The first official visit of a member of the British Royal family will take place in the summer. Prince William, the second in line to the throne (after his father Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales) will spend a short visit in Israel, the West Bank and in Jordan.
Unofficial visits by Prince Charles have taken place for the funerals of both Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres, but this is the first time that an official State visit will take place. When Charles visited Israel he also took time out to visit the grave of his grandmother, the Princess Alice of Greece, the mother of Prince Philip, the husband of the Queen, who is buried in Jerusalem.
Professor David Newman of Ben-Gurion University, himself an immigrant from the United Kingdom, and who was awarded the prestigious OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen in an impressive ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2013, for his efforts at promoting scientific and academic cooperation between the UK and Israel, commented on the news.
“At first many of us believed that given the announcement on Thursday, this was a Purim joke being circulated by celebrants of the festival in Israel and Britain”. Professor Newman who often commentates on Israeli radio and television on British politics and society, and was one of the main commentators for the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton (who will not be accompanying him on his visit to the Middle East), is taken aback by the amount of interest and excitement that Israelis have for the Royal Family, and in the forthcoming visit.
“I would have expected the interest to be limited to the small community of expatriot Brits who live in Israel (a community numbering some 30-40,000), but the Israeli public appears to have a much wider interest in the Royal Family than would be expected”.
Nevertheless, Professor David Newman of Ben-Gurion University does no dismiss the political importance and symbolism of the visit. “I am sure that the Foreign Ministry will arrange a crowded itinerary for the Prince, including a ritual visit to Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial. For their part, the British organisers will do their utmost to spread the visit between Israel, the West Bank and Jordan so as not to offend any of the hosts. The question of whether the Prince will actually stay the night and sleep on Israeli soil will, no doubt be a sensitive one which will have to be worked out. I do not expect the entire visit to all three countries, to last more than two days at the most”.
“Overall”, concludes Professor Newman, who also teaches course on British politics and history at Ben-Gurion University and is presently on sabbatical in London, “the history of the relationship between the Royal Family and the Jewish Community in Britain, Is an ambivalent one”. On the one hand, Prince Charles had a warm relationship with the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, while the family are appreciative of the large amount of charity and other public work done by the Jewish community for the greater good. On the other hand, the past attitudes of the British aristocracy and, in particular, King Edward VIII (who was forced to abdicate the throne because of his desire to marry an American divorcee against the wishes of the Church of England back in 1936) towards the Nazi regime in the pre-World War II period, is not forgotten so easily”.
“Nevertheless”, concludes Professor David Newman of Ben-Gurion University with an ironic smile, “if President Trump can visit the Western Wall and move the USA embassy to Jerusalem, then a royal visit can also take place to Israel. Everything is possible, but whether the visit will have deeper political implications, remains to be seen”.
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