THE Duke of Edinburgh may have been known for many things, but tact wasn’t one of them. As notorious for his decades of public gaffes as he is celebrated for his decades of public service, Prince Philip’s ability to offend entire nations and let slip ethnic slurs was a personal flaw of which he was all too aware.
Indeed, as early as 1960, he told the General Dental Council, “Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.”
And yet for all those he insulted, both the Jewish community and Israel not only escaped unscathed, but also enjoyed a long and close relationship with Prince Philip.
Perhaps it dated to his school days at Gordonstoun where he was guided into adulthood by headmaster Kurt Hahn, a German Jewish refugee, and where he came to the aid of another Jewish boy who had been attacked by fellow students.
It was, he said, “a small and insignificant incident”, but, he added, “it taught me a very important lesson about man’s capacity for inhumanity, and I have never forgotten it.”
While three of his sisters on the continent married prominent Germans who joined the Nazi Party, Philip by contrast fought the Third Reich at sea, forging a distinguished career in the wartime British Navy. In his native Greece, meanwhile, his mother hid a Jewish family from the occupying German forces, ultimately earning her the honour of Righteous Among the Nations.
Indeed, it was that recognition that saw the Queen’s husband become the first royal to visit Israel, albeit in a personal rather than an official capacity.
Nonetheless, Philip also defied criticism to speak to pro-Israel groups in the 1960s and over the decades that followed became a regular guest at Jewish communal events, whether helping raise funds for charities, marking landmark anniversaries, opening new institutions or taking the salute from ex-servicemen and women.
Monarchist or republican, his many years of service and his support for our community deserve recognition. We thank him for them, and we wish the Queen and all the royal family long life.