OPINION: British Jews Œdespair of Israel due to people like Ran Baratz

OPINION: British Jews Œdespair of Israel due to people like Ran Baratz

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

A Palestinian boy looks behind a wall separating Jewish part and Palestinian part of the West Bank
A Palestinian boy looks behind a wall separating Jewish part and Palestinian part of the West Bank

by Jenni Frazer

Jenni Frazer
Jenni Frazer

I’m thinking of applying for a job. Technically, I suppose, the vacancy  hasn’t arisen  just yet, but I’m hoping to get my application in shortly.

And the community should be pleased because the job is to be Bibi Netanyahu’s communications director in Jerusalem, a post held currently by the nominated ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev. But a row about Regev’s successor, Ran Baratz, is holding up the new ambassador’s arrival here.

I have thought about this carefully and hand on heart I think I have to be a better candidate for this post – which includes being the prime minister’s “head of diplomacy” – than Ran Baratz. 

Frankly, my cat would be a better candidate and I don’t actually have a cat.

Dr Baratz, let us remind ourselves, has become infamous in the past few weeks over social media posts, in which he accused President Obama of anti-Semitism and described US Secretary of State John Kerry as “having the mindset of a 12-year-old”. 

Bad enough, not least on the eve of a prime ministerial visit to Washington in which Bibi was due to try to make nice with the American president. But the one-time philosophy lecturer at the Hebrew University also ripped into the Israeli president, attacking him for preferring to fly economy on foreign visits, but adding that nobody should worry about Reuven Rivlin’s security on such official trips because he was a “marginal figure” whom no one would bother to hurt.

Rivlin, he suggested, with his penchant for going around and shaking hands with everyone, should be dispatched over the Syrian border on a paraglider and “a day later they would return him… just take him, Israelis…”. Very nice. Very diplomatic.

Well, where to start with all the reasons that Baratz’s appointment was an insane idea from the beginning? It’s really rather worrying that no one in Netanyahu’s inner circle felt it necessary to carry out due diligence on Baratz, to say to Bibi: “Here, have you seen what this bloke’s written?”

Bibi, of course, insisted that he knew nothing about his nominee’s postings – which in a way is even worse – and didn’t take Baratz to Washington. At the time of writing the appointment has been suspended and an icy statement from Mr Rivlin’s office has requested “clarification” of the comments.

Baratz himself, seemingly unbothered by the wave of criticism his comments drew, announced he had written his posts “as a private citizen”  and that his new state position,  which he apparently believes will still be ratified, “demanded more restraint”. 

Baratz also said in a late night interview with Channel 2 he was sorry if Rivlin was offended, a typical weasel “apology” – in other words, he wasn’t sorry for having made the remarks in the first place.

In the last five years Baratz has served as academic adviser to the fiercely right-wing group Im Tirtzu, whose main activities appear to be acting as a kind of McCarthyite monitor on Israeli universities and “naming and shaming” those universities which employed left-of-centre academics. 

It also devotes a great deal of energy in attacking the New Israel Fund.

In much the same spirit, attacks were made this week on Yachad UK, which funded a fascinating report written by academics from City University, Aston University and SOAS, about the relationship between British Jews and Israel.

It is a report I suggest Baratz would benefit hugely from reading. It makes it quite clear that for more than 90 percent of British Jews, Israel forms a central part of their lives and thinking. But precisely because of that, British Jews are – largely, and not universally, but by a great majority – filled with “despair” about the current policies of the Israeli government.

From those for whom this conclusion does not match their world view, there was spluttering condemnation. 

Yachad UK has been denounced from here to Timbuktu – and personal attacks made on its director which cannot be reproduced in a family newspaper. 

But the findings of the City University report should be required reading not only for Ran Baratz but, crucially, Bibi Netanyahu. 

If he wants to understand why appointing this person as his head of public diplomacy is one of the stupidest ideas he has ever had, he should read the report.

if that’s too difficult, I’m happy to come and explain it in my job interview. I’ll bring my cat.

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