By Stuart Littlewood – London
There can be few sights more pathetic than ex-ministers and chums of Tony Blair offering to use their government contacts to help influence policy on behalf of business clients.
"I’m like a cab for hire," said Stephen Byers when secretly filmed by a Channel 4 TV ‘Dispatches’ programme. Byers could be "hailed" for £3,000 to £5,000 per day.
And so a new expression was born into the sleazy world of Westminster: “political cabbing”.
The latest revelations come only a few months after another Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ report, by Peter Oborne, showed how large numbers of MPs were stooging (or "cabbing") for Israel.
Mr Oborne reported that a majority of Conservative MPs and half the shadow cabinet are signed-up Friends of Israel, and £millions flow into the bank accounts of MPs and parties although only a fraction of these “contributions” are visibly accounted for. Sir Richard Dalton, a former British diplomat who served as consul-general in Jerusalem, observed: "I don’t believe, and I don’t think anybody else believes, these contributions come with no strings attached."
Mr Oborne showed how Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel take dozens of MPs on free trips to Israel, where they are guests of the Israeli government.
Few, if any, declare this interest when speaking in Parliament.
He showed how one of the Conservative Party’s big donors has vested interests in illegal settlement development in the West Bank and in Bicom, an Israeli public affairs outfit, and how the party’s leadership is subjected to foreign pressure.
What harm does “cabbing” for Israel do?
Large numbers of MPs (and many parliamentary candidates) are exposed to the Israel lobby’s influence, and its message is carried through into parliamentary work causing great damage to our parliamentary democracy, harm to Britain’s reputation throughout the world and risk to our security because a just solution in the Holy Land is prevented by such partisanship.
The majority of Conservative MPs and MEPs are Friends of Israel. The lobby also claims a very large number of Labour MPs and ministers. Membership is said to be a necessary step to high office.
The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel website brazenly states that its first aim is to maximise support for the State of Israel within the party and Parliament, and develop and maintain a broad-based LDFI membership inside and outside of Parliament…
Conservatives Friends of Israel have a ‘Fast Track’ group for parliamentary candidates fighting target marginal seats.
Senior Conservatives try to justify their support for the foreign military power by insisting that Israel is "a force for good in the world" and "in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together".
This partisanship undermines a number of the Principles on which our standards in public life are founded. One of these requires holders of public office not to place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Nowhere is this disregard for principle more dramatically demonstrated than in the appointment of Israel flag-wavers to the chairmanship of our most important security bodies – the Intelligence & Security Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and Defence Committee.
Prime minister Gordon Brown told Labour Friends of Israel that they were “one of the great influences on the whole of the Labour movement… I will continue to do what I can both to defend Israel and to protect the security of Israel’s borders… I count myself not only a friend of Israel but someone who wants to support the future of Israel…. we will do everything that we can to work with Israel."
Conservative opposition leader David Cameron has said: "The belief I have in Israel is indestructible – and you need to know that if I become Prime Minister, Israel has a friend who will never turn his back on Israel."
Both leaders are patrons of the Jewish National Fund, an organisation with a sinister purpose.
Lobbying will be the "next political scandal", says Cameron blissfully unaware of the irony of his remark.
When Tzipi Livni, leader of Israel’s main opposition party Kadima and foreign minister during the murderous blitzkrieg on Gaza civilians a year ago, recently cancelled a visit to Britain after an arrest warrant was issued against her by a British court, Israel complained that “we have to put an end to this absurdity, which is harming the excellent bilateral relations between Israel and Britain."
Gordon Brown responded by insisting that Livni was welcome and promising to change the law that allows British courts to issue warrants for war crimes suspects.
Foreign secretary David Miliband reinforced this by saying the British government was determined that arrest threats against visitors of Ms. Livni’s stature would not happen again. "Israel is a strategic partner and a close friend of the United Kingdom. We are determined to protect and develop these ties," he said. "Israeli leaders – like leaders from other countries – must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British government."
Livni is not even a serving minister. And far from apologizing for the slaughter of Gazans a year ago, this odious individual declared: "I would make the same decisions all over again." For decent people she is beyond the pale and unwelcome.
Nevertheless the attorney-general has told the world that the government intends to protect high-ranking Israeli officials from arrest in the UK. Speaking at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Baroness Scotland said Israeli leaders should not face arrest for war crimes under the law of universal jurisdiction. "The government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again. Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK."
Why? There can be no hiding place for those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, extra-judicial executions, war crimes, torture and forced disappearances.
States that are party to the Geneva Conventions – there are 194 of them, including Israel itself – are obliged to seek out and either prosecute or extradite those suspected of having committed "grave breaches" of the Conventions and “bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a prima facie case."
The Geneva Conventions are treaties, solemnly entered into, that contain universal rules limiting the barbarity of war. "Grave breaches" means wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, the causing of great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and other serious violations of the laws of war. Israel is well practised in all of these.
Brown and Miliband, “cabbing” like fury, are happy to dismantle our obligations under international law in order to save their unsavoury friends and allow Israel’s worst thugs to walk the streets of our capital.
“Cabbing” for Israel even extends to making light of the theft by Mossad agents of the passport ID of several British citizens in a mission to assassinate a Hamas operative in Dubai. It was not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Mr Miliband announced the expulsion of an unnamed individual on the Israeli embassy staff. This feeble slap on the wrist was not nearly enough to wipe the smirk off Ambassador Prosor’s face.
George Galloway MP called for a more robust response – the closing of the embassy. “Every British citizen travelling in the Middle East has been endangered by the actions of Mossad operating from the Israeli embassy in London. Protecting British citizens abroad demands nothing less than closing that centre of espionage at home."
That’s more like it.
Miliband’s and Brown’s friends are not my friends… or anyone else’s as far as I can see. The idea that Israel and the gangsters who run it have any value to us as strategic partners, is a figment of their tiny imagination. George Washington’s warning of years ago seems all the more appropriate today: "The nation which indulges towards another a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."
Who, if they had any integrity, would "cab" for a regime that thieves, murders, assassinates, carries out ethnic cleansing and shows utter contempt for international law, human rights, UN resolutions and the normal codes of human conduct?
Who would “cab” for a regime that, by using overwhelming military might, has systematically impoverished its neighbours and resorted to starvation tactics to make them submit?
Who, if they had a shred of honour, would "cab" for a regime whose leaders are wanted for war crimes?
Be warned, you parliamentary candidates, when you come a-knocking for my vote. The first question will be “Are you cabbing for Israel?”
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.