The government of the United Kingdom is in a state of turmoil, mainly because it lacks authority as a result of holding an election in which the Conservative party was unexpectedly dealt a severe blow to its pride and popularity. Since then its indecision and incompetence have been complicated by scandal, of which the latest involved enforced resignations of two cabinet ministers, one because he indulged in sexual harassment, and the latest, the Overseas Aid minister, Ms Priti Patel, because she told lies to the prime minister about a visit to Israel.
Ms Patel admitted that her actions “fell below the high standards expected of a secretary of state” which was certainly the case, because she told lies; but her low standard expeditions appear to have involved some intriguing antics. It was reported that in August she went on “a secret trip to Israel with a lobbyist, during which she held 12 meetings, including one with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, without informing either [Prime Minister] May or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary.” It is amazing that she could have imagined that British intelligence services would not report her movements and meetings in the daily brief, but this did not stop her telling the Guardian newspaper that “Boris knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the visit to Israel]. It is not on, it is not on at all. I went out there, I paid for it, and there is nothing else to this. It is quite extraordinary. It is for the Foreign Office to go away and explain themselves.”
But it wasn’t the Foreign Office that had to explain things, because this was yet another squalid deception by a grubby little politician — for whatever reason she may have had to try to disguise her motives. Her assertion that “I went on holiday and met with people and organisations . . . It is not about who else I met, I have friends out there,” didn’t ring true, and the media discovered a whole raft of deceit.
Not only did she have a dozen meetings with “friends” in Israel, but, as revealed by the Sun newspaper, “on September 7, Ms Patel met Israeli Minister for Public Security Gilad Erdan for talks in the House of Commons. Then, on September 18, she met Israel’s Foreign Ministry boss Yuval Rotem while in New York at the UN General Assembly. Ms Patel would not last night [November 6] disclose what the meetings were about. She had seen both men in Tel Aviv in August . . .”
She was accompanied on her holiday in Israel by a British peer, Lord Polak, who attended all her meetings with Israel’s best and brightest, including Prime Minister Netanyahu. And Polak went with her to New York, with his flight being paid for by the Israeli consulting firm ISHRA, which “offers a wide range of client services.” Polak was also present when she had discussions with the Israeli Minister for Public Security at the House of Commons before she went to New York.
The House of Lords
Lord Polak didn’t have far to walk to the House of Commons because he is a member of the adjacent House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber of Parliament, which is a travesty of democracy. It makes a mockery of social equality and far too many of its members are generous donors to political parties or failed politicians who have been “kicked upstairs” to well-recompensed relaxation as compensation for years of political toadying. There are 800 members of the House, making it the second-largest legislative assembly in the world, after China’s National People’s Congress (although it has to be borne in mind that China has a population of 1.3 billion as against Britain’s 65 million).
In short, the House of Lords is a farcical disgrace. But it still has a much influence, because there is a great deal of money sloshing around, and there are people and political parties who control this money — like the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), an organisation that the Financial Times (FT) reports has “an estimated 80 per cent of Tory MPs as members.” And it is no coincidence that Lord Polak “spent a quarter of a century as head of the CFI . . . He quit as director in 2015 to join the House of Lords, but has remained the group’s honorary president.”
CFI is a wealthy organisation which the FT notes “has given £377,994 [495,000 US dollars] to the Conservative party since 2004, mostly in the form of fully-funded trips to Israel for MPs.” Not only that, but it gives large individual donations to Conservative members of parliament — and does anyone imagine for a moment that any politician so favoured is going to say a single word against Israel in any forum in any context?
They’ve been bought.
The CFI’s deep-pocket generosity includes holding an annual London dinner, at which last December the prime minister not only referred to Lord Polak as “the one and only Stuart Polak” but noted there were over 200 legislators present and declared she was “so pleased that the CFI has already taken 34 of the 74 Conservative MPs elected in 2015 to Israel.”
Money is the most important feature of UK-Israel relations, and May was thrilled about “our countries’ biggest-ever business deal, worth over £1 billion, when Israeli airline El Al decided to use Rolls Royce engines in its new aircraft.” It all comes down to money, and Israel, in receipt of oceans of cash from the United States, can splurge it where it wants.
Last year it was announced that the US “will give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, the largest such aid package in US history, under a landmark agreement signed on [September 14]” which includes an annual amount of $3.3 billion in “foreign military financing.”
Britain can’t give Israel any money, as it is itself in a poor financial situation, but it tries to make up for lack of cash by unconditional political support. It doesn’t matter to Britain’s government that Israel is in violation of nearly 100 UN Security Council resolutions, almost all of them requiring its withdrawal from illegally occupied Arab lands. Don’t expect the United Kingdom to criticise the Israeli fiefdom.
Too close for comfort
The love-fest between Britain’s Conservative party and the state of Israel is not only unhealthy but suspiciously personal. There is little wonder that the British government has done its best to sweep the sordid Patel affair under the carpet, and that the intrigues of Lord Polak are being kept very quiet indeed.
Lord Polak is chair of the advisory board of TWC Associates, a “boutique consultancy specialising in the development of political strategy”, which lists among its clients several Israeli defence companies, including Elbit Systems which specialises in defence electronics.
In 2012 it was disclosed that TWC and Elbit Systems were involved in the appalling British “Generals for Hire” scandal when Elbit’s UK chairman told undercover Sunday Times reporters that TWC could gain access to government “from the prime minister down.” In this particularly revolting instance of corruption the British retired Lieutenant General Richard Applegate, then Chairman of TWC, boasted that TWC had enormous influence, through its connections with Conservative Friends of Israel. He declared that “We piggy back on something, and please don’t spread this around, to do with basically Conservative Friends of Israel… do a series of discreet engagements using advisers to gain access to particular decision makers.” Just as Ms Patel was doing in Tel Aviv and London and New York, with the shadowy but authoritative guidance of the creepy Polak.
There is a lot that is wrong in the United Kingdom at the moment, but the Israeli scandal is the most squalid pantomime yet to be revealed in the tenure of the present administration. The prime minister is desperate to conceal her government’s intimate association with Israel, and is achieving success by deflecting media attention away from the machinations of the Israeli lobby and selecting other targets. Her attack on Russia in a bizarre diatribe at a London banquet on November 13 was indicative of panic, but the headlines were obtained and the grubby Israel drama faded away into the background.
In the words of Prime Minister Theresa May on November 2, just as news of the Patel scandal was breaking, “We are proud to stand here today together with Prime Minister Netanyahu and declare our support for Israel. And we are proud of the relationship we have built with Israel.”
The British public will never know what Patel, Polak and all the other agents of influence were scheming to achieve, or what fandangos they may get up to in the future, but we can be certain that the Britain-Israel alliance will continue to prosper.
Brian Cloughley is a British and Australian armies’ veteran, former deputy head of the UN military mission in Kashmir and Australian defense attaché in Pakistan.