Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process
Submission from Free Speech on Israel
This evidence, prepared by Jonathan Rosenhead, was submitted to the select committee enquiry which was halted owing to the announcement of the General Election. As it is not clear when or whether the enquiry will resume in the new Parliament we are publishing our evidence now. This evidence was submitted on 30 March 2017.
Who we are
Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish-led group formed in April 2016 out of concerns that the surge in accusations of antisemitism in British public life, and especially within the Labour Party, in no way reflects the reality that we live in. This concern now extends both to the unbalanced media coverage of this issue, and to the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which we find to be deeply flawed. See in particular the recently released legal Opinion on this subject.
Our submission to your Inquiry focusses entirely on point 7: how UK policy is influenced by other states and interested parties. In particular we will address the extent to which the state of Israel has been exerting undue influence on the UK’s policy in respect of that country’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people. We start from the evidence revealed in the Al-Jazeera series of investigative reports The Lobby, transmitted in January 2017.
Background to our concern
Recent events have demonstrated that some national governments have an appetite to intervene in the political processes of other countries. The ability to do so will depend on the resources they can muster – such as electronic capabilities, finances devoted to that purpose, and well-disposed individuals in the target country.
We further take the view that the formation of foreign policy in the UK (as in other countries) is not conducted only within political parties but involves a wider swathe of think tanks, academic researchers, businesses with spanning interests, influential organisations and individuals, media commentators and so on. Our comments will address that broader matrix.
Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation, condemns the decision of the London Assembly on Feb 8 to adopt a position on antisemitism that is a charter for censors. It threatens to make effective campaigning for justice for Palestinians impossible.
Antisemitism is an age-old visceral hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be vigorously fought against, along with all forms of bigotry. To confuse it with opposition to a state which calls itself Jewish, or to the founding ideology of that state, Zionism, is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make combatting it more difficult. This is exactly what the motion passed by the Assembly does.
There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents.
Free Speech on Israel statement on the hidden relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians
News of covert meetings between an Israeli diplomat and Tory and Labour politicians is evidence of a concerted campaign to undermine pro-Palestinian currents in both parties. These latest revelations vindicate the case that Free Speech on Israel has been making for many months. There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents. The Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, has been a particular target.
Evidence exposed by Al-Jazeera shows that the Israeli government has ‘infiltrated’ both the Conservative and Labour parties via its embassy in the UK, using secret cash and covert support.
Film footage shows intelligence expert Shai Masot joking with senior Labour MP Joan Ryan about having obtained ‘more than £1 million’ to pay for sympathetic Labour MPs to visit Israel. He was also filmed discussing with Maria Strizzolo, senior aide to Conservative Education Minister Robert Halfon, how to “take down” Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, a supporter of a Palestinian state.
Halfon and Ryan are leading members of their parties’ respective ‘Friends of Israel’ lobby groups.
Strizzolo has since resigned, Masot is reportedly to be relieved of his Embassy job, Israeli ambassador Mark Regev has apologised and the UK Foreign Office has stated: “The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”
This is a blatant attempt to close down the affair. But a scandal of this magnitude needs to be exposed to full public scrutiny. The whole story of the dubious relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians must come out into the open. And Ambassador Regev, who has presided over this infiltration policy, needs to be told that he is no longer welcome.
Al Jazeera’s revelations throw new light on Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s extraordinary public contradiction last week of US Secretary of State John Kerry speech criticising expansion of Israel’s settlements; extraordinary because Kerry’s position coincides precisely with that of the British government. This reads like UK policy being distorted in the Israeli interest.
We also note that Shai Masot accompanied ambassador Regev and Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, at meetings during the 2016 Labour Party conference. Newmark’s JLM has been instrumental in promoting allegations of rampant antisemitism on the Labour Left, through which supporters of Palestine have been systematically targeted.
We urge grassroots members of the Labour Party, trade unions, Momentum and other progressive, antiracist organisations to insist that their leaders dissociate themselves from pro-Israel lobbyists and defend those victimised without due cause.
Free Speech on Israel supports the call by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry for a government inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.
However certain other actions are needed. FSOI calls upon:
the UK government to withdraw the accreditation of the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev who has presided over this grave intrusion in the country’s democratic processes
MPs Robert Halfon, Joan Ryan and any others whose names emerge from this Al-Jazeera investigation to give a full public explanation of their relations with Israeli state representatives
Friends of Israel organisations in British political parties, and the Jewish Labour Movement, to account for their relationship with the Israeli Embassy and other state institutions, including all financial transactions
the Labour Party leadership to sever links with groups where evidence emerges that they have placed support for the interests of the state of Israel above democracy in the party
Note (updated 10.2.17): Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” can be viewed in four episodes at 10.30 pm on Wednesday January 11, Thursday January 12, Friday January 13 and Saturday January 14. The series will also be available online . These broadcast times are several days earlier than originally scheduled.