By Stuart Littlewood – London
The recent Channel 4 TV Dispatches programme, which probed the antics of the pro-Israel lobby in British politics, has opened up this hitherto forbidden subject to public debate.
Basic questions now need answering – for example, why are agents of a foreign military power allowed to meddle in our democratic and parliamentary processes?
That was the concern of a group of citizens nearly two years ago. They decided to press the Committee on Standards in Public Life to examine whether there was undue Israeli influence at the heart of British government.
The Standards Committee, chaired by newly-appointed Sir Christopher Kelly (the same Kelly who is currently making heavy weather of investigating the way MPs have been fiddling expenses), refused to look into it. His reply, sent in a note from a member of his office staff, said: "I regret that the Committee on Standards in Public Life has no remit to help you in this matter."
This infuriated the citizens. The public’s watchdog – the Standards Committee – was formed to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life. Its remit calls on it "to examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life." This, surely, is the kind of plain English even dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats like Kelly can understand.
The Seven Principles apply to everyone in the public service:
Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Integrity: Holders of public office should not 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.
Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
It was felt that most of the Seven Principles were being violated by the Israel lobby and its stooges with impunity, especially the principle of Integrity. So the citizens pushed the matter back to Kelly with this straight-from-the-shoulder message….
Twenty signatories, mostly senior professionals, took the trouble to write to you… about the undue influence of the Israel lobby at the heart of British government. They anticipated the courtesy of a personal reply but received a dismissive note from your administrator…
It is plain to us that the matter falls squarely within the Standards Committee’s remit. The man in the street is entitled to look at the Seven Principles and say that the activities of lobbies like Friends of Israel are against the declared intentions, both in word and spirit, of the Principles. Otherwise what is the purpose of having them enshrined in the Committee’s constitution?
…Claims that the lobby’s activities are transparent are untrue since seldom, if ever, do its members declare an interest when speaking or writing about the Middle East. This is an unacceptable state of affairs in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’.
The aim of Friends of Israel is to promote the interests of Israel and its government, which is racist in its treatment of its own Arab population, the Palestinians and the Bedouin. MPs who align themselves with Israel are not acting in the public interest of the UK but against our own anti-racist laws.
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Dr Liam Fox proves the point. He is quoted on the CFoI website as saying: "…We must remember that 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 or we will all fall divided.” He presumably speaks for all Friends of Israel in the party that hopes to form the next government. The group includes the party leader and prospective prime minister and many on the front bench. Dr Fox would have Parliament and the public believe that Israel’s enemy, Iran, must become Britain’s enemy – a dangerous and irresponsible stance which could lead this country to disaster.
The Israel lobby and associated Friends of Israel groups, in supporting a racist regime with racist policies in contravention of international law and human rights, are a disgrace to Parliament and an insult to the people whose Parliamentary democracy this is…
Furthermore the British people should not have to tolerate dual allegiance in their Parliament and Government, since obviously it puts national security at risk. As one peer wrote: “I ask over and over again why Israel is allowed to get away with breaking International Law and the answer is silence from the government… they are afraid of the Israel Lobby who label anyone who speaks out as anti-Semitic and withdraw their support.”
Kelly, still ducking and weaving, replied: "This Committee commented on lobbying in their first report in 1995 and re-addressed the issue, including the changes instigated by their first report, in a review in 2001. The Committee has no plans to review this area again in the near future."
Again the twenty citizens batted the ball back into Kelly’s court, pointing out there was nothing in the 1995 report relating to MPs and legislators representing the interests of foreign countries within Parliament or placing themselves under the influence of a foreign country’s political lobby. Nor could they find any mention of it in the 2001 report. They asked for chapter and verse, but they were not supplied.
And there the matter rests. The twenty concerned citizens were of course aware that the tentacles of the Israel lobby reached even into Kelly’s committee. Our public standards watchdog didn’t dare say “Woof!”
So this great swamp of corruption and intrigue is still waiting for Channel 4 (or other journalists) to investigate. When they do, I would particularly like to know why our Intelligence & Security Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and Defence Committee are all headed by Israel flag-wavers… and how that can possibly be in Britain’s national interest, or in the interest of world peace.
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.