Column for JN May 21 2020
Ordinarily, I would be cheering from the rooftops that the United Kingdom is to get its first female ambassador in the Israeli embassy. It’s way overdue and there are many talented women in the Israeli foreign service who would be wonderful representatives of the state of Israel.
But, try as I might, I cannot view the announcement of this latest appointment with anything but despair.
Benjamin Netanyahu, in putting together his newest, minister-heavy government, has put the icing on the cake by saying he is sending Tzipi Hotovely to London, to succeed Mark Regev.
Where to start in the many, many ways this is depressing news? Let’s leave aside the fact that she is not a career diplomat, which would be reason enough not to cheer. Or the fact that she is not arriving in London for several months: first, she is going to serve in the government as leader of the newly created Settlements Ministry, to be replaced by Tzahi Hanegbi when she leaves for Britain.
The daughter of Georgian Jewish immigrants to Israel, Hotovely, 41, is a self-described “religious right-winger”.
She entered the Knesset as its youngest member in 2009 and, since then, her career arc, on even the most cursory examination, has consisted of hitting the headlines whenever possible – and not in a good way.
What, for example, are we to make of her 2011 invitation to the Lehava organisation to speak to the Knesset’s committee on the state of women and gender equality, of which she was a member? Lehava’s mission is “prevention of assimilation in the Holy Land”, and its bigoted members – yes, bigoted – have frequently demonstrated against personal or business relationships between Jews and Arabs. Hotovely’s reasoning was that it was “important to check systems to prevent mixed marriages”.
It should scarcely be necessary to point out that even the most traditionally observant of politicians has no role in “preventing mixed marriages”. Would anyone have as casually invited members of the Ku Klux Klan to address a Knesset committee?
Here’s another little Hotovely gem, this time having a go at American Jews: in a 2017 Israeli TV interview, the future Diaspora Minister – Lord save us – said that most American Jews “don’t understand the complexities of the region” [the Middle East], because they “never send their children to fight for their country. Most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers”.
Which is rich, considering that Hotovely herself did not carry out army service, instead bravely serving two years in Sherut Leumi, an alternative for religious women to the Israel Defense Forces, as a tour guide in a museum in Jerusalem and as a Jewish Agency representative in Atlanta, Georgia.
The time spent in Atlanta, incidentally, presumably means that Hotovely at least can speak English, which is more than can be said of the earlier nominee for the post, Communications Minister Dudi Amsalem.
It seems that Mr Netanyahu despises the professionals in the Foreign Ministry, and further that he doesn’t care if he insults both Britain and the Anglo-Jewish community by sending someone so manifestly unsuitable for this delicate role.
When the novelty of a woman ambassador has worn off, we will be stuck with a hard-rightwinger who does not support the two-state solution and will alienate so many British Jews, never mind trying to sell such views to a critical British government.
There is still time to change.