving to North America. What’s more, they told the world at large before they told Her Majesty the Queen, aka Harry’s grandmother. That resulted in a royal flush of embarrassment.
In Israel, the story was a pleasant distraction from the devastation of the heavy floods last week. (It seems incredible that when hundreds of rockets are launched on the country it carries on as if nothing is happening but two weeks of extra heavy rain resulted in seven deaths.)
Friends in Australia, suffering from the devastating fires, also looked on the abdication as light relief – although, vegetarian that I am, I find it extraordinary that global hearts bleed for the koalas and kangaroos when according to Vegan Australia, more than 500 million animals are killed there every year for food.
This being 2020, when even discussion of the weather is political, the decision by Harry and Meghan (we’re all on first-name terms now) quickly became split along Left-Right lines.
Those on the Left voiced concerns that Meghan had been poorly treated because she is an American divorced actress and woman of color. “No wonder Harry and Meghan are quitting. The right-wing press – and their families – left them no choice,” opined The Guardian. The king of political incorrectness, Brendan O’Neill, on the other hand, wrote on his website, Spiked, that “H&M” were quitting their jobs because Meghan “wants to be the Queen of Woke.”
“Their unprecedented ‘stepping back’, and the fury this has allegedly caused in the palace, suggests the cult of the self that Meghan and other showily virtuous celebs embody and promote, does not work within an institution whose ideal is the queen: opinion-free, emotions hidden, dutiful, unquestioning and in it for the long haul,” O’Neill declared.
Meghan’s past and the royal couple’s tense present naturally invite comparisons with The Abdication of 1936. There are, however, significant differences between Meghan and Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American who stole the heart of King Edward VIII and caused him to give up the throne. H&M chose to leave their positions and the country; Edward and Wallis Simpson were basically banished. And good job, too.
I learned something else growing up as a Jew in London: Edward and his wife did not hide their Nazi sympathies and associations. The fate of the country, and particularly of Anglo Jewry, would have been very different had that particular royal couple been on the British throne during World War II.
This came to mind especially ahead of the scheduled visit by Harry’s dad, Prince Charles, next week as one of the major figures attending the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Charles’s grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is considered “a Righteous Gentile” for saving a family of Greek Jews during the Holocaust and is buried in the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.
MY FAVORITE recent royal story was the bat mitzvah celebration in Phnom Penh last month of Elior Koroghli, the great-granddaughter of Cambodia’s late King Sisowath Monivong.
This was more The Princess Diaries than Princess Bride, although it’s almost “inconceivable.” Elior’s American-born mother, Susie or Princess Sathsowi Thay, is the daughter of a Cambodian diplomat. Her husband, Ray Koroghli, is a Persian Jew who came to the US to study and couldn’t return to Iran after the 1979 revolution. Susie converted and the family now lives an Orthodox Jewish life in Las Vegas, where Elior first celebrated her bat mitzvah at 12 last year. Chabad, which organized and catered the feast for kings in the Cambodian capital, posted family photos from the event. Elior looked like a beauty queen in her traditional gold-colored Cambodian dress while the ritual fringes of her two brothers can be seen sticking out from their suits.
My experiences with royalty range from a crowning achievement to a royal snub. After the Jordan-Israel peace treaty of 1994, I visited the Hashemite Kingdom frequently and saw King Hussein so often that he came to recognize me. The last time we met, shortly before his death, he approached me among the crowd of journalists at his palace to personally greet me. I knew by heart the Jewish blessing on seeing a monarch – praising God for “sharing His honor with flesh and blood” – but my very basic Arabic did not give me the means of courteously returning his greeting. Struggling to remember how to say “Your Majesty,” the best I could come up with was “Ya Malik!” There were days and kingdoms where calling the king the equivalent of  “Yo, Bro!” could literally have caused me to lose my head.
Relations with his son and (unexpected) heir, King Abdullah, are far less cordial, but both countries know they are essential: Peace, however cold, is better than the alternative.
I came close, very close, to meeting a queen. In 1996, I was part of a delegation of journalists flown to Copenhagen by the Danish Foreign Ministry to meet Queen Margrethe II. Operation Grapes of Wrath was raging in Lebanon and the monarch got cold feet about hosting Israelis. She stood us up at the palace gates and probably still has no idea how difficult it was to get a group of Israelis there all dressed up and on time. Danish court reporters were so stunned by the no-show that at first they thought we were joking when we told them. Later, some blamed the influence of the European Union.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Sultan Qaboos of Oman last week. I traveled to the sultanate in April 1994, to cover multilateral talks on water as part of the Madrid Agreements. The sultan, who had deposed his father in a bloodless coup, permitted members of the Israeli delegation to use their own passports although there were not yet any official relations. The Omanis I met seemed genuinely grateful to Qaboos for bringing modernity to the country he ruled as what can only be described as a benevolent dictator. Several told me they “trust in Allah and the sultan” to do what is right.
With Iran just across the Gulf and Saudi Arabia to its south, Oman tries to maintain good relations with all, although it’s not always easy. The childless Qaboos, who ruled for almost 50 years, is succeeded by his cousin, Sultan Haitham Al Said, who has huge royal shoes to step into. I’m wary of praising a ruler simply for being Western-educated and young – Syria’s Bashar Assad is more butcher than doctor – but Haitham spearheaded Oman’s “Vision 2040” social and economic reform program and declared his diplomatic policy would be: “Embracing foreign policies based on peaceful coexistence among peoples and countries.”
He seems to realize what all rulers need to know – all that ordinary people really want is to live in peace and comfort without paying a king’s ransom. In other words, as close as we can get to happily ever after.
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