Ambassador Gould's comments on Israel's popularity show a lack of clear thinking

Matthew Gould's comments reveal an institutional catatonia at the FCO. One that will ensure Britain's role in the Middle East declines in perpetuity

Ambassador Matthew Gould, British Ambassador to Israel
The Commentator
On 6 August 2012 09:39

When Matthew Gould was appointed as the British Ambassador to Israel, Labour Member of Parliament Paul Flynn caused quite a stir in questioning Gould’s ‘loyalty’ to the United Kingdom.

Because Ambassador Gould is Jewish, it was implied that he would suffer from an affliction known as ‘dual loyalty’ and be therefore unable to carry out the tasks set to him by his paymasters at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Even the usually carping Owen Jones made sense of this issue in the New Statesman at the time.

But Flynn must now be eating his words, as not only has Gould proved the offensive comments to be incorrect, he actually, at times, seems to be batting for the ‘other team’. And you’d expect no less from a British diplomat.

If it is to be believed that Gould is a staunch FCO bod (he is), then his comments this week regarding Israel’s popularity are simply an extension of an ever wrong-headed FCO narrative, effectively propagandising against the Jewish state.

Gould remarked that “Support for Israel is starting to erode and that’s not about these people on the fringe who are shouting loudly and calling for boycotts and all the rest of it”.

He went on to describe Israel as ‘Goliath’ and the Palestinians as ‘David’ – in an attempt to reflect British public opinion – a claim that rests on little evidence. But when did the FCO ever care about facts, eh?

Sure, Israel has a public relations problem – one that is needlessly inflated by off piste FCO comments such as these. Far from having a ‘dual loyalty’, Gould has recently shown that he is all too delighted to trot out the unnuanced FCO line.

The British Foreign Office is complicit in ensuring that Israel becomes defined by its inability to unilaterally solve the conflict in the Middle East, much to the chagrin of many Israeli leaders who offered the Palestinians better and better deals – only to be rejected in perpetuity.

Britain’s role in the Middle East conflict is becoming less that of an external mediating party who has something positive to bring to the table, and more that of an antagonist. At best, we seem to be the less than subtle cousin at the dinner table. At its worst, the drunken uncle slumped in the corner shouting irrelevant facts in the face of heated discussions.

The FCO, as we have shown before, has no love lost for Netanyahu. Their stance towards Israel is often predicated on the prejudgment of his motives, while consistently and offensively giving the Palestinians the benefit of the doubt. We see this in the long-standing rejectionist attitude towards addressing the problem of Palestinian incitement. But even that house of cards is now folding.

Gould also claimed, bizarrely, that centrist Members of the British Parliament are shifting away from supporting Israel.

The Commentator notes with interest that there was no hard evidence behind such a claim. Instead, this comment seemed to insist that centrist MPs should desert Israel, rather than being a commentary on something that had already happened.

The Foreign Office has a shocking and deliberately scornful attitude towards what goes on in the House of Commons chamber, with one senior officer recently telling MPs that they didn’t even bother to watch Foreign Office questions which only occurs once a month.

“What on Earth are you even doing, then?” came the blunt response.

The truth is that the FCO sets the agenda, regardless of what our elected parliamentarians think. Despite the FCO’s continued lip service to democracy abroad, it seems they care little for it back in Britain.

Gould’s assertions that the British public sees ‘announcements of settlement building’ and ‘restrictions in Gaza’ was in itself an announcement to the British public and wider diplomatic community.

In scoring this goal against Israel, Gould is basically throwing his toys out of the pram in response to Britain’s declining impact on the conflict.

Settlements are made the key issue by the FCO. Palestinian rejectionism is defended by the FCO. Israel’s positive steps are ignored by the FCO. And the onus being placed firmly on one side of this debate is an imbalance perpetuated by the FCO.

It all sounds conspiratorial, doesn’t it? But it’s not really. The Commentator is at pains to believe that there is actually much rational thinking behind the FCO bias anymore.

Rather, an institutional state of catatonia or transfixion has come to dominate in  this very restrictive organisation. The Foreign Office is not a place for free or even clear thinkers, but only a place for those willing to toe an increasingly discriminatory line while fabricating facts and ignoring inconvenient truths.

Gould’s comments this week were nothing more than a showcase of the status quo. We can expect our allies to further downgrade Britain’s role in the Middle East as a consequence. 

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