(JTA) – Despite protests over Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Britain and a petition demanding his arrest there, British-Israeli ties are stronger than ever, the kingdom’s main pro-Israel lobby group said.
The Israeli prime minister, who left for London with his wife, Sara, on Wednesday, is scheduled to meet his British counterpart, David Cameron, in London to discuss, among other matters, ways to combat extremist Islam, Netanyahu said in a statement.
Despite disagreements on Iran – Britain is party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran, which Israel strongly opposes for its suspension of sanctions on Tehran in exchange for some scaling back of its nuclear program – “bilateral economic ties are stronger than ever,” said Alan Johnson, senior research fellow at BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications Research Center.
Ahead of the two-day visit, the British government announced that Israeli companies will invest $4.6 million in South Wales, Johnson noted during a telephone Q&A session organized by the New York-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “Economic ties have deepened considerably in recent years,” added Johnson, who works for Britain’s leading pro-Israel lobby group. Bilateral trade with Britain – Israel’s second-largest export destination after the United States — stands at $7.84 billion.
But political tensions persist, especially over Iran, which British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond claimed last month has adopted a “more nuanced” approach to Israel, though this was promptly denied by Iranian government spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham.
“It’s the best of times, and it’s also the worst of times,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, a petition circulated calling for the arrest of Netanyahu — who is traveling to Britain under diplomatic immunity – has received over 107,000 signatures in Britain, where it was circulated by pro-Palestinian activists accusing Netanyahu of crimes against humanity. The activists are holding protest rallies near several sites Netanyahu is scheduled to visit.
Before boarding his plane, Netanyahu said Europe should support Israel “which is the only true protection Europe has in the Middle East against surging extremist Islam.” Netanyahu said Israel is “prepared to act together with Europe in Africa and other places to fight extremist Islam but this requires a change of approach.” This change, he added, will be a focus of his talks with Cameron.