On January 23, Charles, Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, will set foot on Israeli soil. So what’s the big deal? He’s been to Israel twice before.
This time, however, it’s “official.” And for many observers, it’s also high time.
Today, a look at Charles’ and other royal trips – official and otherwise – to the Holy Land.
This trip will be far from the first time that a royal has set foot in Israel. In fact, Prince Charles’s father (Prince Philip) and Philip’s son (Prince Andrew) have both paid visits to Israel, and his grandmother is buried in those hallowed grounds.
Scenes from Prince Philip’s 1994 visit to Jerusalem
On Oct. 30, 1994, Prince Philip and his sister, Princess George of Hanover, travelled to East Jerusalem to pray at the burial site of their mother, Princess Alice. They then attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem to honour their mother. The Prince planted a tree and addressed an audience which included a member of the Cohen family which had been protected by Princess Alice during the Second World War. (More on Princess Alice next time.)
Lesser noted is the 2007 visit by Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son. Edward was invited by the Israel Youth Award program, a self-development group for Jewish and Arab youth affiliated with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association. There were no meetings for Andrew with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or President Shimon Peres, but he did join Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger for Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem.
President Rivlin welcomed to his residence His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales (no audio)
Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son, has twice visited Israel for state funerals – for Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and Shimon Peres in 2016. Curiously, The Times of Israel described Charles’s visit to his grandmother’s grave as “secret.” Why so hush hush? Why not just make the visit official?
In The Telegraph, Raf Sanchez and Gordon Rayner wrote in 2015 that “British officials say there are too many political landmines in the way of a visit to a country that occupies Palestinian territory and lives within disputed borders. ‘Until there is a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Royal family can’t really go there,’ said one Whitehall source.”
In 2012, Haaretz’s editor-in-chief, the late David Landau, let off a bit of steam on the subject, specifically why the Queen never visited Israel. “Every time I’ve asked a British official why the Queen has boycotted the State of Israel for the entire six decades of her reign, I get a muttered line about ‘when there’s permanent peace.’ … The sad but inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that she herself is part of this nasty, petty British intrigue to deny Israel that rankling vestige of legitimation that is in their power to bestow or withhold – a royal visit. She can and should bin these sour-smelling inhibitions and end this boycott.”
Prince William’s historic visit to Israel
The first official visit by a member of the United Kingdom’s Royal family finally did arrive in June 2018 when Prince William visited Israel. As described by the Guardian, the Duke of Cambridge, “was welcomed as a ‘prince and a pilgrim’ by the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, and given the red-carpet treatment in Ramallah by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.”
“William’s time was scrupulously divided between sensitive sites in Jerusalem, which are holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. He paid tribute to Holocaust victims at the Yad Vashem memorial, visited a school and clinic at a Palestinian refugee camp, met crowds on the beaches and promenades of Tel Aviv, and engaged with young tech entrepreneurs.”
And just what will William’s father, Prince Charles, be doing during his first official trip? The main goal is to join other world leaders at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. According to a statement issued by Prince Charles’ office, January’s trip “will be the first time that the Prince has undertaken a program of engagements in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has invited Charles to a series of events. The Jerusalem Post noted that “this ecumenical approach to his official duties is entirely consistent with Prince Charles’s all-embracing concept of religion.”
So why has the so-called “boycott” ended? Anshel Pfeffer suggested in Haaretz that William’s 2018 visit was a sign of Britain’s “diminished status“ in the world. Pfeffer listed several reasons for the visit:
- “Britain relies on Israel for intelligence on terror threats emanating from the Middle East much more than Israel needs the U.K.’s assistance.”
- As the UK embarks on Brexit, it is “trying to carve out a new niche for itself in international diplomacy.”
Flash forward to the recent announcement of Charles’ visit. “With the Duke of Cambridge’s trip, we saw that such a visit could be navigated successfully, and this left us inclined to approve another royal visit now,” said a British diplomat who spoke to Haaretz on condition of anonymity.
Jewish British historian and author Simon Sebag Montefiore added, “The royal family have no say in this decision, they have always wanted to go. … The Foreign Office has been slow and ponderous,” said Sebag Montefiore. “But don’t forget, it took 100 years for the Queen to visit Ireland,” referring to the gap between King George V’s visit in 1911 and Elizabeth’s a century later.
Queen Elizabeth II has visited 116 countries in over 265 official visits. However, she has never stepped foot in Israel (officially or otherwise), and at her advanced age has curtailed foreign travel. So it is highly unlikely she will ever visit the Holy Land.
Let’s hope Prince Charles brings home some warm memories of his official visit to share with his mother.
Please note that the World Holocaust Forum is livestreaming its ceremonies on Thursday, January 23 starting at 6:30 am ET.