The British ambassador to Israel said international support for the Jewish state is declining among those in the political mainstream, driven by settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and the continued blockade of Gaza, the Guardian reported on Friday.
“Israelis might wake up in 10 years’ time and find out that the level of understanding in the international community has suddenly changed, and that patience for continuing the status quo has reduced,” the Guardian quoted Matthew Gould as saying.
“Support for Israel is starting to erode and that’s not about these people on the fringe who are shouting loudly and calling for boycotts and all the rest of it. The interesting category are those members of parliament in the middle, and in that group I see a shift.” He added.
Gould said the middle ground of British parliamentarians were developing a more critical view of Israel who was now being seen as the ‘Goliath’ against the Palestinians as ‘David’ referring to the story from the Old Testament in which the future king of Israel defeats the mighty philistine warrior armed with only a sling and stones.
According to Gould this shift in mentality was a direct result of Israeli government policies and it cannot be obscured or countered by ‘hasbara’ the Hebrew word referring to efforts by the government and its supporters to promote a pro-Israel agenda and contest what it views as negative media coverage.
Furthermore Gould said, Britain was “by no means unique” in its growing concern about the lack of progress in peace talks. “Anyone who cares about Israel’s standing in the world should be concerned about the erosion of popular support.”
“The center ground, the majority, the British public may not be expert, but they are not stupid and they see a stream of announcements about new building in settlements, they read stories about what’s going on in the West Bank, they read about restrictions in Gaza. The substance of what’s going wrong is really what’s driving this,” Gould said.
In response to Gould’s comments, Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said to the Guardian: “The feelings of friendship among Israelis towards the British and Britain in general are as strong as they have always been. It makes us sad to hear the ambassador talking about a growing asymmetry. But diplomats don’t just make comments, they convey messages. We have taken good note.”
Meanwhile an unnamed Israeli official dismissed the David and Goliath analogy, saying it “does not describe anything near reality. It’s a dishonest attempt to take a biblical myth and turn it upside down to make Israel look bad in Jewish terminology.” In the past 30 years, he added, there had been other attempts, particularly by the Palestinians, “to dispossess Jews of our history.”
Gould is the first Jewish person to serve as British ambassador to Israel. In an interview to mark his arrival in Israel in 2010, he said that being Jewish gave him “a visceral understanding of why Israel is so fixated on its own security and why security and peace mean so much to Israel and why it’s a country which feels so keenly that it lives on the knife edge”. He previously held posts in Tehran and Washington.