Just a few days after Britain formally marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, a letter written by Prince Charles surfaced, in which he expressed views not exactly consistent with the spirit of that historic document.
In a private letter to a friend in 1986, Charles penned views that this week were characterized by some as anti-Semitic.
He blamed the “influx of foreign Jews” for the troubles in the Mideast, and said that “Surely some U.S. president has to have the courage to stand up and take on the Jewish lobby in the U.S? I must be naive, I suppose!”
A spokesperson for the heir apparent confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but said that he was merely recounting views he had heard on a trip to Saudi Arabia, from which he had just returned.
A simple reading of the text of the letter does not seem to support such an interpretation. The views are set forth without qualification; nowhere does the prince seek to disassociate himself from them. On the contrary, he appears to have been sharing with his friend fresh insights culled from the Arab perspective and accepted without caveat.
Gideon Falter, chairman of the British-based Campaign Against Antisemitism, called Charles’s letter “unmistakably antisemitic.”
But — and it is a very large but — it must be taken into consideration that the letter was written 31 years ago. As such, it does not necessarily reflect the views of Prince Charles today.
As Falter himself observed, since the letter was written, Charles “appears to have warmed to the Jewish community,” noting his friendship with Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and his attendance at the inauguration of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Sacks’s successor as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of leading members of Britain’s Labour Party. The letter’s reappearance comes against the backdrop of the Balfour centenary, which unavoidably highlighted the division of British sentiment toward the state of Israel.
At the gala state dinner attended by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and many other dignitaries, Prime Minister Theresa May proclaimed that Britain is “proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel.” To her credit, she refused to be cowed by Palestinian demands for an apology for Balfour.
By contrast, the Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry made an issue of not calling it a celebration: “I don’t think we celebrate the Balfour Declaration but I think we have to mark it because I think it was a turning point in the history of that area and I think probably the most important way of marking it is to recognize Palestine.”
Not only didn’t she celebrate it, neither she nor Labour chairman Jeremy Corbyn attended the gala dinner, claiming a scheduling conflict, which was taken by Israelis as a snub.
At the same time, it has been pointed out that the Prince Charles letter again calls to mind the fact that no member of the British royal family has ever traveled to Israel in an official capacity. Charles was in Israel last October to attend former President Shimon Peres’s funeral, but he went as a private citizen, not representing Britain.
Charles has so far not commented on the letter, but presumably he was embarrassed by this archival revelation, as the denial issued by his spokesperson suggests.
Perhaps it is too much to demand of him a direct apology or repudiation of the contents of private correspondence from 31 years ago.
However, it would help to do something to dispel the lingering suspicions about the attitudes of the heir to the British throne toward Israel and the Jewish People. The obvious remedy would be an official visit to Israel. They have been invited repeatedly by Israeli officials, and such a visit would be most welcome.
It is true that the royals are not at liberty to make their own state visits, and must have the approval of the Foreign Office. The royals have been allowed to travel to Arab countries (the prince’s letter being a case in point), but the state of Israel is evidently out of bounds.
A formal visit would inevitably be seen as a gesture of friendship toward Israel. This is something the Foreign Office will hopefully not oppose, especially after the tumult created by the revelation of the 1986 letter.