Boris Johnson, the man who almost succeeded David Cameron and was Wednesday appointed Britain’s foreign minister by new Prime Minister Theresa May, has made a name for himself as a decidedly pro-Israeli politician — so much so that he has even managed to alienate Palestinians with past statements.
May too is regarded as a good friend of Israel and Britain’s Jewish community, and has called the Jewish state “the fulfillment of many generations of struggle.”
Johnson visited Israel most recently in November to boost tech ties between the nations, saying London was “a natural partner for Israeli companies seeking to grow.”
During his visit Johnson met with Israeli leaders and toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. He took part in a football match with Arab and Jewish children and was photographed trying out Tel Aviv’s bicycle sharing-system alongside Mayor Ron Huldai. He also opened day trading at the TA Stock Exchange.
Johnson said in one speech that he admires Israel for “the audacity, the bravery, the willingness to take risks with feats of outrageous derring-do.”
But his visit proved particularly memorable for statements in which he dismissed those behind the anti-Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, known as BDS, calling them “corduroy-jacketed lefty academics” — comments which caused anger on the Palestinian side.
“I cannot think of anything more foolish” than to boycott “a country that when all is said and done is the only democracy in the region, the only place that has in my view a pluralist open society,” Johnson said.
A number of Palestinian groups then refused to meet him during his visit to Ramallah, and he was informed his comments had led to additional security risks in the West Bank. His meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, however, went ahead as planned.
Johnson made a sensational comeback Wednesday after two weeks in the political wilderness. New prime minister May, who took over from David Cameron, surprisingly named him to the key post of foreign secretary, in a move that signaled her desire to unify Conservative Party ranks after the bruising referendum battles in which Britain last month voted to leave the EU. May supported the Remain campaign, but has pledged to honor the Brexit victory by negotiating the best possible new relationship for Britain with the European bloc.
He is one of Britain’s most recognizable politicians with his blond mop-top hair, bumbling manner and tendency to drift into Latin during speeches.
He is also one of the most controversial after he drove the successful campaign for Britain to leave the EU and then spectacularly ducked out of entering the race to succeed Remain-campaigning Cameron — a contest Johnson had been expected to win.
Johnson, one of a coterie of Conservative politicians who attended Britain’s elite Eton boarding school, was the figurehead of the UK’s “Leave” campaign.
The job of foreign secretary is the first in government for Johnson, whose tenure as London mayor from 2008 until May this year included overseeing the 2012 Olympic Games.
The leadership ambitions of the former Brussels-based journalist had been the worst-kept secret in British politics, ever since his victory in London’s mayoral race eight years ago sent his profile skyrocketing.
At the time, he was the most senior Conservative in elected office.
Many within the center-right party and the country believe that prime ministerial ambitions, rather than ideology, drove him to rebel against Cameron by campaigning for a divorce from the EU.
But after securing a victory which forced Cameron to quit, Johnson’s close Brexit ally Michael Gove decided to stand for the leadership himself. Gove said Johnson was incapable of doing the job — prompting Boris, unexpectedly, to step aside from running.
The decision prompted a furious reaction from former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine who described Johnson, a huge admirer of Winston Churchill, as “a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it.”
Known to millions simply as Boris, he was born in New York in 1964 as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson into a competitive, high-achieving family.
His father Stanley was a Conservative member of the European Parliament; one brother, Jo, was a minister in Cameron’s government and his sister Rachel is a journalist and writer.
All three gave their support to the “Remain” camp.
Rachel Johnson told her brother’s biographer that, as a child, he wanted to be “king of the world” when he grew up.
Johnson won a scholarship to Eton, which Cameron also attended two years below him.
The pair were then contemporaries at Oxford University and both members of the Bullingdon Club — an elite, all-male dining society known for its rowdy behaviour.
After graduating in classics, Johnson became a journalist, working at The Times — from which he was sacked for fabricating quotes — and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, including as Brussels correspondent.
He became a lawmaker for the then opposition Conservatives in 2001 and was later appointed as the party’s arts spokesman before being sacked over accusations of lying about an alleged extra-marital affair.