The defender of faith
King Charles III is the latest British monarch in the Davidic tradition
So is this going to be good for the Jews?
Following close behind this question about the accession of King Charles III — the latest iteration of the question interminably asked by diaspora Jews about every development in national life — has been a reproach voiced scarcely less frequently: “Why didn’t the Queen ever find time in her engagements abroad to visit Israel”?
Behind both questions lies a fundamental misunderstanding. Members of the Royal Family undertake no engagements overseas unless the UK Foreign Office wants them to do so. The Queen failed to visit Israel not because she didn’t want to go. It was because the British government didn’t want her to go.
The reasons aren’t hard to fathom from Britain’s historic ambivalence about the Jewish national home. This dates back to the UK’s shameful betrayal of its mandate to settle the Jews in Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. It extends to its current sanitising of Palestinian intransigence and the repeated Foreign Office mis-statement that Israel is in “illegal occupation” of the disputed territories.
In fact, first Prince William and then Prince Charles, as he then was, did make friendly official visits to Israel in 2018 and 2020. This was almost certainly due to a shift in the government’s attitude.
And that was probably due to the increasing number of pro-Israel ministers in the administrations of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, combined with the developing relationship with Israel by the Gulf states towards which the British government has long been obsequious.
Not only do the royals act solely as adjuncts of government policy, but constitutional delicacy means that the monarch has to be above politics. The Queen effaced herself so completely that no-one ever knew what she thought about anything.
But we do know what the former Prince Charles said about a number of issues. And two such things in particular have caused alarm among some British Jews.
The first was his attitude towards religions other than Christianity. In 1994, he said he wanted to be not the Defender of the Faith — the Crown’s historic role in upholding Protestantism — but “defender of faith”.
This raised fears that he would promote a multi-faith mishmash, thus replacing the protection that the Jews have enjoyed under the umbrella of the established church by a battle for power between faith groups.
There is no doubt that King Charles has found elements of Islam in particular extremely attractive. And he also believes that that all faiths are connected by what he most values, the embrace of spirituality. But he explained his remark by saying that he wanted to use his Christian standpoint to offer protection to other faiths.
And in his first address to the nation after his mother’s death, he pledged to uphold the sovereign’s particular responsibility towards the Church of England — the church in which his own faith was “so deeply rooted”.
The King has shown much friendship and warmth towards British Jews. In 2013, at the inauguration of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, he became the first royal to attend such a ceremony — sporting a personalised kippah embroidered with the crest of the Prince of Wales. In a speech that year, he expressed concern at the rise of antisemitism in Britain.
In 2019, at a Chanukah party at Buckingham Palace, he said that as he grew up he had been deeply touched that British Jews remembered his family in their weekly prayers. “And as you remember my family”, he said, “so we too remember and celebrate you”.
Five years ago, however, Jews were alarmed to read a letter he wrote in 1986 to his mentor, Laurens van der Post. He referred in this to Israel having been created by an influx of European Jews. He also lamented the influence of the “Jewish lobby” in America.
At the time, Clarence House disavowed these remarks. It said the letter “clearly stated” these weren’t his own views but represented the opinions of some of those he had met during his recent visit to the Gulf “which he was keen to interrogate”.
Whether or not he ever held such views, however, is all but irrelevant.
Now that he is the King, he has lost the freedom to express his opinions. In his private weekly audiences with the prime minister, he is most likely to follow the constitutional convention upheld by his mother.
This is to proffer wise advice to the prime minister, issue warnings and above all provide support — but never to seek to influence government policy.
In any event, his own deep belief in promoting harmony reinforces the fundamental duty of the British monarchy — to unify the nation.
In that duty, the British crown has patterned itself since antiquity on the monarchy of King David, who forged a united kingdom out of disparate tribes and whose own power was limited through alternative power bases of priests, prophets and judges.
Charles III is the latest British monarch in that Davidic tradition. God save the King. And God save British Jews.
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