Challenge to incoming Israeli ambassador

Challenge to incoming Israeli ambassador

For the JC June 2020

The Senior Rabbi of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, has effectively thrown down the gauntlet to the proposed incoming Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, by calling for her to “set aside” her political views when she arrives in London in the summer.

Ms Hotovely, a leading Likud politician who is said to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has trenchant and often controversial views which she has expressed forcibly since entering the Knesset in 2009. Currently Minister of Settlement Affairs and previously Diaspora Minister, she is a self-described “religious right-winger” who opposes a two-state solution, supports annexation, and has spoken out against the Reform and Conservative strands of Judaism.

Sir Mick Davis, one of Anglo-Jewry’s leading philanthropists, said: “An Israeli ambassador occupies a unique position. They represent Israel to the Queen and her government — but they also represent Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, to the Jewish community as well. I hope the incoming ambassador will recognise that the role requires equal respect and consideration for every part of our community, including the non-Orthodox and the secular, who contribute hugely to the rich tapestry of Jewish life and to keeping the flame of Zionism alive.”

Labour peer Lord Beecham said: “The appointment of an ultra right wing ambassador, while typical of the present government of Israel , will do nothing to win friends in the UK — or indeed any other reasonable country”.

Ms Hotovely’s impending appointment has sparked a petition from 500 young British Jews to the UK Foreign Office, asking for Britain to refuse to accept her as ambassador. It was convened by the fringe left-wing group, Na’amod, but provoked a counter-petition — so far signed by 145 people — expressing “support for the new ambassador” and urging the Foreign Office to “ignore” Na’amod’s petition. 

JNF UK rejected the Na’amod approach. In a statement, it said: “The British Jewish community will gladly and respectfully endorse Tzipi Hotovely as the new Israeli ambassador to the UK. She is a leader with many positive attributes and achievements and we wish her the best of luck in her new position”.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner was among more than 40 high-profile British Jews (including Sir Mick Davis and Lord Beecham), to write an open letter to departing Israeli ambassador Mark Regev earlier this month, denouncing his government’s proposals for annexation of parts of the West Bank.

She told the JC: “Ambassador-designate Hotovely has views as a politician which are in very strong contrast to the views of Reform Judaism. I assume she will be putting those views firmly to one side as an ambassador. She will be here in a diplomatic role, as a vehicle of state”.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner said she would be seeking an early meeting with Ms Hotovely and would invite her to visit a Progressive synagogue and meet one of the movement’s rabbis — “in their capacity as a rabbi”. She added: “Her political views on Palestinians, annexation and religious pluralism clash with our core values — and, just like any ambassador, I expect her to set aside those views”.

Last year Ms Hotovely attacked the Board of Deputies for its support for a Palestinian state in its 2019 Jewish Manifesto, which was sent to all candidates in the December 12 elections in the UK. She said then that the Board had failed to consult “Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our ambassador, any other political authority” ahead of the manifesto’s release in November last year.

She declared: “In every meeting between Jewish organisations around the world and politicians – the prime minister, foreign minister or myself – we emphasise that the idea of a Palestinian state is one that the state of Israel completely opposes”. The Board, for its part, has said it is ready to work with Ms Hotovely, though president Marie van der Zyl said this week that community opinions could shift if Israel’s annexation proposals did go ahead.

Almost no-one else who signed the letter to Ambassador Regev was prepared to comment publicly about his successor. Lord Mendelsohn, a Labour peer, was only ready to say that the appointment was “a matter for Israel’s government to choose”.

  • 22 June, 2020