On Monday 14 November, Alon Roth-Snir, Deputy Ambassador to Israel at the Court of St James, delivered a talk on foreign policy in the Middle East to an audience of St Andrews students, at the invitation of the Foreign Affairs Society.
In the talk, Mr Roth-Snir delivered his frank assessment of Middle East politics. “As a nation”, he said, “we’ve made lots of mistakes. But at least we have the courage to look inside and ask ourselves, do we make mistakes?”
Roth-Snir’s views on the Arab Spring were ambiguous – he welcomed “people… striving for democracy,” but expressed concern about potential for “huge territorial fights.” Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he stressed Israel’s willingness to negotiate. “We want peace,” he says. “We are ready to do a lot for peace.”
Yet not everybody believes that this is a fair account of Israeli politics in these days. A small group of protesters, equipped with Palestinian flags and a megaphone, demonstrated against Roth-Snir’s visit in the rain in front of the Physics building. ‘The Israelis go against the very principles that we say we stand for,” said Hassan Ahmed, a second year Biology and Chemistry student who had joined the protesters.
Ahmed holds that Israel continually commits war crimes against the people of Gaza. “The Deputy Ambassador is here to defend that situation. I find that wrong.”
The President of the Student’s Association also expressed his concern at the “disproportionate number of visits of official Israeli speakers to St Andrews in recent years.”
Not surprisingly then, the Ambassador’s visit to St Andrews has provoked a mixed response among students. Mr Roth-Snir was aware of that and mentioned the protesters during his talk, saying that he would have liked to answer their questions. He encouraged the audience to ask him inconvenient questions and took time to respond to all that were raised – but one.
When asked whether, yes or no, Israel has nuclear weapons, Roth-Snir referred to Israeli President Schimon Peres’ statement that Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle-East. A response that, obviously, allows for several understandings.