Bibi in London - March 2023
Why is this visit different from all other visits? Well, for one thing it is low key: unusual for Mr Netanyahu. There was almost nothing about it in the Jerusalem Post. And the Times of Israel led with, "Sunak stresses democratic values to Netanyahu": a Prime Minister who has won General Elections stretching back to 1996 and has been in office cumulatively for more than 15 years, receiving a ticking-off about democracy from a leader of the former colonial power who became Prime Minister by default. We do live in interesting times.
Moreover, Bibi was jeered by a large number of Israeli protestors as he arrived at Downing Street. This comes from opposition to Netanyahu's proposed reforms which have led to 13 weeks of protests at home and threats of a "National Paralysis Week"; military reservists refusing to serve; and, what may be the most personally hurtful of all, a letter signed by some of the soldiers who served under Yonatan Netanyahu at Entebbe. Greeting Bibi, there were also the usual anti-everything-Israel-does protestors and a group of Likudniks gamely cheering their man.
Looking beyond the hullabaloo over the judicial reforms, there have been some encouraging political developments this week with the publication of the UK government's "2030 bilateral roadmap for UK-Israel relations." Some very positive elements of it are pledges to:
- "cooperate in improving Palestinian livelihoods and Palestinian economic development."
- tackle "Iran’s destabilising and malign activity in the Middle East, whether engaged in directly or through proxies and terrorist groups."
- work together to "deepen and expand" the progress made by the Abraham Accords, "which have the potential to enable profound advancements for security, co-existence, prosperity and peace for the region and its peoples."
- "combine UK and Israeli innovation and expertise to solve regional technology and sustainability issues across the Middle East and south-east Asia."
- "increasing bilateral cooperation on climate innovation", noting that, "As the ‘start-up nation’, Israel has an international reputation for technological innovation, with over 750 sustainability-related tech companies and is ranked sixth on the Global Cleantech Innovation Index."
- "increase cooperation to tackle the global scourge of antisemitism."
- "tackling the disproportionate focus on Israel in the UN and other international bodies, including attempts to delegitimise it or deny its right to self-defence."
- "tackle the singling out of Israel in the Human Rights Council as well as in other international bodies. In this context, the UK and Israel disagree with the use of the term ‘apartheid’ with regard to Israel."
- fight "all forms of antisemitism including in its modern form of de-legitimisation of the State of Israel, as elaborated in the IHRA definition."
Furthermore, the document also commits the UK to following the manifesto pledges of 2019 opposing "Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns. Such campaigns are at variance with UK government policy, and not only unfairly single out Israel and undermine efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation, but can contribute to the deplorable rise of antisemitism in the UK. The UK is committed to ending any such campaigns by public bodies, including through legislation."