03 August 2010
Israel’s President Shimon Peres has denied accusations that in a newspaper interview he had labeled Britons as anti-Semitic. Peres said that he believed that “relations between Britain and Israel are of the greatest importance.” The 87-year-old (pictured on the right with Prince Charles) was quoted in an interview with ‘Tablet’ magazine as saying: “in England, there has always been something deeply pro-Arab, of course, not among all Englishmen, and anti-Israeli, in the establishment". He also said that while Israel’s relationships with Italy, Germany and France were "pretty good", the English attitude toward Israel's was the latter’s "next big problem". Peres added: “There are several million Muslim voters, and for many members of parliament, that's the difference between getting elected and not getting elected."
His remarks drew criticism from parliamentarians, Jewish leaders and Christian and Muslim commentators after some British newspapers reported that Peres’ had accused the British of being deeply anti-Semitic. A statement from the president’s spokesman said: “On the contrary, he has the highest regard for Britain’s resolute opposition to Nazi Germany. Without the war on Nazism, waged entirely alone at times, the Jewish people would have faced an even greater tragedy.”
Pointing out that more than 10,000 missiles have been fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza, the spokesman added: “The president did express concern that some people in Britain do not fully appreciate difficulties of facing an onslaught of terror whilst adhering to democratic practice as Israel does.” However, he added that while Peres had “expressed his sorrow over certain points in the relationship between Israel and the UK”, including Britain’s abstention in the 1947 UN Partition Plan vote, or the arms embargo imposed after Israel gained independence, these were “historical disagreements. “They have no impact on current relations between the two countries and of course have nothing to do with anti-Semitism.”
The controversy comes just days after Prime Minister David Cameron sparked Israeli anger by describing Gaza as “a prison camp” while on a visit to Turkey. However, Peres gave the original interview before the incident.
Read the related comment on Robin Shepherd's Blog.
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