from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Prince Charles and Israeli Funerals

October 2, 2016

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Prince Charles attended the funeral of Shimon Peres last week, in Jerusalem. This was not his first visit: he also attended the Yitzhak Rabin funeral in 1995.

In the 21 years since then he has visited Arab countries repeatedly, but Israel has remained on the blacklist. No official visit, no tourism, sum total of visits there = two visits to Mount Herzl Cemetery.

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Why? Is it his own prejudice against the Jewish State, or is the Foreign Office telling him to stay away? (The Queen has never set foot in Israel.)

There is actually a very good reason for him to visit another cemetery in Jerusalem, at the Mount of Olives: his grandmother is buried in a convent there. That woman is Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Prince Philip. Philip actually did visit there, in 1994, in a trip the Foreign Office insisted was entirely private.

Princess Alice was an extraordinary woman. She was the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and was born at Windsor Castle in 1885. Earl Mountbatten of Burma was her younger brother. Congenitally deaf, she nevertheless learned to speak English and German. She led a most difficult life, in and out of exile from Greece (she had married Prince Andrew of Greece in 1903).

During the Second World War she lived in Athens and sheltered Jewish refugees there, for which was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations." That ceremony at Yad Vashem was in fact the occasion for Prince Philip’s visit. She lived the final years of her life in Buckingham Palace and died there in 1988, after which in accordance with her request her remains were interred on the Mount of Olives.

Her spirit is nicely suggested by this story: during the Second World War the Nazis occupied Athens. When a German general asked her "Is there anything I can do for you?" she replied "You can take your troops out of my country."

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I suppose it is far too much, diplomatically, to expect Israel to disinvite someone like the heir to the British throne from a funeral. But the Prince’s attendance was an act of hypocrisy. If he wants to honor Shimon Peres, a better way is simply to schedule a visit to the country to which Peres devoted his life. And he can see his grandmother’s grave while at it.

UPDATE ON OCTOBER 5:

It turns out that Prince Charles secretly visited his grandmother’s grave while in Jerusalem, according to a story in The Times of Israel. The headline and subhead of the story are: "Prince Charles secretly visited grandmother’s grave while in Jerusalem; British royal took advantage of his attendance at Peres funeral to stop by burial site of Princess Alice of Battenberg, on Mount of Olives."

Note the difference between what he did and what his father did. Prince Philip made a "private visit" to Israel in 1994 to be present at Yad Vashem when his mother was honored, and to visit her grave. Prince Charles, who would not visit Israel under any circumstances except a state funeral, visited there before leaving the country. My point still stands: no British royal, not one, has made any sort of official visit to Israel despite dozens of visits to Arab countries. That’s indefensible.

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