Britain and Israel are working together on plans for a public celebration of the Balfour declaration’s centenary, Mark Regev has revealed in his first interview with the Jewish media since becoming ambassador to the UK.
The envoy said he was looking forward to what will be a “huge” milestone with special events in both countries in the months leading up to the anniversary next November.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-time spokesman said: “It’s being taken very seriously at the highest levels. We’re hoping to do a public celebration together with the British government with senior leadership from both sides uniting to celebrate Balfour.
“It’s a crucial, historic document. The Balfour declaration is a manifestation of the principles of self-determination of the Jewish people and there’s every reason to celebrate. We’re doing celebrations here and in Israel and I’m looking forward to it. It’s an important milestone.”
While Jerusalem has decided to stay out of the debate on Britain’s future in the European Union, Regev is known to audiences in Britain and around the globe for going into the lion’s den of international media to defend Israel’s actions, particularly at times of conflict.
And, just two months into the job in London, he’s proved he’s not shy of taking on the big challenges head on by making a visit to SOAS one of his first engagements after arriving – a trip that led to anti-Israel graffiti being scrawled across the campus. He has also spoken out on another political hot potato – anti-Semitism within the Labour party.
Asked whether he thought he could engage effectively with the Labour leader, he said: “I’ve seen Jeremy Corbyn speaking proudly about how his parents marched against the fascists in Cable Street. I look forward to meeting and having a serious conversation with him.”
He added: “Labour has a proud history of standing up for the Jewish people, for Zionism and for Israel. If you look at some of the iconic figures of Labour in 20th century – Bevan, Wilson – these are people that understood the essential justice in zionism. They saw a Jewish people discriminated against, a minority suffering persecution and they saw in Zionism the desire of the Jewish people to have self-determination. They saw an essential part of an agenda of making the world a better place. Zionism fitted in with that agenda and that’s why they whole-heartedly supported Zionism.
“I know today is 2016 and not 1946 but I know Israel has many friends in the Labour movement and as ambassador I would not be doing my job if I wasn’t reaching out to the leadership in Labour and making the case for Israel.”
While Regev said anti-Semitism had simply morphed into a version that focused on hatred of the Jewish state, he insisted an independent Israel had “changed everything” in terms of the plight and prospects of Jews.
“Today we are sovereign and independent,” he said.” Today a homeless people going from place to place looking for refuge has a homeland. We have the ability to defend ourselves in a way our parents’ generation didn’t. That’s the real change – that’s the victory of Zionism.”
He also used the opportunity to laud the support and love of British Jewry for Israel, saying: “Almost everyone you speak to has been, has family there. The relationship is very strong. If I think of british Jews who’ve had an influence on Israeli society it goes from Moses Montefiore until the current time. Go to places to Raanana, Modiin and Jerusalem you see people making a difference to society, the economy, across all areas.”