An anti-Semite, as Isaiah Berlin would have pointed out, is someone who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary. When it comes to British politics, we now see the opposite: civil servants and parliamentarians jostle each other in their love for the Jewish state. As the packed and lively lunches hosted by Conservative Friends of Israel and Labor Friends of Israel confirmed last month, this is the golden age of Anglo-Israel relations.
In recent weeks, London has warmly received official visits from Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who enjoys an exceptionally strong friendship with Boris Johnson via WhatsApp. These trips were supported by substantial political announcements. In November, Foreign Minister Liz Truss signed a broad memorandum of understanding with Mr Lapid, strengthening cooperation in cybersecurity, technology, trade and defense. A number of joint military exercises have taken place over the past two years.
In November, parliament voted to outlaw Hamas in its entirety, rather than just its military wing. This means that those who call on support for the terrorist group could face up to 14 years in prison. This is something that Israeli governments have been pushing for for decades.
Things have also changed within the Labor Party. Now that Jeremy Corbyn has fallen back into obscurity, Sir Keir Starmer is doing everything possible to show his affection for Israel, even promising that his first overseas trip would be to the Jewish state. The visit was sealed off by the Covid.
But it’s the government that really matters. I was in Downing Street for a Hanukkah reception the other week, and the chemistry between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Lapid was evident. They had spent the whole day together, an honor that is not normally accorded to a visit by a prime minister from a country of less than 10 million inhabitants. Mr Johnson was keen to recall the time, 10 years ago, when the two men, in their former life as journalists, had hit Tel Aviv nightlife hard. The Mossad probably had pictures in a safe somewhere with cigars and whiskey, he joked.
However light the atmosphere, the purpose of these meetings was deadly serious. They were orchestrated, diplomatic sources confirm, to coincide with the latest round of nuclear negotiations with Iran in Vienna. The perspective was clear: Britain is leaning towards Israel in this fight. This is reflected behind the doors of the trading room. It sounds incredible, but when it comes to Iran, that country is now friendlier to Israel than it is to the United States. As the Biden administration gags for a deal at any cost, Downing Street takes a firmer line, gaining a closer friendship with Jerusalem.
How did this profound change come about? It started with the Abrahamic Accords, the set of peace accords between Israel and several Arab states that were signed under the Trump administration. Until then, the Foreign Ministry had to balance proximity to Israel with valuable relations with important Arab states. Once this dichotomy was broken, the way was clear for a stronger strategic alliance with Israel.
The advantages are obvious. Israel has been a world leader in the fight against Covid; this is what led Mr Johnson to woo Mr Bennett via WhatsApp. At Cop26 in Glasgow, in the Leader’s Lounge, the Israeli Prime Minister was the star to whom other heads of government were drawn, eager to emulate the recent Israeli example of weathering the pandemic without resorting to containment.
In terms of high technology, Israel is now, relative to the population, the most prosperous country in the world. It is not for nothing that it has been dubbed the âstart-up nationâ. It’s home to 10 percent of the world’s âunicorns,â a new private business valued at $ 1 billion or more; not bad for a country smaller than Wales which is beset by enemies. Israel’s high-tech miracle has been so successful in recent years that, by some measures, Israelis now enjoy a higher standard of living than their British counterparts.
Brexit, which separated us from European foreign policy and amplified our need for alliances beyond the continent, also made a difference. And Mr Johnson generally has philosemitic leanings, which is perhaps not surprising from a man descended from “Moscow and Vilnius rabbis,” as he recalled at the rally at No. 10. The result is an unprecedented link between London and Jerusalem.
It is certainly a fascinating time to take the reins as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Chronicle. My predecessor, Stephen Pollard, had to face the Corbyn years. By comparison, I have sail.
Jake Wallis Simons is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle.