This week, Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her “diamond jubilee” and the British monarch is – believe it or not – “trending on Twitter.”
Yet amidst all the accolades, state dinners, and thousands of “Jubilee beacons” being lit around the world, one aspect of the Queen’s resume stands out for its inexplicable absence: In six decades of reign she has made hundreds of royal visits to 129 different countries, though never once been to Israel.
No comparable nation has been even remotely ignored in this way. There are only two incidents of British royal family visiting Israel over the past 64 years – Prince Philip at a ceremony honoring his mother, and Prince Charles attending the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. Yet both times the British were careful to emphasize that these were private, non-official visits.
Tension has long simmered between the two countries. Theories abound why.
Bitterness over the British Mandate
The League of Nations in 1922 mandated that the British establish "a national home for the Jewish people," yet the British undercut this commitment by apportioning 70% of the land to create what is now Jordan.
Then in 1939, the British issued the White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine. This effectively locked the gates on millions of Jews who might have otherwise found safe haven from Hitler’s ovens. Those Jews who nevertheless tried to immigrate were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps by the British.
Rather than antagonize their Arab allies, the British continued to drag their feet over implementation. The Jews lost patience and ratcheted up pressure on the British to get out. Jewish underground groups made the continued British occupation unbearable and in May 1948 they packed up and left.
The British were undeniably sore over being kicked out by tiny upstart Israel. On this backdrop, Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne just four years later when the wound to British pride was still fresh. Could this bitter history, coupled with the ongoing close relationship between British and Arab monarchies, be a key contributor to the Queen’s refusal to visit Israel?
Israel through the Lens of Colonialism
For centuries the British Empire conquered and subjugated other lands, holding sway over one-quarter of the world – India, the Caribbean, Gibraltar, Falklands, Singapore, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, parts of Africa – to the point where "the sun never set on the British Empire."
Many Brits support the Palestinian "liberation struggle against Israeli imperialism.” Might this – perhaps subconsciously – be an outgrowth of Britain’s colonial history? Of course, there are fatal flaws with the comparison: Israel is the ancient Jewish homeland; control of the disputed territories resulted from a defensive war; and Israel has never sought to subjugate or exploit the Arabs. So what is driving this narrative?
Writing in the Washington Post, political analyst Robin Shepherd observed: Europe is "awash in post-imperial guilt, and I frequently get the sense that Israel's claim to a piece of land in the Middle East revives guilt-inducing memories, among my English countrymen and others, of white Europeans carving up the Third World and subjugating 'lesser peoples' in the 19th century." This, Shepherd discerns, "can make for an intoxicating cocktail of anti-Israeli sentiment."
Whatever the reason(s) why the British sometimes act in anti-Israel ways, today some of the worst forms of anti-Israel rhetoric – delegitimization, demonization and double standard – are coming out of the UK.
The London Guardian, the newspaper of choice for Britain's academics and media elites, has suggested on its front page that Israel's license to exist has expired: "The establishment of [the State of Israel] has been bought at a very high cost in human rights and human lives. It must be apparent that the international community cannot support this cost indefinitely."
Another Guardian article gave voice to the idea that Israel has "no moral right" and that its behavior "negates the very possibility of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state."
Meanwhile, BBC host Tom Paulin declared: "I never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all." (BBC News considered it all a joke, declaring that Paulin's "knockabout style has ruffled feathers in the US, where the Jewish question is notoriously sensitive.")
To avoid any doubt, this Guardian headline spelled it out unequivocally: "Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist."
Which brings us to today. Certainly there is much positive to be said about British-Israel relations, and nobody is accusing the British crown of being anti-Semitic. Over the years rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders have been knighted by the Queen and appointed to the House of Lords. The Royal House of Windsor even has a long-standing tradition that every male baby undergoes circumcision by a certified Jewish mohel.
But there is an undeniable undercurrent of British negativity toward Israel. One BBC poll showed that fully two-thirds of respondents viewed Israel as a "mainly negative" influence on the world. An opinion poll conducted by the European Union named Israel as the number one "threat to world peace" – beating out axis-of-evil states North Korea and Iran.
This perception has perhaps been exacerbated by six decades of the Queen’s refusal to visit Israel.
Surely Israel doesn’t need the Queen for recognition or legitimization. However, upon this occasion of her diamond jubilee, what a propitious time for Queen Elizabeth to make a strong statement of support by visiting the Jewish State. Though the British Foreign Office would need to approve the visit, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't accommodate the Queen's request.
It would go a long way to dispel the lingering cloud of delegitimization. And would surely be another jewel in the Queen’s glorious crown.