harry diamond's memoir


can you get me into the papersFour ambassadors of the State of Israel have been among the many friends I have made in the course of my work communal work. All of them were men of great ability and astonishing good humour considering the difficulties of their job.

One of them was Mr Shlomo Argov, a man of immense intellect, who represented his country in Nigeria, Ghana, America, Mexico and Netherlands before coming to Britain in 1979. In a talk I gave to a speakers' course on Jewish and Israeli affairs I told my audience, "Mr Argov's comments on current affairs and Israel's attitude to its many and varied problems can be regularly read in the Jewish newspapers and sometimes in the non-Jewish press. Reading his speeches is as good as any course on Middle East affairs anyone is likely to get in this country."

One of my voluntary jobs for many years has been to arrange meetings with local politicians and news media people in Glasgow for visiting Israeli ambassadors. Nowadays I do this in collaboration with Dr Ezra Golombok, director of the Glasgow-based Israel Information Office.

On the morning of Shlomo Argov's visit to Glasgow with his wife Chava in March 1980 I took him to the BBC for a radio interview, to the Chamber of Commerce to see Forbes Macpherson, the president, and then to the Glasgow Herald to talk to Arnold Kemp, the editor.

After lunch with Lord Provost David Hodge at the City Chambers Argov asked me, "Can we get away from all this for a little while? I'd like to walk round the town." Argov had spent a night in Glasgow in 1953 during a honeymoon visit to Scotland and wanted to have another look at the city. As we walked we were closely followed by a number of security men who were not at all happy.

I also arranged, at her request, for Margaret Milne, an Evening Times reporter, to interview Mrs Argov. "How do you feel about the fact that your husband is a potential target for terrorists?" asked Margaret.

"It is something you have to live with," said Mrs Argov. "If you let your mind dwell on it too much you could not cope." Margaret's story was headlined A QUIET STROLL FOR TARGET NO 1. Little did Mrs Argov know what the future held for her and her husband.

A couple of days after the Argovs went back to London the ambassador wrote to thank me for my help in arranging his Glasgow visit. His letter ended, "I hope it won't be long before we have a chance to see each other again." To my great sorrow an Arab terrorist made it virtually impossible for us to meet again. On June 3, 1982, Argov was coming out of the Dorchester Hotel in London after a diplomats' dinner when the terrorist fired a burst from a sub-machine gun at him, wounding the 52-year-old father of three in the head. The ambassador survived but was completely paralysed.

In immediate response the Israeli Air Force attacked two known terrorist bases in the Beirut area of Lebanon without loss of civilian life. The Palestine Liberation Organisation then began a 24-hour attack on civilian targets in Northern Galillee and on the Christian enclave in South Lebanon. More than 1000 shells were fired at 23 settlements, including the towns of Kiryat Shemona and Nahariya, setting the whole of Northern Lebanon ablaze.

Only then was Operation Peace for Galilee launched not as was often claimed by the news media as a reprisal for the shooting of Shlomo Argov.

The Israel Defence Forces found in Southern Lebanon weapons supplied from virtually every arms-dealing country in the world; America, Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, Libya, the Soviet Union, Sweden, and Vietnam. They included rocket-launchers, cannon, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, and thousands and thousands of light arms and ammunition, enough to equip seven brigades.

A report in the London Times of June 19, 1982 said, When the Israelis came, said one middle-aged Lebanese woman, the Palestinian fighters took their guns and placed them next to our homes, next to apartment blocks, hospitals and schools. They thought this would protect them. We pleaded with them to take their guns away but they refused. So when they fired at the Israelis the planes came and bombed our homes.

The director of one Sidon hospital still seemed to disbelieve his own words as he described how the terrorists deliberately set up their anti-aircraft guns around his clinic. At their own Ein Hilweh camp the Palestinians actually put their guns on the roof of the hospital.

Shlomo Argov is still completely paralysed and spends much of his time in hospital. The dedication and love of his family and the doctors and nurses who have looked after him over the years cannot easily be expressed in words.

Enthusiasm for my communal work for Israel once caused an international incident involving the Israeli Foreign Office in Jerusalem, an Israeli government-owned company which was somewhat coy about some of its products, the Israeli Ambassador to Britain, Buckingham Palace, Scotland Yard, and the British security services.

The story started in 1982 when a man named Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace and sat on the Queen's bed for an informal, if rather one-sided, chat.

Scotland Yard and the security agencies were understandably upset by this unthinkable breach of security and a world-wide search was undertaken to find a security system that did not allow such intrusions into the life of the head of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. An appropriate security system was finally found in Israel and in the course of time was set up round the palace.

I learned about the security system during a holiday in Israel and when I went home I wrote a story about it for distribution to the British news media by my younger son Michael who at that time ran the Scottish-Israel Information Office in Glasgow, the function of which was to distribute material about political issues and news about cultural, scientific, industrial, commercial, and social developments in Israel.

The story appeared in a number of newspapers, including the London Times, Daily Telegraph, Glasgow Herald, and The Scotsman - and all hell broke out. The newspapers tried to follow up the story with Buckingham Palace, Scotland Yard, the Israeli Embassy, Israel Aircraft Industries, the manufacturers of the security fence, and anyone else they could get, but all these sources remained tight-lipped. Understandably the newspapers treated the story as some kind of sensational revelation.

I was quoted as saying "I took the view it was good public relations for Israel for it to be known that an Israeli-made product was guarding the Queen and her family. The story was meant to deter anyone else from camping in the palace grounds (as a group of Germans had earlier done) or sitting on the Queen's bed to have a chat with her." Michael maintained a discreet silence.

Two tall raincoats from an un-named government body appeared in my office in the City Chambers demanding to know where I got the story but under the journalist's prerogative of not revealing his source of information I declined to tell them. Later my phone rang and a voice told me to hang on for the Israeli ambassador.

"I would be grateful if you would tell me where you got this story," said His Excllency Mr Yehuda Avner."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, sir," I said.

"Henry," said the ambassasdor, "the wires between here and Jerusalem are in danger of melting. I have not been here long and if you don't tell me where you got that story I am liable to be directing the traffic in the Negev desert next week!"

I had tried to give the impression all along that I had got the story through brilliant investigative reporting but the truth was rather different.

"I got the story from a magazine published by the Israel Information Centre in Jerusalem," I told the ambassador. "The story was also in the International Security Review some months ago so it was hardly a secret."

"Oh," said a nonplussed ambassador. "Er...thank you."

The Director of the information centre later told me the Israelis weren't really concerned about the story at all, only that the embassy in London hadn't been told the office they were funding for Michael in Glasgow was sending it out and were unprepared for the subsequent bombardment by the press.

Ambassador Avner, who incidentally was born in Manchester, was indulging in a bit of journalistic hyperbole when he phoned and we later had a number of friendly meetings during projects in which we were involved.

When Ambassador Yoav Biran came to Glasgow in February 1993 he asked me to ride with him in his car but a security man led me gently aside and said, "Give us a break Harry. It's difficult enough guarding the ambassador without having to look after you, too! Come in our car."

British and Israeli security men weren't the only spooks for whom I caused some heartburn. During a visit to Glasgow of Mr Vasily Zakharov, Soviet Minister of Culture, I took him and his wife Irina for a walk in crowded Buchanan Street, followed by several of his minders. Mr Zakharov's programme was packed with visits to museums of all kinds from Madame Tussaud's to the Burrell Collection, operas, and theatres. Towards the end of lunch with Lord Provost Susan Baird his interpreter whispered in as diplomatic a way as possible that Mr Zakharov had just about had his fill of museums and formal lunches and dinners and had expressed an interest in seeing something of the famous Glasgow.

After lunch I suggested to Mr Zakharove's interpreter that we go for a walk round the elegant shops in Buchanan Street. His security men almost had a cardiac arrest when he and his wife split up and he walked down one side of the street while Mrs Zakharov inspected the other side. At one point when Mr Zakharov was trying on shoes in one of the shops we went into I bitterly regretted not having a camera to record the Soviet Minister of Culture in his socks, balanced delicately on one leg as he manoeuvred into a highly-decorative, expensive pair of capitalist brogues.

Mr Zakharov came to Britain under the aegis of the British Council to "familiarise himself with British culture." I discovered that his programme included Edinburgh but not Glasgow. I pointed out indignantly to the British Council that the absence of Glasgow in the programme was ludicrous, especially as we were to be Cultural Capital of Europe the following year, 1990. In addition Robert Palmer, who had been appointed to mastermind our year of culture, had been in Moscow to talk to Mr Zakharov's ministry about the Soviet's involvement in our 1990 celebrations. Glasgow was quickly added to the Minister's itinerary.

An example of the pitfalls that attend the entertaining of VIPS was revealed in a letter I received from the British Council's Glasgow office asking me to ensure that the Zakharovs were not given smoked salmon, venison, or strawberries for lunch in the City Chambers as that what was on the menu for their lunch the following day with Mr Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Scotland

Once at a City Chambers dinner for a group of diplomats from one of the emergent countries we were munching at haggis and neeps which an inspired catering manageress decided to serve that night when one of the group asked me, "Do you eat a lot of this Mr Diamond?"

My diplomatic skills not having been too finely honed I replied before I had a chance to stop myself, "You must be joking. We only bring this rubbish out for people like you." To my great relief my dinner companions were convulsed with merriment. I once told that story at a dinner attended by the Secretary of State for Scotland which may account for the fact that my knighthood has been in the post for a helluva long time.