By Bradley Martin
“It’s fantastic to see that cutting-edge technology, such as Cycle Safety Shield developed by Mobileye in Israel, is being utilized to help make London’s roads safer,” said London Mayor Boris Johnson during his trade mission to Israel this week.
Johnson arrived in Israel with an official trade delegation, mainly to promote bilateral trade in technology between the cities of London and Tel Aviv. His mission was to promote the British capital’s high-tech sector, in a bid to get more Israeli companies to expand to London and make IPOs (initial public offerings) on its stock markets.
London is currently home to 141 Israeli high-tech firms, according to London & Partners (the mayor’s promotional agency) and the IVC Research Center. There are currently 16 Israeli tech firms listed across London Stock Exchange’s markets with a combined market value of £3.7 billion ($5.6 billion).
Johnson was also very critical of the movement to boycott Israel, deriding them as “a bunch of corduroy-jacketed lefty academics.”
“I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say that you want to have any kind of divestment or sanctions or whatever or boycott, against a country that when all is said and done is the only democracy in the region,” he said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2.
While the focus of Johnson’s trip was to expand tech ties between London and Tel Aviv, the mayor took the opportunity to visit other parts of Israel. While lauding Israel’s diversity, he joined Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem to attend and participate in a friendly Jewish-Arab soccer game. This was the kickoff for a new soccer season organized by the “Equalizer” organization. Working with about 140 schools across Israel to build confidence and understanding between Jewish and Arab children, the organization itself is supported by the British Embassy in Israel.
Rivlin thanked Johnson for his support of this project to promote coexistence. The mayor thanked Rivlin for his warm welcome and expressed his pride at the opportunity to visit Israel, and especially Jerusalem.
Johnson also visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the first time in his life, affirming his Russian Jewish ancestry. Calling his visit to one of Judaism’s holiest sites a “great privilege,” he joined in prayers for peace in Jerusalem.
“That’s what Jerusalem is all about. It is about the great faiths coming together in one place in the holiest city in the world. I think that anyone who comes here wants to see that spirit of understanding,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s planned tour of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank was cancelled, following his criticism of the BDS movement against Israel. Shortly after arriving in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah warned that Johnson’s security would be “at risk” if he went ahead with his visit.
Johnson was due to meet with a Palestinian youth group and businesswoman, but his invitations to those events were retracted following his anti-boycott comments.
Though the London mayor did tone down his original comment by saying that there wasn’t anything wrong with wearing a corduroy jacket, he stood by his condemnation of the boycott movement against Israel.
It is expected that as a result of this Johnson’s diplomatic mission, technological trade and cultural cooperation will continue to expand greatly between the City of London and the State of Israel.
Bradley Martin is a fellow for the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and a research assistant for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.