Despite the fact that the British Foreign Office has scrapped the projected official visit by Prince Charles to Israel to join in the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in November, President Reuven Rivlin has reiterated an invitation to the prince’s mother, Queen Elizabeth, to come to Israel for the occasion.
At the conclusion of a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Rivlin asked Welby to convey the message to the queen that “we look forward to a visit to the Holy Land – to Israel. It’s about time after 70 years.”
Although British royals have come to Israel to attend state funerals and in unofficial capacities, there has never been an official or a state visit, although there have been visits to other countries in the region.
Deferring to the presence of British Ambassador David Quarrey, Welby said that he was sure that the ambassador had conveyed an invitation, but he added that the queen, who recently celebrated her 91st birthday, has cut back on overseas travel. Undeterred, Rivlin replied: “It’s only a fivehour flight. It’s not like going to Australia.”
Noemi Toledano, the president’s spokeswoman, later clarified that any member of the royal family would be welcome.
The archbishop, who is on a pastoral pilgrimage to the region, recalled having been in the same room of the President’s Residence four years ago and meeting then-president Shimon Peres. He said that he would be at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa on Thursday.
Listing some of the highlights of his current visit, Welby said that Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, had come with him for part of the time and the two of them had prayed together at the Western Wall after which they had visited Yad Vashem together. Both experiences were emotional, said Welby.
It was his second time at Yad Vashem. He has also been Auschwitz four times, he said.
The archbishop also went to a club for Holocaust survivors that had been set up by Quarrey’s predecessor Matthew Gould. “They have come to the place where they ought to be [Israel],” Welby said.
Welby, accompanied by the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, also visited two hospitals in Gaza City where Christians are giving help to poor Gazans seeking free healing, health and hope.
While in Gaza, he met members of the Christian community and said that this community is diminishing as it is caught in the conflict.
In Jordan he met Iraqi Christian refugees who told him that Iraq which had once been welcoming to Christians now persecutes them.
“The position of Christians here [in the Middle East] is always one of seeking peace, but as weak minority that goes back to Christ, they are caught by greater forces and greater need to seek peace,” said Welby. “They see no hope, no future where they live. They may feel secure but they see no better future for their children. Christians are slipping away almost unnoticed.”
He was however grateful that the Israel government has protected Christians.
Stating several times that he is not a politician, the Welby nonetheless visited with both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He was impressed with Israel’s democratic system, which like Britain’s “allows the judiciary to say things that politicians don’t like. Bravo!” Relating to a remark made earlier by Rivlin on the need to build confidence between Israelis and Palestinians, Welby said that there cannot be peace in the region until people can live without fear of the bomb or the bullet or persecution, knowing that they can legitimately be where they are and that their children can grow up in security.
Known for his outspoken opposition to any form of antisemitism, Welby told Rivlin: “Some of us who are profound friends of Israel and who hate antisemitism and speak against it, know that until there is peace in the region there is an element of unfinished business.”
In welcoming Welby, Rivlin had said that Israel was committed to putting an end to the conflict and tragedy between Israel and the Palestinians, “but sadly there is no trust. We don’t trust them, and they don’t trust us.
We must work to build trust between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land.”
Alluding to both UNESCO and the latest anti-Israel stand taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rivlin said that since 1860 – “even under the Ottoman Empire” – there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, where Israel will continue “to ensure freedom of religion for all faiths.”