Outrage as hardliner is chosen as next Israeli ambassador to UK

Harriet Sherwood

The Observer  /  June 20, 2020 

Sections of the British Jewish community are among those voicing dismay at nomination of settlements supporter Tzipi Hotovely.

The appointment of a hardline supporter of the annexation of Palestinian land as the next Israeli ambassador to the UK has dismayed sections of the British Jewish community, with some calling on the UK government to refuse to accept the nomination.

Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s settlements minister, has been named by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the successor to Mark Regev, who stepped down as ambassador to the UK last week.

She has described herself as “a religious right-winger” and rejects Palestinian claims to any part of the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem. In a speech in 2015, she said Israel had tried too hard to appease the world. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

Hotovely’s appointment was announced as Natanyahu’s coalition government is preparing to annex almost a third of the West Bank in a move which has drawn sharp criticism for being in breach of international law. Last week, Boris Johnson told the Commons his government had “strongly objected” to the plan and restated its support for the two-state solution.

[Hotovely’s] political views on Palestinians, annexation and religious pluralism clash with our core values

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

UN human rights experts warned the plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley amounted to “21st-century apartheid”.

In a statement last week they said: “What would be left of the West Bank would be a Palestinian Bantustan, islands of disconnected land completely surrounded by Israel and with no territorial connection to the outside world.”

The archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster expressed “opposition to any move by Israel to annex West Bank territory” in a letter to Regev and Johnson. Justin Welby and Vincent Nichols, the leaders of the Anglican and Catholic faiths in England, said peace and security “can only be secured through negotiation rather than annexation”.

Earlier this month, some of the most prominent and respected names in British Jewry – including Sir Simon Schama, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Dame Vivien Duffield – raised alarm over the annexation plan in a letter to Regev. They said the move would have “grave consequences for the Palestinian people” and be an existential threat to Israel.

Now, 800 British Jews have signed a petition posted online by the anti-occupation campaign group Na’amod highlighting Hotovely’s “appalling record of racist and inflammatory behaviour” and calling on the UK government to reject her nomination as ambassador. The appointment of envoys requires the approval of the host country. A counter-petition supporting Hotovely attracted 240 signatures.

A spokesperson for Na’amod said: “There is clearly growing unrest in our community about Israel’s blatant disregard for human rights, and people increasingly realise that it is time to take a stand.”

Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, also criticised Hotovely’s record. “Her political views on Palestinians, annexation and religious pluralism clash with our core values,” she said.

The Labour peer Lord Beecham told the Jewish Chronicle: “The appointment of an ultra-rightwing ambassador, while typical of the present government of Israel, will do nothing to win friends in the UK – or indeed any other reasonable country.”

In a statement, Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “We will be delighted to work with the next Israeli ambassador to sustain and advance the relationship between Israel and the UK Jewish community … We will give her whatever support and advice we can to achieve these ends.”

Harriet Sherwood writes about religion and social issues for The Guardian and The Observer; she was previously Jerusalem correspondent, foreign editor and home editor