- Michael Dickson
Dear Prince William...
Executive Director of StandWithUs-Israel Michael Dickson reflects on the importance of Prince William's visit to the Jewish state
Originally Published in The Jewish News
Your Highness, Israelis will welcome you with open arms. Some of our neighbours have a disturbing tendency to burn British flags on the streets, but not us. We’re your allies and always will be.
Mazeltov, Your Royal Highness.
This Summer, you are set to become the first member of the Royal Family to embark on an official visit to the State of Israel. This will be a momentous and groundbreaking trip, although really it shouldn’t be. The truth is that this visit is long overdue. Israel will celebrate seventy years since it’s rebirth in 1948 yet for some reason, until now, no-one from the House of Windsor has visited.
“Lo nora”, as we say in Hebrew, no big deal – you’re coming now and it’s fantastic news. You are in for a treat but pack a hat as the Israeli summer is not quite like the English one. Although we haven’t met, as both a Brit and an Israeli, allow me to give you a little unsolicited advice to ensure the trip is a success.
This will be a special trip for you in a very personal way. Your father has been to Israel on unofficial visits to pay tribute following the deaths of peace-seeking Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres. Your grandfather has also been (unofficially) to Israel when his late mother, your great-grandmother, Princess Alice was honoured by Israel for being “Righteous Among the Nations”. She sheltered a Jewish family from the Nazis in Athens, and had asked to be buried in Jerusalem where she now lies on the Mount of Olives. Finally, your late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales was an admirer of the Jewish State and its tenacity, famously referring to Israel as “a plucky little country”.
Now, let’s talk religion. One day, you will be King, and you will also enjoy the title of 'Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England', so it is only natural that you should visit the Holy Land. How many times have you heard the words of Blake sung: “Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land.” Now you get to visit the real Jerusalem. In addition to hosting Christian and Muslim holy sites, Jerusalem is the holiest place in Judaism and of course, Israel’s capital, both modern and ancient. Since King David established the capital 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem has fallen to many a conqueror, yet it has never been the capital of any other nation. And while Christians in neighboring countries are being repressed and murdered, Israel’s Christians are flourishing. That is no small thing in the brutal Middle East where minorities are so often persecuted. The Jerusalem you will visit upholds freedom of worship for all, something that in recent times has only been true under Israeli rule.
Of course, before Christianity, there was Judaism. The place you will be visiting is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish People. Chinese people come from China, Indians from India. Jews come from Israel. This is a chance for you to show that you appreciate that Israel and the Jewish people cannot be disconnected. Jewish scripture and prayer are imbued with Israel, archeological evidence of ancient Jewish life abound in Israel, and Israel remains central to the life of Jews the world over. Our enemies always recognised this. For the Romans, it was not sufficient to conquer Jewish land and destroy our Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They wanted to degrade us, so they renamed the country “Palestine” after the biblical invaders, the “Philistines”. But neither this, nor expulsion could detach Jews from their indigenous land. So when Jews started returning to the land in the 1880’s to join those who never left, and eventually formed the modern State of Israel, it was the righting of a historic injustice and a demonstration of the enduring connection to their birthplace that Jews never lost.
Your visit is hugely important to British Jews. Jews have played a growing and central role in British life since arriving in England during the reign of William the Conqueror. Both your father, and your grandmother, The Queen, have paid tribute to the multi-faceted contributions by Jews to British life. They have spoken out against Antisemitism and shared the pride that Anglo-Jewry has of its flourishing and dynamic community. This visit, however, has the potential to take the relationship between the UK Jews and the Royal Family to a whole new level. Jews are loyal subjects and adore being British, and they also love Israel. Every Sabbath, we Jews say a prayer for you and your family publicly in Synagogue. That prayer is immediately followed by a Prayer for the State of Israel. We love you already, but recognise our natural love for our ancestral homeland and we will love you that little bit more.
The Israel that you’re visiting is a modern, dynamic country. It is far ahead of any country in the region in terms of its openness, the value it places on human rights, women’s rights and all the facets you would expect in a liberal democracy. In Israel you are free to say anything you want and free to love anyone you want. It is also a bustling Start-Up Nation, innovating amazing initiatives that make our world a better place. Bilateral trade between the UK and Israel is up 25 percent to £6.9 billion; Israel may be small geographically but it is an economic powerhouse of importance to the United Kingdom.
Let’s talk a little politics, if I may. The announcement of your trip mentioned that you would also be visiting the Palestinian territories (as well as Jordan). Israel has been attempting to negotiate peace with the Palestinians for a long time. When you are in the West Bank, you might reflect on the fact that Israel has offered Palestinian leaders peace and statehood on multiple occasions in territory that is the cradle of Jewish civilisation, but they have always said no. They refused statehood in 1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008 and have refused to even negotiate in recent years. Meanwhile, they have not educated their society and the next generations to live in peace with Israelis. As a result, there is a status quo and a corrupt Palestinian leadership that suppresses the freedom of their population, supports terror and even gives financial rewards to terrorists. Many world leaders are tiring of this attitude – your visit could be an opportunity to tell them to change course.
Your Highness, Israelis will welcome you with open arms. Some of our neighbours have a disturbing tendency to burn British flags on the streets, but not us. We’re your allies and always will be. The British were not always kind to the Jews of pre-state Israel when the mandate was under their control. That’s history now though and we prefer to recall our allies like Lord Balfour, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (all of whom have Israeli roads named after them). Churchill famously said that “it is manifestly right that scattered Jews should have a national center and a national home.. and where else but in Palestine, with which for 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?”. Your arrival in this, the seventieth anniversary year of the Declaration of Israeli Independence is an amazing event. We will have the bunting out and the Union Jacks waving.
Welcome to Israel, Your Royal Highness.