Will Queen Elizabeth’s Death Trigger a New Era in the Royal Relationship With Israel?
The United Kingdom began a period of mourning on September 8, following the death of its longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen, who ascended to the throne in 1952, will be laid to rest at a state funeral on September 19 at London’s Westminster Abbey in a ceremony that will be attended by heads of state and governments from around the world.
Shortly after the Queen’s death was announced, Israeli leaders hailed her extraordinary reign, including Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who described her as leaving an “unparalleled legacy of leadership and service,” and President Isaac Herzog, who paid tribute to an “icon of stable, responsible leadership, and a beacon of morality, humanity and patriotism.”
Yet, the Queen is said to have had a complex relationship with the State of Israel, which is notably one of the few countries she never visited in an official capacity during her 70 years on the throne.
It is an omission that upset British Jews in particular, with Jonathan Arkush, the former head of the Board of Deputies, calling it a “big deal” in 2016, and claiming it was “past time for a royal visit” to the Jewish state.
In 2009, British historian Andrew Roberts said the Queen’s unofficial policy of boycotting Israel is a result of “Arabists” within the UK’s Foreign Office:
The true reason, of course, is that the FO [Foreign Office] has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimization of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists.
It is, therefore, no coincidence that although the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor one single member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit.
In 2018, however, the Queen’s grandson and future heir to the throne, Prince William, broke with precedent and became the first British royal to travel to Israel in an official capacity when he toured Israel and Jordan and also met with representatives from the Palestinian Authority.
William’s father Charles followed suit in 2020, and represented Britain at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, although he had visited Israel unofficially twice before when he attended the funerals of former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In addition, he paid his respects at the Jerusalem tomb of his grandmother, Princess Alice, who is counted as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for sheltering Jews during the Holocaust, and was interred at the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene just outside the Old City.
Shortly after the official 2020 trip was announced, banker-philanthropist Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, called Charles “a big supporter and friend of the Jewish community, as well as of Israel, and this upcoming trip is a show of that huge sympathy and support.”
Jewish historian and author Simon Sebag Montefiore, a close friend of King Charles and the Queen Consort Camilla, said that the 2020 visit was a sign that Britain and Israel were entering “a new phase of mutual respect.”
Like his mother was, the new king is a long-time friend of the UK’s Jewish community, and reportedly forged a bond with the former Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Upon Sacks’ death in 2020, Charles gave a heartfelt eulogy in which he described Lord Sacks as “a light unto the nations,” adding, “he was a trusted guide, an inspired teacher and a true and steadfast friend. I shall miss him more than words can say.”
As Charles begins his reign, it is no wonder that there has been speculation that we could be ushering in a new era of a special royal relationship between the British Royal Family and the Jewish state. It is an era that would presumably see Charles become the first British head of state to visit Israel, and would therefore truly end the 70-year unofficial royal boycott.