Many of us are guilty of checking work emails while we’re on holiday, or personal Facebook pages while we’re at work, but Priti Patel’s excuses for her "personal family vacation" full of high-level meetings in Israel defied logic.
It is right that Patel was forced to resign, but our concern should extend far beyond her individual breach of conduct
And as more details emerged, including two other undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials in London and New York, she had no other choice but to resign. Her previously undeclared itinerary looked like an official state visit that only top diplomats would get.
That itinerary betrays more about UK government relations with Israel than it does about Patel’s own missteps.
International development…of militarism
News sources moved on quickly after her resignation on Wednesday evening to speculations about who will replace her. But it is important for us not to lose sight of the context in which these meetings occurred, as they betray a larger picture of the UK "cosying up" in its relations with Israel’s repressive regime.
It is right that Patel was forced to resign, but our concern should extend far beyond her individual breach of conduct. We should be concerned about how normal it is for UK officials to be conducting meetings, secret or open, and pursuing business dealings with officials from a state regularly committing war crimes.
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One of the outrageous gaffs that came out of Patel’s meetings was her suggestion that UK development money should be funnelled to the Israeli military to be used for field hospitals in the Golan Heights, an occupied territory that even the UK does not recognise as legally belonging to Israel.
Where to even start, taking apart this outrageous suggestion?
The objectives of the UK programme of international development, not only in practice, but in law, include the eradication of poverty and working to help people access their rights, especially in relation to the UN development goals. UK development money should not, and legally cannot, be used to prop up a foreign army.
No matter what that army claims the money will be used for. Especially when the core function of that army is to enforce the illegal military occupation, including the blockade of the Gaza Strip, considered by the UN to be a "dramatic humanitarian crisis".
Israel’s siege, occupation, and apartheid regime of control over Palestinians is the primary driver of large-scale and systematic poverty, suffering, and severe deprivation of Palestinian human rights.
Photo: Priti Patel, then secretary of state for international development, leaves Downing Street in June 2017 (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth)
The Israeli military commits daily violence against Palestinians, from regular military raids and attacks on Palestinian villages and refugee camps, use of military force against unarmed protestors, including "shoot to kill" policies, to extra-judicial killings and large-scale bombing campaigns.
In what world would this be a reasonable agent for international development or humanitarian aid?
Clearly in the worldview of Priti Patel and the Israeli government, which pumps money into propaganda depicting its occupation forces as "humanitarian" and "enlightened”.
Standard logic of colonialism
Israel didn’t invent this tactic, it is the standard logic of colonialism, which puts forward a view that the colonised and the oppressed should be grateful for their colonial saviours.
Of course, the suggestion that UK aid money should go to the Israeli military was rejected by the FCO and ultimately the prime minister, Theresa May, whose spokesman was forced to clarify that "The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army".
While it’s good that this comment was forced out, it hides the larger picture of regular UK exports of military equipment, technology and services, approved every single year by the UK government. And what’s more, Israeli weapons companies are awarded contracts by the MoD.
Erdan’s task force gloats openly about its programme of monitoring Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders in country, but also of BDS activists abroad
In essence, what Theresa May didn’t say, but should have, is "we don’t give the Israeli army money directly, we just treat them as a favoured trade partner, supporting them in much more lasting ways than simple cash".
One of Patel’s secret meetings in London was with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, and is responsible for the heavily funded Israeli government taskforce to fight the BDS movement.
Erdan was name-checked last year by Amnesty International for his role in Israeli government intimidation of human rights defenders, when he said that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists should be made to “pay the price” for their activism.
Erdan’s taskforce gloats openly about its programme of monitoring Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders in Israel, but also of BDS activists abroad.
Questions have been raised about why an international development secretary would be meeting such an official, but Patel is not the only one. Erdan has travelled to the UK multiple times, and meetings with him are a regular instalment of itineraries prepared by Conservative Friends of Israel.
Priti Patel & Israel's public security minister Gilad Erdan, Parliament 7 September. He wants to build more West Bank settlements, "to punish the Palestinians". pic.twitter.com/hVZVpVs126
— Vote Labour (@TheRichTurner) November 8, 2017
On 9 September 2016, Conservative Friends of Israel reported that Gilad Erdan visited the UK, meeting with Secretary of State for Department of Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, Joan Ryan MP (head of Labour Friends of Israel), Universities Minister Jo Johnson and several others.
Following Erdan’s meetings in London, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that concerns had been raised by a British organisation’s head who had been contacted by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs asking him to “use his connections to thwart” an unnamed pro-Palestinian campaign.
Again, Patel’s meeting with Erdan is a problem far beyond her breach of the ministerial code, or her individual actions. Alarm should be raised about any UK officials meeting with him when evidence shows that he is involved in intimidation of human rights activists in Israel, occupied Palestine and in the UK.
Time for an end to UK complicity with Israel's oppression of Palestinians, once and for all.
These issues are only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is deep collusion between the UK government and Israel’s government, which carries out such a well-documented and devastating regime of militarised repression.
While it was absolutely right for the Patel scandal to be scrutinised by the news media, once it dies down, it is on regular citizens and civil society to continue to expose and increase opposition to the scandal of the UK's complicity in Israel’s deception and abuse.
– Ryvka Barnard is senior campaigns officer on militarism and security at War on Want
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May (Reuters)