Richard Branson is the business magnate who heads the venture capital conglomerate, Virgin Group, known best for its Virgin Atlantic airlines and Virgin Mobile wireless communications brand. He has been dubbed a master at business and public relations, and has accrued billions through his dealings.
I have met him on a few occasions. Once, in Oxford, when he opened a restaurant with my friend, world-renowned chef Raymond Blanc. And again at the World Economic Forum in Davos. On both occasions he was friendly, approachable, and very down-to-earth.
But a little known and unfortunate fact about Branson is his strange, anti-Israel opinions and activities that are beneath a man known for having a good and kind heart.
In 2007, Branson founded an organization called “The Elders” which was made up of a council of twelve elder statesmen who would serve as “independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.” One of the top goals and priorities of this organization is to inject themselves into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and influence its outcome. Branson sits on the The Elders Advisory Council and uses his massive wealth to fund the organization. Unfortunately among the elders that Branson selected for his new group are a Who’s who of some of the most tenacious, anti-Israel public figures in the world today. The Elders’ anti-Israel statements and press releases condemning the Jewish state are a sad testament to this fact.
Topping the Elders’ list is former President Jimmy Carter, a man dedicated to the disgustingly fraudulent and anti-Semitic proposition that Israel is an apartheid State. Carter’s defamatory fabrications about the Jewish State include the lie not only that Israel is like apartheid South Africa but that “voices from Jerusalem dominate our media.” Last year he claimed Netanyahu wasn’t interested in making peace but said about Hamas’s arch terrorist leader Khaled Meshal, “I don’t believe that he’s a terrorist. He’s strongly in favor of the peace process.” It has been shown that the Carter Center receives tens of millions from countries with appalling human rights records which are dedicated to Israel’s deligitimization including Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE. He also received $500,000 from the anti-Semitic, terrorist supporting Zayed Center, whose efforts he went on to praise the following year. The list of Carter’s actions and statements against the Jewish state are degrading to the august office of the presidency of the United States, even if they were stated after the fact.
Yet in 2014, Branson named Jimmy Carter as one of his “top five most respected people in the world,” and a man “ahead of his time.” At a conference in Egypt, Branson introduced Carter as “Perhaps arguably the most remarkable person alive today.” After pressing the audience to give Carter a second round of applause, Branson announced, “I think its fair to say that he’s one of the few people in this world who has stayed faithful to the Palestinians.”
Branson is a brilliant man. Does he really believe that someone who has allowed the Palestinians to continue in their self-defeating terror path is loyal to their cause? Surely Branson is aware that the only people dedicated to the Palestinians welfare are those who encourage them to democratize, spend money on schools rather than bombs, invest in Universities rather than rockets, and teach their children to love their own heritage rather than hate the Jews.
Other “elders” in Branson’s organization include the notoriously anti-Israel, anti-Semitic Bishop Desmond Tutu, whom I have also met on several occasions, including at the Oxford Union. Tutu is a supporter of the BDS movement, calling for an economic and cultural boycott of Israel. His bigoted views have surfaced with statements such as, “The Jewish lobby is powerful—very powerful,” while accusing Jews of “an arrogance—the arrogance of power because Jews are a powerful lobby in this land and all kinds of people woo their support.” Tutu has stated that Zionism has “very many parallels with racism,” and has accused the Jewish state of subjecting the Palestinians to “Israeli Apartheid.” He believes that the Palestinians are suffering more than the Jews did during the holocaust, stating that “the gas chambers” had made for “a neater death” for the Jews.
Clearly such views are not just a moral abomination but represent a deplorable and uncleansable stain on the reputation of a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Is this what Richard Branson had in mind when he stated in an interview, “And obviously after the Second World War, the world had enormous sympathy for the Jewish people. Over a number of decades, that sympathy has been lost…”?
I believe in my heart that Branson is a good and charitable man. So why say these things about the Jews?
Branson also tapped the corrupt former head of the UN Kofi Annan, the same man who overruled UN General Romeo Dallaire in April 1994 and ordered him not to use his UN forces to disarm the Hutus and prevent them from hacking to death 800,000 Tutsis. Annan in the past declared Saddam Hussein was a man he could “do business with,” and then sat down to smoke expensive cigars with the Butcher of Baghdad. He also declared himself “deeply moved” by the death of arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat and ordered the UN flag flown at half mast.
Included in Branson’s Elders group is the man Kofi Annan appointed as United Nations special representative for Afghanistan and Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi. During Brahimi’s assignment he criticized Israel’s violence and suppression of Palestinians and called Israel “the big poison in the region.”
Branson, apparently, sees eye to eye with Brahimi. After his 2009 trip to Israel with the Elders, Branson wrote, “On my return I rang my 92 year old father and told him of our trip. “It’s strange” he said “that the Israel politicians seem to like keeping a wound open and festering year after year.” Now, perhaps his father said this out of ignorance. Perhaps he’s unaware of all the Israeli attempts to make peace with the Palestinians that ended with thousands of Israelis dead in suicide bomb attacks. But then Branson ought to know better than the response he gave his father: “Lets hope 2009 will be the year that wound is healed.”
Branson’s crack team of peacemakers also includes Mary Robinson, the former head of one of the most corrupt anti-Israel organizations on earth, the UN Human Rights Council. During her time there, she presided over the Durban “World Conference Against Racism” which has gone down in history as one of the vile displays of public anti-Semitic in recent times. Yet she described the conference as “remarkably good, including on the issues of the Middle East.”
During the Gaza conflict of 2014 she and Jimmy Carter wrote a letter arguing for the recognition and inclusion of Hamas due to the genocidal terrorist group’s “legitimacy as a political actor.” The Elders had earlier that year praised the Hamas-Fatah unity government.
Robinson’s appointment on the Elders council isn’t surprising, seeing as how Branson ignored the fact that Hamas has fired over 14,000 missiles at Israeli towns when he said, “Just watching Israel bombarding Palestine and Palestine sending one or two little rockets over to Israel—it’s just too sad for words. ”
Branson also has former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari on board, who has said he calls on the western world to end the boycott of Hamas. “During Ahtisaari’s time with The Elders, he condemned Israel’s raid on ships to Gaza in a press release that stated, “The Elders described Israel’s attack on the aid shipment and the resulting killings and injuries as completely inexcusable.” The UN itself later exonerated Israel in this matter. But when you’re agenda is to harm Israel there’s little need to find supporting facts for your biased claims.
Branson has been a very public figure in the business world. I actually admire the swashbuckling commercial image he has cultivated. Why does he have to tarnish his image and his brand with these anti-Israel statements and associations? Why pour millions of dollars into activities aimed at harming and weakening the Jewish state?
His organization continues to be a force for the defamation of Israel. Jimmy Carter recently spoke on behalf of The Elders stating, “We have also encouraged Europeans for instance, at least to label products that are made by Israeli people who occupy Palestine and ship their products out of Palestine to be sold in Europe. … so that the buyers can decide whether they want to buy them or not.”
The time has come for Richard Branson to follow his generosity of spirit by disassociating himself with arch-Israel haters, ceasing to fund them, and to support and stand behind the Middle East’s only democracy. After all, Israel is not just the Jewish State. As a bastion of freedom and human rights in the world’s most tyrannical region, it’s also the great Arab hope that one day Arab countries will similarly copy its example of liberal democracy and human rights.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He will shortly publish “The Israel Warrior’s Handbook.”
Branson photo cropped from Chatham House original. This article was published by the Jerusalem Post.