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Maariv Jul13-07 [Interview With British Ambassador]

Maariv Jul13-07 [Interview With British Ambassador]

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Published by Didi Remez
Q: Matthew Gould, what do you think of the boycott law that the Knesset passed two days ago?
We are concerned about the passing of this law, which damages the legitimate right to freedom of speech and which conflicts with the strong Israeli tradition of lively and vigorous political debate
Q: Matthew Gould, what do you think of the boycott law that the Knesset passed two days ago?
We are concerned about the passing of this law, which damages the legitimate right to freedom of speech and which conflicts with the strong Israeli tradition of lively and vigorous political debate

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Published by: Didi Remez on Jul 13, 2011
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07/13/2011

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Interview with British Ambassador
Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, July 13 2011British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould arrived here a year ago. In the course of this short time hemanaged to go to an Israeli hospital to take part in the birth of his first daughter. Gould, only 39, is highly esteemed among Israeli diplomats: in the time he has been in Israel, he has met with top leaders and is carefulto maintain contact with the Israeli media. Unlike other ambassadors, Gould visited the British citizens whocame on the pro-Palestinian fly-in who were denied entry to Israel. On weekends he gets into his official carand together with his wife and baby daughter, goes to Makhtesh Ramon or up north, without a driver orentourage. He is also a proud Jew, as is his wife Celia. He shows up for the interview with blue cuffs bearing agold Star of David.
Q: Matthew Gould, what do you think of the boycott law that the Knesset passed two days ago?
 We are concerned about the passing of this law, which damages the legitimate right to freedom of speech and which conflicts with the strong Israeli tradition of lively and vigorous political debate
Q: Hasn’t the criticism of Israel at British universities somewhat crossed the line?
 Without a doubt, there is a group of people in Britain that is trying to blacken Israel’s name. This is a very small group that does not speak in the name of the majority, and therefore we mustn’t confuse the level of noise with the importance of the noise. There is a certain truth to your concern. There are too many anti-Semitic attacks, too many universities where people don’t feel safe to stand up and express pro-Israeli views. We don’t deny that there is a problem. The state and the police are working to handle this. That said, I think that there is great exaggeration about anti-Israeli sentiments and anti-Semitism in Britain. In a certain sense, Ifeel that in Israel there is a reverse process of delegitimization of Britain. To my regret, any initiative of someephemeral organization in Britain for a boycott of Israel earns great and disproportionate attention that doesnot reflect broad public opinion in Britain.I was at a conference with a senior Israeli official who said, “there is not a single university in Britain wheresupport for Israel can be expressed.” That is wild exaggeration. There are 105 student unions in Britain. Fiveof them called for a boycott of Israel. Not a single university has yet called for a boycott. There are a smallnumber of universities in which there are pressure and threats. But there are a lot of universities in whichthere is open debate and all sorts of opinions can be voiced. When I talk to Israeli students about studying inBritain, they immediately think about the anti-Israeli atmosphere and don’t want to go and study there.
Q: The erosion in Israel’s standing compared to the Palestinians is not just criticism by Britishinstitutions, but a process that crosses borders in Europe and in the US.
 As an ambassador, I am very worried about what is happening to public opinion of Israel in Britain and inthe world. For the British public accepts Israel’s right to exist and its right to security, but it has difficulty withthe ongoing occupation, particularly where there are difficult moments such as Operation Cast Lead, or theflotilla or the passport affair in Dubai. This lowers the level of sympathy and support for Israel. My feeling isthat Israelis still see themselves in the image of David in the region. The problem is that most of the world isbeginning to see Israel as Goliath, as the strong side. Therefore, Israel’s PR problem is that people’s sympathy is naturally for those whom they perceive as the weak side.
 
Q: What do you think is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in light of the changes taking place in the region?
 We believe that there is urgency in today’s situation. As more time passes, the danger of the settlementsbecomes more concrete. And it troubles us that the peace process is stuck. The level of trust is also low. It isimportant to begin the process. As the person responsible for relations between Israel and Britain, I say thatif the process is stuck and there are no talks with the Palestinians and people don’t believe that peace has afuture—this will affect the relationship with Britain and Europe and will also influence how Israel is seen inthe world.
Q: As a Jew yourself, do you understand Israelis’ concern for security, if a Palestinian state isestablished?
 The issue of security is very clear to me. Israel will make steps toward peace when it believes that peace willmake it more secure. This is understandable and important. Because if we begin from this principle, and you want, like us, to make progress toward peace—you have to persuade the people in Israel that what is being offered does not threaten them and the state. I am certain that the public in Israel refuses to take risks when itcomes to the state’s security.
Q: Why is Europe worried about September and on the other hand, does not explicitly announcethat it will not vote in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state?
 We are worried that September will be a damaging moment for the future of peace. We are worried that it willmake it more difficult in the matter of the trust between the sides. We are worried that this will divert themain message that peace must come about by means of talks between the sides. It could be that this decision will also fuel the flames. For example, in the West Bank and Gaza -- there is real frustration there. If youbring into there the idea of a UN resolution about the recognition of a Palestinian state, and nothing changeson the ground, this will create a dangerous situation. This will only increase the level of tension. People ask us what Britain will do in September and the answer is that we haven’t yet decided. A lot can happen by then. Soour preference is to avoid a situation in which we have to choose either way in a decision that we think isdangerous.
Q: The international Quartet for the Middle East wasn’t able to overcome the gaps two days ago andto issue an agreed-on statement calling to resume the negotiations between Israel and thePalestinians. Why?
 That was not an easy moment. We would be pleased to see the talks beginning based on the Obama outline,but at the moment it isn’t clear if this is possible. The lack of trust between the sides is the basic problem. When each of the sides believes that the other side isn’t serious about peace, that is a very difficult situation.Israel did make peace, first with Sadat and then with Hussein—only when it believed the other side. Whenthere is trust, it is possible to progress very quickly.
Q: Do you believe that the impasse in the peace process is related to the system of government andof elections in Israel?
Every country has to choose its system of government. I don’t think that I, as a foreign ambassador, shouldadvise on changes in the Israeli political system. I know that there is a lot of criticism about the electoralsystem in Israel. I’ve heard people say that the system in Israel, despite its disadvantages, ensures that all the

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