How the case developed
In our position paper and previous newsletters we drew attention to Israel’s massive and unjustified influence within the Conservative Party, of which about 80% of MPs belong to Conservative Friends of Israel. In this article we revisit the case of Priti Patel, Theresa May’s Secretary for International Development, since it shone a powerful and revealing light on that relationship.
In November 2017, the BBC reported that Patel had held a series unauthorised meetings with members the Israeli government. The meetings were arranged by Lord Stewart Polak, Honorary President of Conservative Friends of Israel, and took place during a private holiday in Israel in August 2017 and subsequent work in the UK in September 2017. The people met included Benjamin Netanyahu and Gilad Erdan. The latter is in charge of the ‘Strategic Affairs’ ministry which combats the BDS movement around the world and is described by the Middle East Eye as “quietly fanning passions in Britain by falsely conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism”. The unauthorised meetings were in breach of the ‘ministerial code’ that requires that they be coordinated with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in order to maintain professionalism and integrity in foreign policy.
While in Israel, Patel visited the Golan Heights which Israel had seized at the end of the 1967 Six Day War. It did this after Syria had accepted a UN cease-fire, and subsequently annexed the territory in a grotesque violation of international law. Patel’s visit was in contravention of diplomatic protocol that requires British ministers and senior officials not to travel there under the auspices of the Israeli Government. She also asked her department to look into whether British aid money could be sent to Israeli troops in the territory. It is well documented that the Israeli army occupying the Golan Heights uses its field hospitals to treat anti-government fighters involved in the war in Syria, including members of factions linked to Al Qaeda.
The BBC broke the story on 3rd November, there was a series of newspaper articles and Parliamentary questions. Patel first protested she had acted with the knowledge of Boris Johnson and the FCO, but she subsequently gave way and resigned on the 8th, after 16 months in the post, causing inconvenience and embarrassment to pro-Israeli elements in the UK.
Priti Patel’s background
Patel was born in 1973, and after graduating worked in the Conservative Central Office, for the Referendum Party, in PR and Corporate relations. She became a Conservative MP in 2010, and after the 2015 election was appointed Minister of State for Employment. It was after becoming Prime Minister, in July 2016, that Theresa May appointed her as International Development Secretary.
She has been a long-term “Friend of Israel’, is currently an officer of CFI and has been described in the Jewish Chronicle as “maybe the most pro-Israel member of cabinet”. She is very much on the right wing of the Conservative Party, is a zealous Brexiteer and has been tipped as a future Prime Minister.
Within about a month of her appointment as International Development Secretary, Patel was already taking actions that suited the Israeli interest, stipulating that her department would “not consider any future funding” to World Vision work in the Occupied Territories until the charity competed an audit, “and we have had the opportunity to fully consider our position”. In October she was announcing suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over payments to prisoners.
What can we learn from this case?
The foregoing account suggests Patel to be an ambitious politician who thought that playing the “Israel” card in British politics was a guaranteed bet. However, this seems to have imbued her with hubris, as she tried to pursue a parallel foreign policy through the Department for International Development (DFID) and behind the back of the FCO (or at least key figures within the FCO), ultimately leading to her downfall.
Significantly, the same hubris seems to have permeated CFI, whose Honorary President Lord Stewart Polak, arranged her meetings. This is very disturbing, because it suggests that the Lobby had gained so much influence within the British establishment, and support from the Conservative Party leadership, that it no longer feared being held accountable for the most outrageous behaviour. It is hardly surprising that this has happened, given that the same year (2017) revealed an Israeli plot to “take down” the Deputy Foreign Secretary, and saw pro-Israel lobbyists induce the Government to “adopt” a highly partisan and questionable definition of anti-Semitism that suited the interests of the Israeli state.