Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely

With the appointment of the new Israeli ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely, British Jewish institutions and the wider pro-Israel establishment face an impossible task. The mask has come off, and those still committed to a two state solution will need to somehow square the circle as the state of Israel increasingly slides off a cliff edge into formalised apartheid.

Hotovely’s appointment has come as a sharp departure from the previous ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev. Regev initially started his career as the spokesperson for the Israeli government before his appointment as ambassador. During the many Israeli onslaughts on Gaza, Regev appeared on our screens to function as a soothing balm to defenders of Israel. He was an affable, smooth talker, who was often extremely deferential to his interviewers. “No I disagree totally”, “Criticism of Israel is totally unfair” Regev would say on our televisions when talking about the 2014 Gaza conflict that left over 2000 Gazans dead. While Israeli military figures would speak of these onslaughts as casually as “mowing the lawn“.

Before his departure, Regev went on a virtual speaking tour that seems to have been designed to prepare the ground for a potential annexation: “Mark Regev in conversation with liberal Judaism“, “Yachad In Conversation with Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev“. These events plastered my Facebook feed close to his departure. Regev, a man whose career has come from defending Israeli war crimes to the United Kingdom, will be a dovish moderate when compared to the new ambassador Hotovely. Perhaps that is why there were so many mournful pieces written about his sad departure from the UK in the Jewish Press. The departure of Regev seems to be the moment where even the staunchest, pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and the ADL are having to deal with allowing criticism of Israeli annexation.

This is the moment where a fuzzy kind of nostalgic liberal Zionism that never existed is being seriously confronted. It is why the letter opposing annexation from prominent British Jews spoke of annexation as posing a “threat to my type of Zionism” and the image in their minds of an Israel that ever cared about human rights. Their primary concern is annexation causing the diaspora to be less enthusiastic about an Israel that only existed in their heads. It is why the chair of Labour Friends of Israel seems to oppose the upcoming annexation not because it would be a human rights disaster, but because it strengthens the BDS movement.

Hotovely began her career in politics after being handpicked by Netanyahu after appearing on an Israeli chatshow. Hotovely, a fervent religious Zionist, who after the annexation of the West Bank will probably be clamouring for the annexation of the east bank and a wider, greater Eretz Yisrael. She has made genocidal statements about the Palestinian people since starting her political career. She has called Palestinians “thieves of Jewish history” while waving a book that denies their existence. It is not enough for colonialists to subjugate the native population; they must also claim that the history of the land and it’s people started with the arrival of settlers. In their minds, “Israel is a land without a people for a people without a land“, which is actually closer to a prescriptive statement about what much of the early Zionist movement was about. Leaving ruined Palestinian villages to dot the landscape and erasing their history by planting trees over their land. This is what Hotovely represents.

While her arrival was met with a petition circulated by the anti-occupation movement Na’amod rejecting her nomination, she was welcomed by other circles. This is perplexing given her hatred for diaspora Jewry, as evidenced by her endorsement of anti-miscegenation group Lehava, her attack on US Jews for not serving in the army and the Board of Deputies itself for supporting a two state solution. This makes the comments that the Board president Marie van der Zyl made even more confusing when she said she “We will be delighted to work with the next Israeli ambassador to sustain and advance the relationship between Israel and the UK Jewish community“. The only purpose of the Jewish diaspora according to Hotovely is to provide a bulwark against Palestinians should they ever be granted citizenship.

Although I signed the petition, I have come to agree with calls for Hotovely to be welcomed into her appointment rather than rejected. Hotovely represents the true face of Israel, the one that has occupied Palestine since its creation. It would be a mistake to argue that her appointment will cause a serious reckoning with Israel. Although a potential annexation has been condemned by Johnson and many other figures, Israel becoming a formalised apartheid nation won’t be enough to completely sever the ties that the UK and the diaspora has with it. Annexation will, however, make the cost of fence sitting increasingly more expensive and highlight the absurdity of a viable two state solution ever existing given the lack of contiguous territory available to a future Palestinian state.

Image credit: Arielinson – Creative Commons

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