Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Israel pays for junket by British MPs

Could the Israeli government be buying favors from British members of parliament (MPs)?

I spent some time today wading through the register of financial interests for MPs from the Conservatives, the party of prime minister David Cameron. These showed that a number of them took part in a trip to the Middle East in early summer that was funded by Israel’s foreign ministry.

Declarations made by Chloe Smith, Aidan Burley, James Morris and Neil Parish cite estimates that the cost of their visit from 29 May to 3 June amounted to £1,548 ($2,429) each. They report that £574 of that sum came from the Israeli foreign ministry and the remaining £974 from an internal party group called Conservative Friends of Israel.

It is striking that the trip occurred at a time when Britain was in the process of changing its law on universal jurisdiction (the principle that a country may prosecute grave human rights abuses irrespective of where they occur) at the behest of Israel. In 2009, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s ex-foreign minister, chickened out of a trip to London because some political activists had sought a warrant for her arrest over Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza. Under a revised law that entered into force last week, new bureaucratic obstacles have been placed in the way of apprehending war criminals on British soil.

Watering down war crimes law

The Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), which organized the MPs’ trip, has been working diligently to have the universal jurisdiction law watered down to the liking of Israel’s politicians. And it is hard to believe that the fate of the new bill wasn’t discussed during the visit.

While the CFI likes to gloat of how it can attract 150 parliamentarians, 500 businesspeople and Cameron himself to its annual lunch, it is less transparent about the sources of its money.

According to the CFI’s website, both the summer trip and a previous one that it organized for MPs in February featured tours of production facilities run by the arms company Elbit. So I called the CFI to ask if Elbit is one of the group’s donors. “I don’t have to give you those details,” a spokeswoman told me.

I pressed a bit further and enquired why her group does not publish accounts. “According to the law, we don’t have to do that,” the spokeswoman replied, before calling a halt to our conversation.

I have also contacted Elbit, requesting if it provides support to CFI. I am still awaiting the firm’s response.

Elbit, let us never forget, is the maker of the Hermes drones that were used to attack civilians during Operation Cast Lead. The tacit support for that attack from both of Britain’s largest parties, Labor and the Conservatives, can partly be explained by how a consortium involving Elbit has provided the British army with a Hermes 450 drone for use in Afghanistan. Amnesty International has reported that engines used in Elbit’s drones have been fitted by a plant belonging to the company near England’s second largest city, Birmingham.

With economic and neo-imperial interests at stake, it is little wonder that the well-heeled Conservatives are not bothered by the plight of Gaza’s “little people”.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 September 2011.

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