by Stu Littlewood, VT Britain
[ Editor’s Note: Folks, this is an unusual piece that Stu put a lot of time into, and is a real treat. It is worth the read, because Stu’s committee kept firing back at the Tory committee they were challenging. The Tory committee was playing ‘ring around the rosie’ game with Stu’s group, thinking that they would to away. But they didn’t.
This is a template that others can follow when government people are dicking you around, creating a paper trail for the politicians (their staffs really) to show they did respond to a constituent group.
But when Stu’s people got their fluff response, they doubled down and sent a more detailed critique of the response; and the same with round three of the exchanges.
Stu’s group is creating a paper trail to be able to show that the UK politicians have a cozy relationship with the Israel Lobby and are unrepentant and intend to hang onto the financial and political support of the Israeli Lobby wheels in Britain.
This goes on in country after country, even the NATO ones with major intelligence resources. When is the last time you remember seeing one of the top Intel agencies bust up an Israeli political, scientific, academic, or military espionage ring in their respective country?
Please let me know in the comments if you have. That sparks the idea in my mind, for the US at least, to put inquiries in with the various US Inspectors General offices to see if they have any ‘on paper reports’ of their effectively dealing with this systemic problem… Jim W. Dean ]
First published November 23, 2021
For the last fortnight Westminster has been wallowing in its stinking cesspit of sleaze and corruption, in a disgusting spectacle led by prime minister Boris Johnson.
It started when an investigation by Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone found that former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson had repeatedly approached ministers and officials on behalf of two companies that were paying him more than £100,000. He protested his innocence and wasn’t going to accept his punishment – a 30 day suspension – quietly.
Johnson first tried to shield Paterson from the lobbying charge then made moves to meddle with the anti-sleaze rules using the full power of the government’s whips to force through a controversial amendment. When this failed he U-turned, leaving Paterson to stew in what was described as “a masterclass in how to turn a minor local crisis into a disaster”.
There followed in quick succession other revelations about Tories earning megabucks from lobbying activities and having second or third jobs which have infuriated the public.
Then the news that since 2010, 22 of the Conservative Party’s main financial donors have been given peerages after donating a combined £54million.
The Guardian reported Jonathan Evans, a crossbench peer and former director general of the Security Service, as saying the proposal to revisit anti-sleaze rules was an “extraordinary proposal … deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy” and described it as “an attack on standards”.
Part of the problem is ineffective enforcement of standards. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is not allowed to take on complaints about Members of Parliament. Such complaints have to be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Nevertheless 7 of the Committee’s 14 members are MPs.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is described as “an independent officer of the House of Commons”. But could the Commission ever be truly independent?
Membership consists of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Leader of the House of Commons and 4 other MPs, these outnumbering the 4 lay members. The Commissioner investigates allegations that MPs have breached the rules of the House of Commons’ Code of Conduct and keeps a register of MPs’ financial interests.
Both watchdogs are compromised by the suffocating presence of MPs. Why are they permitted to judge themselves?
The other part of the problem is that so many MPs are too stupid or self-serving to behave properly and even the top dogs don’t know right from wrong. Johnson had the best education money can buy. Eton College must be tearing their hair out wondering how they got it so wrong with that one.
So what to do?
Israel lobby embedded at the heart of Government
Basic questions needed answering. The present unseemly row reminds me that back in 2007, as now, we were asking for example why agents of a foreign military power were allowed to meddle in our democratic and parliamentary processes.
And why MPs and others in trusted positions were allowed to aid and abet them? Those were the concerns of a group of citizens who decided to press the Committee on Standards in Public Life to examine whether there was undue Israeli influence at the heart of British government.
That December twenty of us signed a letter to the Committee inviting them to “uphold the Principles of Public Life and consider the activities of the Friends of Israel as a matter for urgent investigation”.
At the time at least two members of the Committee were signed up Friends of Israel – Baroness Shephard, president of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) and Alun Michael MP, a member of Labour Friends of Israel.
The Committee’s website said that Baroness Shephard relinquished her pro-Israel position in 2005 but the Conservative Friends of Israel website contradicted it. Besides, the idea that someone at the top of CFoI could suddenly become unprejudiced was ridiculous. Here is the letter:
How the Israel Lobby undermines the Principles of Standards in Public Life – a Matter for Investigation
Those signing this letter know the Occupied Territories and in particular Gaza, and are deeply concerned about the appalling conditions forced on the civilian population by the Israeli blockade and sanctions imposed by Britain and the EU.
This Christmas innocent Gazans are starving. Critically ill cancer and renal failure patients die an agonising death, unable to receive treatment because Israel blocks vital drugs and other medical supplies, including dialysis machine spares, and prevents the sick crossing the border for proper hospital care.
New-born babies and those just months old are dying too, denied treatment. The United Nations Declaration of the Right of the Child lies buried under the sands of Gaza.
Israel has even imposed a fishing ban on the 3000 licensed fishermen, robbing them of their livelihood and the population of a proper diet. Boats ignoring the ban are fired on. Are those not Palestinian territorial waters? Have Palestinians no rights under the UN Law of the Sea Conventions?
The Gaza siege is the latest in a very long catalogue of Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. It has been allowed to develop into a full-blown humanitarian crisis and Britain, to its shame, has a hand in it. Furthermore it is a racist outrage that Christians and Muslims are together made to suffer so horribly at the hands of the Israeli state.
A letter was delivered through Henry Bellingham MP to the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East, Kim Howells, suggesting (as many others have done before, including charities such as War on Want) that Britain consider suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The rules provide for this if Israel’s conduct towards its neighbours falls short of what is required under the UN Charter and other obligations.
On 11 October Mr Howells replied: “We consider that the Association Agreement is a key tool for the EU to both enhance co-operation with Israel but also to raise any concerns. We do not support suspension of that Agreement, which would limit how we could put our viewpoint across to the Israeli government.”
When the EU demanded an end to the emergency in Gaza and also the military occupation of the West Bank, Israel responded with an even tighter lockdown and another letter was sent to Mr Howells.
He responded on 30 November saying: “The Government does not support calls for the suspension of the EU/Israel Association Agreement. The UK…has strong relationships with Israel on a number of fronts… We do not consider it would be in the best interests of the UK, or the European Union, to end this relationship.”
Mr Howells is a former chairman of Labour Friends of Israel. His shadow is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel.
The minister has subsequently been asked to explain what “viewpoint” Her Majesty’s Government has put to the Israeli government regarding the medieval-style siege of Gaza and the collective punishment of already impoverished civilians in flagrant breach of the UN Charter and every conceivable code of conduct.
What action have he and his Department taken to alleviate the suffering in this former British mandate? What is the status of the coastal waters off Gaza? How can Israel maintain a sea blockade lawfully and deny Gazan fishermen their livelihood?
How does continuing the Association Agreement in these cruel circumstances “enhance co-operation”, and what “concerns” have been raised with the Israeli government?
No answers to these questions have yet been received.
British MPs eating out of the Israeli government’s hand
In the meantime your Committee is aware how the lobby group, Friends of Israel, has embedded itself in the British political establishment and at the very heart of government. Its stated purpose is to promote Israel’s interests in our Parliament and sway British policy.
MPs are surely not at liberty to act in the interest of a foreign military power at the expense of our own national interests, or to let foreign influence cloud their judgement. Such conduct is at odds with the second of the Seven Principles of Public Life, namely 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.”
The Friends of Israel organisation goes to great lengths to influence those in power. Indeed a good many, it seems, reach positions of power with Conservative Friends of Israel help. The political director of CfoI claims that with over 2,000 members and registered supporters alongside 80 percent of the Conservative MPs, CFI has become the largest affiliated group in the party.
Its website states that the CFI “strives to support the Conservative Party at all available opportunities. In the run up to the 2005 General Election… CFI supported candidates up and down the country. As candidates are now being continuously selected for target seats, CFI has developed a special programme of weekly briefings, events with speakers and a chance to participate in delegations to Israel. CFI encourages all members to help campaign for parliamentary candidates and also for local council, London and European elections.”
It also has a ‘Fast Track’ group for Conservative parliamentary candidates fighting target marginal seats at the next election. The political director himself is seeking election to Parliament. If successful where will his loyalty lie?
Senior Conservatives try to justify these activities 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”.
Such claims do not bear examination. Israel is no western-style democracy. It is an ethnocracy with racist policies and an apartheid agenda. It is a cruel oppressor, stands in breach of numerous UN resolutions, ignores International Court of Justice rulings and continues an illegal occupation, abusing its neighbours and stealing their lands and resources. It cares little for world opinion.
How could anyone of fair mind and knowing the situation on the ground possibly support such a regime in the name of the British people, unless unduly under its influence?
Friends of Israel campaign loudly against Palestinian ‘terrorism’ without mentioning that since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000 Israelis have been slaughtering Palestinians at the rate of 4 to 1, and when it comes to children it is nearer 10 to 1 (Israeli B’Tselem figures).
They never mention the ‘Matrix of Control’ and the perverse administrative procedures imposed by the Israelis in order to restrict travel, strangle the economy, bulldoze homes, confiscate lands and press ahead with their programme of ethnic displacement.
Friends of Israel repeatedly campaign for the release of a handful of Israeli soldiers like Gilad Shalit, corporal tank gunner, but ignore the 9,000+ Palestinian civilians abducted from their homes and incarcerated, often without trial, including some 300 women and 150 children. Many have been tortured, like Luwaii Ashqar whose lower lumbar spine was probably broken during 4 days of vicious, non-stop torment.
What is the basis for Britain’s decision to outlaw elected leaders (Hamas) who rightly, in our view, resist the unreasonable demands of an armed occupier (Israel)? And why has there been no outcry in Britain against the unlawful and inhuman siege of Gaza?
Courted, cosseted and lied to by the Israeli state, Friends of Israel present a distorted picture to their Parliamentary colleagues and the British public. Such people cannot be relied on to make balanced policy decisions concerning the Middle East. When speaking on such matters they should at least be required to declare their interest.
It is especially disconcerting to discover that at least two members of your Committee, which is pledged to uphold the Principles of Public Life, are Friends of Israel – namely Baroness Shephard, president of Conservative Friends of Israel and Alun Michael MP, a member of Labour Friends of Israel.
Your website suggests that Baroness Shephard relinquished her pro-Israel position in 2005 but the CFI website contradicts this.
The danger of inappropriate ‘friendships’ with foreign regimes became even more evident last week when Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, was reported to have twice asked David Miliband, our Foreign Secretary, to scrap the law that authorises magistrates to issue arrest warrants for suspected war criminals who set foot in the UK.
Avi Dichter, a former director of the Shin Bet spy service and involved in the Shehadeh assassination in 2002, in which 14 Palestianian civilians (including children) were killed by an Israeli air strike, had to cancel a trip to London for fear of being arrested.
Doron Almog, an Israeli ex-general also involved in the Shehadeh affair, narrowly avoided arrest when he landed at Heathrow in 2005. Now Israel wishes the UK to change its laws to protect alleged war criminals. How can we be sure this will not happen in the name of “enhanced co-operation”, as Mr Howells puts it?
Given that Israel’s deep penetration of our political system apparently prevents Britain from taking a principled stand on Middle East matters, including the violations of Palestinian human rights, we invite your Committee – minus those with an interest – to uphold the Principles of Public Life and consider the activities of the Friends of Israel as a matter for urgent investigation.
For truth and justice,
The Standards Committee’s administrator, Mr Ramsden, replied on 2 January saying:
“I have to say that this is not the sort of issue likely to be pursued by the Committee. The Committee’s terms of reference are ‘To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all UK 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’.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But he went on to say:
“The Committee would not see this as encompassing the attitudes of British politicians towards foreign countries and governments, assuming that these did not imply relationships which amounted to improper behaviour under existing corruption laws. Moreover, the Committee’s terms of reference specifically preclude it from investigating individual cases, or specific allegations of misconduct. The Committee does however note all the individual complaints it receives as part of planning its future work programme and your complaint has been noted.”
We tried again, this time direct to the chairman Sir Christopher Kelly.
9 January 2008 – Dear Sir Christopher,
Replying to Mr Ramsden’s letter of 2 January, it seems perfectly clear to those who signed our submission on 19 December that the Standards Committee is established to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life.
As already explained, the activities of the Israel lobby in Westminster seriously undermine a number of those Principles as defined by the Committee itself, namely Selflessness, Integrity, Accountability, Openness and Honesty.
A large majority of Conservative MPs and MEPs are Friends of Israel. The lobby also claims a very large number of Labour MPs and ministers. The Liberal Democrat FoI website brazenly states that its first aim is “to maximise support for the State of Israel within the Liberal Democrats and Parliament”, furthermore to “develop and maintain a broad-based LDFI membership inside and outside of Parliament”.
We are not discussing individuals, as has been suggested, but powerful groups within Government. All MPs (and many parliamentary candidates) are exposed to the lobby’s influence and a disturbingly large number apparently carry its message into their 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 excluded by such partisanship.
We therefore fully expect the Standards ‘watchdog’ – at least those members of it who do not have a prejudicial interest – to act, and we are more than happy to meet with you to clarify any points at issue.
Commenting on the forthcoming US presidential election Stephen Walt, whose recent book exposed the Israel lobby in the US, tells Al Jazeera:
“Almost all of the major candidates are falling over themselves to demonstrate how deeply committed they are to America’s special relationship with Israel. Hardly a word of criticism is directed at anything Israel does and that is due to the activities of the lobby.”
John Mearsheimer, co-author of the book, says “If you look at who is pushing the US to use military force against Iran, the two driving forces are Israel and the Israel lobby.”
Quite apart from the question of propriety in allowing the Israel lobby to penetrate to the heart of UK government, we firmly maintain that nobody who stands for justice, or who has troubled to study the facts, can possible support this foreign regime or its conduct, and that promoting Israel’s interests in the British Parliament seriously compromises our own national interest in the Middle East and beyond.
The rules regarding non-pecuniary interests in all public bodies below the Houses of Parliament are strict. And yet it is rare for any minister or MP to declare this interest in speech or in writing. Very few UK citizens know of these potent affiliations.
We are reminded of George Washington’s words:
“Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all… The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils.”
For truth and justice,
We were forced to write a second time to the chairman on 21 January 2008 in the following terms:
Twenty signatories, mostly senior professionals, took the trouble to write to you on 9 January in furtherance of a submission, on 19 December, about the undue influence of the Israel lobby at the heart of British government. They expect the courtesy of a personal reply, please, rather than a dismissive note from your administrator.
It had already been made clear that we are not asking the Committee to investigate individual cases, or specific allegations of misconduct, so to be told yet again that the Committee is precluded from doing so is perplexing.
You are now saying the subject is a matter of general policy for others but admit that the remit of the body you suggest (the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards) does not fit the circumstances.
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 of the Principles both in word and spirit. Otherwise what is the purpose of having them enshrined in the Committee’s constitution?
The lobby media are already in a panic. The Jewish Chronicle, for example, reports a “smear” on Israel lobby MPs, one of whom suggests that if the Committee investigates it might be accused of being part of a Jewish conspiracy. The director of Conservative Friends of Israel, a would-be MP, confidently predicts there will be no investigation, his cocksure certainty leading one to suppose that he and his like are a protected species within the Westminster village.”
Moreover, 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. We note that they even use the House of Commons logo when advertising for lobby officers.
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.”
The subject for investigation has little or nothing to do with the Jewish community in Britain. It is about the activities of the Israel lobby – groups of political activists and MPs who are, for the most part, non-Jews. It is disturbing to see their support of a racist, foreign government, which is also in defiance of numerous United Nations resolutions, so high on their agenda within the sovereign government they represent.
The Committee’s job is to “make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life.” Accordingly we insist, please, that our case is put before the Committee for proper consideration.
For truth and justice,
Kelly 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.”
We batted the ball back to Kelly, pointing out there was nothing in the 1995 report about 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 we find any mention in the 2001 report. We asked for chapter and verse, but none was supplied.
In 14 years nothing has changed
MPs are still at liberty to act in the interest of a foreign military power at the expense of our own national interests and to let foreign influence cloud their judgement, even though such conduct is clearly at odds with the second Principle of Public Life, namely Integrity.
The various Friends of Israel organisations still flourish at the heart of government, waving the flag of the Zionist regime and going to great lengths to influence those in power at Westminster, even flying them to Israel to have their heads filled with Zionist propaganda. A good many, it seems, reach positions of power with FoI help, and it is said that membership is an essential stepping stone to promotion.
The Israelis’ conduct is just as bad if not worse. And the misery they inflict on the Palestinians is just as bad if not worse. Which shows what happens when we’re nice to Israel, reward the terrorist state for its crimes and let Friends of Israel groups continue to flourish in our midst. Nothing, it seems, must be allowed to stop them doing their dirty work.
The Seven Principles neatly represent people’s expectations of the way their public servants should behave. Sadly they are not enforced. The Standards Committee’s remit doesn’t include investigating individual allegations of misconduct. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is supposed to investigate allegations against individual MPs but up to now seems chiefly interested in expenses-fiddling.
21 November 2001