First Jewish ambassador to Israel has divided loyalties, says Labour MP

The Jewish Chronicle reports:

A Labour MP has caused outrage by suggesting that Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel has divided loyalties because he has “proclaimed himself to be a Zionist”.

Challenged by the JC to clarify his comments about Matthew Gould, who took up the post last year, Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, said ambassadors to Israel had not previously been Jewish “to avoid the accusation that they have gone native”.

Britain needed, he said, “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty”.

The Foreign Office and MPs from across the political spectrum sprang to Mr Gould’s defence and condemned the remarks.

Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said: “Paul Flynn should take some time to consider his comments, which could easily be misconstrued. There is absolutely no reason why our ambassador to Israel should not be Jewish. Any allegations about Matthew Gould’s conduct are utterly unsubstantiated. He is a first-class ambassador.”

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27 Comments

  • Don’t blink we might get a Jewish Prime Minister, oops I forgot about Disraeli. Who would have thought it, Jewish diplomats, probably better than some MPs.

  • Foregone Conclusion 1st Dec '11 - 11:00pm

    I think nearly all of us are ‘Zionists’ – in that we believe that the State of Israel should exist in some substantial form or another, ignoring whether it should have be founded in the first place. I think the question is what kind of Zionist is Gould – a hawkish, Likud-like Zionist or a moderate who believes that the State of Israel should obey international law and stay within its 1967 borders and seeks a Palestinian state? If he’s the latter, there is no problem, if it’s the former there is every problem.

  • that he’s Jewish (or Christian, or Muslim, or rational ;-)) isn’t the issue.
    but if he’s a self-proclaimed Zionist (and sorry Foregone Conclusion, but these days, nobody would call themselves that without being in the hardline part of it, least of all someone Jewish), then that IS a problem.

  • David Evans 2nd Dec '11 - 8:13am

    @SandraF “but if he’s a self-proclaimed Zionist (and sorry Foregone Conclusion, but these days, nobody would call themselves that without being in the hardline part of it, least of all someone Jewish),”

    I acknowledge the validity of your point, but must counsel against allowing your assumption to become accepted wisdom. There have been many ideologies that have developed from the most simple and justifiable of roots which have found themselves exploited by extremist factions whose credo has been allowed by wider society to pollute the original concept. In this case, Zionism, the belief that the jews have a right to a homeland, Eretz Israel has been the victim.

    The fact that this ideology has been twisted and exploited by some with extreme illiberal views, should not blind us to the fact that there are many moderate Jews, who would have been proud to call themselves Zionists. Likewise, the fact that we have chosen to listen mainly to the extreme rantings of an illiberal minority, rather than the reasoned views of a quiet majority, leaves the minority exposed and isolated from the wider liberal community. This really should make us worried. Once isolated, they become weaker and ever easier to exploit by the extremists. Ultimately, we are allowing our language to be redefined by extremists.

    We allow this to happen at our peril.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Dec '11 - 9:10am

    Surely, the issue is not whether or not a Jewish ambassador can serve? It is about whether or not it is appropriate for this particular person, with a ‘public position’ on Zionism, to serve in Israel. There are plenty of other ambassadors and plenty of places to send them. Do not try to persuade us that this is not a deliberate provocative decision within the FCO.

  • I don’t know whether or not Matthew Gould is, or would be, impartial in dealings with Israel. However, the storm of anti Paul Flynn comments in the ‘Jewish Chronicle’, etc. (accusing him of anti-Semetism and demanding he be sacked) is worrying.
    The FCO will not, especially after Flynn’s remarks, re-consider Matthew Gould’s position but I tend to agree with those posters who believe it was, at best a mistake, to select a ‘Zionist’ (of whatever ‘shade) for this polarised and volatile region.

  • Matthew Harris…Sorry to disagree ………I believe more accurate position might to to imagine an ambassador to India during the ongoing ‘partition’ period. Would we have considered appointing either a ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ to that position? I contend the answer would be a resounding no!

  • Gareth, you continue to peddle the myth that Zionism equals racism. I had rather hoped that we put this dangerous (and potentially racist) idea to bed a long time ago. I am a Zionist. I am an Israeli citizen and I am a Lib Dem. . I am even in the same party as you. None of which precludes me believing in a two state solution for the Middle East. I sugest you look up the dictionary definition of ‘Zionist’. Supporting a Sate of Israel does not mean hating Palestinians. You are using a laguage of hate that aims to inflame opinion.

    If the UK want to appoint Muslim as ambassador to Israel I would not be raising his/her religion as a problem. The UK should not be appointing ambassadors on the basis of religion, that is absurd in the 21st century.

  • To add some facts to this debate:

    1) Matthew Gould was appointed UK ambassador to Isreal in December 2009.
    http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=PressR&id=21394133

    2) He took up post in December 2010 having previous served in Islamabad and Tehran
    http://ukinisrael.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/our-embassy/our-ambassador/career-history

    I don’t recall any objections to him being Jewish being raised at the time of his appointment – So can we can that one right here, right now. I’d suggest his ability, if he needed to prove it, to seperate faith/background from his job are pretty much conclusively demonstrated by having served a couple of years in a senior diplomative role in Tehran.

    3) His “support of Zionism” comments seemed to be based on:
    i) Him speaking at a meeting jointly organised by the Zionist Federation in July of this year.
    ii) Comments reported in the Jerusalem Post in May of this year
    http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?ID=222636&R=R1

    The JP described him thus – “British Ambassador Matthew Gould declared his commitment to Israel and the principles of Zionism…”

    The commitment to Israel part can be ignored – Nick has said similar sentiments thousands of times.

    Though I can’t see much in the way of actual attributed quotes to support the latter which seems to be based on this paragraph:
    ““I was so impressed by the results they get and genuinely moved by the inclusive Zionist vision, something the founders of Israel would have immediately recognized and applauded.” The organisation he was at seems to have quite a strong commitment to cross community projects.

    So at most this is pretty old stuff as no-one seems to have raised any complaints for months.

    If someone wants to bash him as a Zionist can they dig out some more damning evidence?

    (Plus if the guy is a secret ultra-Zionist who has managed to keep it secret well enough to get a top posting to Iran (!) I’d assume he isn’t so thick as to know blow it all when he’s in the position to do all the things the mad conspiracy theorists think he will do.)

  • …………………………..Hywel,
    I don’t recall any objections to him being Jewish being raised at the time of his appointment – So can we can that one right here, right now………………………..

    Actually there were. The ‘Middle East Monitor’ (a supporter of the Palestinian side, it must be said) raised the matter at the time and, for doing so, was roundly condemned by the Jewish Chronicle (a fan of Israel, needless to say) who were (and are) ecstatic in their praise of Matthew Gould….

    So, from his appointment, Palestinian supporters were unhappy and Zionists extremely happy….Whatever one’s feelings on the ME situation, it cannot be sensible for an ‘independent’ ambassador to be viewed so differently by those in the region.

  • Thanks – I couldn’t find any such references on a quick google search (current material swamping things out!). I’m not totally surprised that there were some but clearly not a massive groundswell as it never hit the media consciousness in the UK.

    But there complaint is purely that he is Jewish and thus couldn’t do the job properly. Had he been muslim no doubt there would have been complaints from the other side (with simliiarly veiled references to the Ummah). If we follow that approach do we not appoint ambassadors on the basis that one (or a few) media sources criticise their background. So no women to Islamic states, no homosexuals to dubious African states

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Dec '11 - 7:20pm

    Matthew Gould is quoted as saying in the piece Hywel linked:

    ““There are a million projects in Israel doing amazing things – that is one of the amazing things about Israel that there is so much social entrepreneurialism.”

    A MILLION, projects? One project for every 7 1/3 people. This is politician’s hype, not appropriate to a diplomat of any country, anywhere. There have been ‘political appointments in the past, not least the awful Antony Jay to Washington. It’s a bad idea.

    would we have been happy to appoint an emissary who was quoteds in an interview saying:

    “That’s one of the amazing thing about Israel. There are millions of people who are kept away from the crops in their lands! by a steel and concrete fence. ” ? Of course not.

  • Matthew Harris:
    I don’t know what Paul Flynn said exactly to whom. But I have met him on a number of occasions, though not for some years.
    And unless he has had some crazy transformation since then, any suggestion that he is anti-semitic or racist strikes me as totally ridiculous.

  • Hywel Posted 2nd December 2011 at 7:00 pm …………… If we follow that approach do we not appoint ambassadors on the basis that one (or a few) media sources criticise their background. So no women to Islamic states, no homosexuals to dubious African states………

    Disagreeing with the customs and laws of a country is one thing. However, what is the point of sending a representative to a state where those in power may well refuse to deal with or even meet them?

  • @Tony Dawson
    “There have been ‘political appointments in the past, not least the awful Antony Jay to Washington. It’s a bad idea.”

    By chance, do you actually mean Peter Jay?

    Why are you saying that this is a political appointment? (I assume you mean beyond the fact that all such appointments have a political side to them)

  • There appears to be two jasons posting here…. the post ……..”Jason Posted 2nd December 2011 at 3:35 pm” .. is not me; I’m the one with a small ‘j’. To avoid confusion on other threads, I’ll change my name if it helps….

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Dec '11 - 11:35am

    @Chris_sj

    I apologise for vesting the sins of the son on the father! But Gould is still a ‘political’ appointment by which I mean he acts like a politician, not like a diplomat. This is a particularly American trait.

    @Ricky:

    “Supporting a Sate of Israel does not mean hating Palestinians. ”

    No, of course it does not, but you do not have to hate Palestinians to be racist. Just condemning them to discrimination and subjugation in their own country is quite enough.

  • Matthew Harris 3rd Dec '11 - 11:48am

    I did not say that Paul Flynn is antisemitic. I said that he had said some very stupid things. Someone can be a very nice guy and yet can still say things that sound racist. The sensible thing to if that happens is to say “Oh, sorry, no, I didn’t mean it that way; this is what I did mean…”. Paul Flynn did the opposite of that when asked about what he had said. And of course some websites will have attacked the decision to send a Jewish diplomat to be the British Ambassador to Israel. There is a sensible pro-Palestinian cause and then, away from that, there are some silly websites that spout drivel. Who says that they represent anyone or need to be taken seriously? If a Jewish blogger condemned the appointment of a Muslim as a British Ambassador, I’d call the blogger an islamophobe and condemn him. I certainly wouldn’t see his blog as a reason not to appoint the ambassador!

    Senator George Mitchell’s family history is part-Arab. If I or anyone else had said this meant that he could not be a Middle East peace envoy, I would (to coin a phrase) have been taken out and shot (and quite right too). When Bill Clinton came so close to acheiving Israeli/Palestinian peace, his team included many Jews (including ambassadors to Israel) who were respected on all sides. Is there any evidence that any serious Palestinian or Arab leaders has a problem with Matthew Gould being Jewish? By the way, several Israeli Ambassadors to the UK have been British-boelrn Jews, including the current ambassador, Daniel Taub. Will Mr Taub now be accused of being too pro-British to represent Israel in the UK? He grew up here and went to Oxford. When will the conspiracy nutters start on that?

    Also, across the web, you can find British ambassadors making speeches that praise the countries they’re in. That’s what they all do these days.

  • Newport Constituent 3rd Dec '11 - 2:04pm

    Paul Flynn feels it’s safe to single out Jews for criticism because there aren’t many of us in Newport. Being a calculating politician he probably also thinks that he can make political capital amongt a certain section of his Newport constituency whom he mistakenly and very offensively assumes to be anti-Jewish. Please don’t insult the intelligence of your constituents, Mr Flynn, Jewish, Muslim, Christian,, Atheist or otherwise. We’re fed up with political leaders who try divide and rule tactics to control and exploit the workers.

  • Gareth Epps 8th Dec '11 - 12:16am

    OK, so who here believes that no forms of Zionism are racist? Some undoubtedly are, such as those who support, for example, the illegal settlements (including some who laughably describe themselves as Liberal Democrats).

    I said that his religion has nothing to do with it. Jason’s comments highlight the real issues at stake here.

  • Jugde a person on what they do and not what they say. In Gould’s case he has done nothing to advocate Britain takes action against the settlements and everything to advocate no santions be impose against Israel for building those settlements. Once a zionist………. It does tell you somthing about the FCO that they appointed him…..

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