Claims that major UK parties are being improperly influenced
Covert Israeli government involvement in UK politics was exposed during January with the revelation that MPs in both Conservative and Labour parties were being targeted for special treatment in one form or another.
The news that attempts were being made to smear a government minister considered to have a less than friendly attitude towards Israel came hard on the heels of a baffling diplomatic row between Downing Street and the outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry over both countries’ attitudes towards the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land.
The story that the Netanyahu government was attempting improperly to influence MPs and their supporters broke when the Mail on Sunday publicised research from Al-Jazeera UK which had an undercover reporter charting the activities of an Israeli embassy official in London, Shai Masot.
Covert filming showed him discussing with a then UK civil servant (who has since resigned) how to ‘take down’ Tory Deputy Foreign Secretary Sir Alan Duncan who has been outspoken in opposing illegal Israeli settlement building.
Masot, who has now been sent home to Israel by his political masters, also boasted of setting up groups, one of which was aimed at Labour Party young members, to ensure they had positive views of Israeli policy towards Palestinians.
While Downing Street attempted to draw a line under the Alan Duncan issue, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was having none of it. She demanded a government enquiry into what she called a “national security issue”. The allegations suggested improper interference in UK affairs and the government should determine its extent and demand that it be brought to an end.
An unnamed Tory former minister, writing in the Mail on Sunday, was even blunter, stating: “British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics and those in authority have ignored what is going on.”
Further revelations from the covert Al-Jazeera footage showed Masot claiming that “for years”, every new Labour MP that was elected joined the organisation Labour Friends of Israel, but this didn’t happen nowadays, which was causing concern. On the other hand, he claimed, new Tory MPs were still being enrolled in Conservative Friends of Israel. He also claimed that £1million was available to meet the cost of taking MPs on “fact finding” trips to Israel.
More information came to light when Al-Jazeera English aired the information on its own channel on January 15. Covert filming also showed the chair of LFI, Joan Ryan MP at last year’s party conference refusing to answer a question from a woman party member concerning the illegal settlements. The woman subsequently received an official communication from the Labour Party claiming that she had made anti-semitic comments in an intimidating manner which, as the secret filming showed, was certainly not the case.
News of the Israeli embassy official’s activities came following the extraordinary row that broke out after the UN Security Council voted in December to call on Israel to stop building illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian land. The US, which usually vetoes any UN resolution criticising Israel, abstained and the resolution was passed by 14 votes to nil. Britain voted in favour of the resolution and then Downing Street issued a confusing statement criticising John Kerry’s comments in which he set out a detailed account of US policy towards Israel, including the illegal settlement issue.
The State Department hit back at Downing Street pointing out that US and UK policy towards Israel was invariably the same. It was also mystifying why the UK, which actually voted against Israel in the Security Council, should be criticising the US which only went as far as to abstain.
Was the Downing Street statement a symptom of more undue pressure being brought by the Netanyahu Government, albeit too late to influence the vote?
We look forward to more revelations from the Al-Jazeera investigations. In the meantime the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has launched a petition calling for an official enquiry into the actions of the Israeli embassy in the Masot affair. The petition can be signed via the PCS website at:
We have been given a few items which are too good to be put up for sale at either a garage sale or a fair. Is there anyone amongst our readers who is willing and able to put these items on Ebay for us? It would bring in some welcome money to support the printing of this newsletter and to pay expenses of speakers etc.
If you can help us out in this way please get in touch with me - Maggie Rees - on 020 8549 0086 or email Maggie at galdor.co.uk. Thank you
Newly appointed Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres issued a New Year message saying “Let’s make 2017 a year for peace”.
Here is his message in full:
When I was growing up reading history books as a young student, it seemed all wars had a winner. Yet in today’s wars, it is increasingly clear that no one wins. Everyone loses.
Look no further than the horrifying bloodshed in Syria. A conflict in one country is creating instability on a global scale. Years of brutal fighting have brought chaos to an entire region, with tremors felt around the world. Decades of economic development have been reversed. Millions more children and young people are vulnerable to the cycle of dispossession, underdevelopment, radicalization and conflict.
Around the world, conflicts have become more complex and interlinked—producing gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. People are fleeing their homes on a scale not seen for decades. Global terrorism threatens every region. Meanwhile, climate change, population growth, rapid urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity are adding to the tensions and instability.
The greatest shortcoming of the international community today is its failure to prevent conflict and maintain global security. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have called for a surge in diplomacy for peace and appealed for 2017 to be a year for peace.
Preventing conflict means going back to basics—strengthening institutions and building resilient societies. Since so many conflicts emerge from disenfranchisement and marginalization, it means putting respect for human rights at the center of national and international policy. It means protecting and empowering women and girls, one of the most important steps in sustainable development.
Where wars are already raging, we need mediation, arbitration and creative diplomacy backed by all countries with influence. Members of the UN Security Council must live up to their responsibilities. The United Nations—and I, personally—will be ready to engage in conflict resolution wherever and whenever we can add value.
Looking forward, we must make sure countries do not even set off on the path of instability and conflict, but settle their differences peacefully, benefiting people and the planet.
The UN has taken important strides to achieve this in recent years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders two years ago, is a blueprint for making our world more equitable, sustainable and livable.
To implement this plan—and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals—we need to broaden the circle of action to include governments, bilateral and international organizations, and international financial institutions. Partnerships with civil society, the business community and others are critical to success.
I am also committed to make sure the UN system is reformed and united to provide the development support to member states needed to achieve these goals.
For the UN to achieve its full purpose and potential, it too must change. It is time for us to recognize shortcomings and reform the way we work.
First, we must bring greater coherence and consistency to our efforts to build and maintain peace. Too often, UN peacekeepers face an impossible task in countries that are still at war and where there is no real peace to keep.
Greater conceptual clarity and a shared understanding of the scope of peacekeeping must pave the way for urgent reforms that create a continuum from conflict prevention and resolution to peacekeeping, peacebuilding and development.
Second, we need to reform the UN’s internal management through simplification, decentralization and flexibility. The United Nations must focus on delivery rather than process; and on people rather than bureaucracy. I am committed to building a culture of accountability, strong performance management and effective protection for whistleblowers.
Gender parity is also pivotal. I intend to make sure women take their rightful place at senior levels in the UN, and to create a clear roadmap with benchmarks and time frames to recruit more women at all levels of the organization.
But these vital reforms will depend on trust between leaders, people and institutions - both national and international. We must move beyond the mutual fear that is driving decisions and attitudes around the world. It is time for leaders to listen and show that they care about their own people, and about the global stability and solidarity on which we all depend.
It is time for all of us to remember the values of our common humanity, the values that are fundamental to all religions and that form the basis of the UN Charter: peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity.
All those with power and influence have a particular responsibility to recommit to these ideals. We face enormous global challenges. They can be solved only if we work together.
Pro-Palestinian campaigners are taking the Government to court over law preventing local authorities from boycotting companies involved in Israel’s human rights violations.
Whitehall amended the rules governing Local Government Pensions Schemes (LGPS) last October to make clear that it considered using pensions and procurement to boycott or divest from foreign allies ‘inappropriate’.
The move was designed to prevent councils joining the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) which aims to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, its siege of Hamas-controlled Gaza and discrimination against Israeli Arabs.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) - with the support of War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade - is challenging the Government’s procurement restrictions in court, arguing they pose a threat to freedom of expression and the right of pension holders to invest/divest funds.
They also argue the restrictions amount to Westminster overreach into local government affairs.
“The right to call for and practice BDS in all arenas is guaranteed by the right to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience,” said Hugh Lanning, chair of the PSC.
“Local democracy is undermined when central government clamps down on people’s abilities to diverge from or disagree with UK foreign policy and the defence industry,” he said.
“There is no legitimate reason why the Government should prevent people with local government pensions from being able to divest and invest exactly as they wish.
“These regulations are part of a larger pattern of attempts by the government to delegitimise BDS. We are concerned that these new measures limit our fundamental freedoms.”
Wide-ranging discussion at pre-Christmas meeting
A wide-ranging information paper presented to the CND National Council covered issues which the world was currently facing and upon which campaigners could direct efforts in the year ahead. The paper was co-authored by Nigel Norman and Carol Turner on behalf of London CND.
Here is a selection of the issues raised:
In the 21st century we still face the threat of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. We also face new challenges from unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), cyber war, non-lethal weapons and a new technology of mass surveillance.
By comparison with nuclear weapons, it is sometimes argued that the effects of these new and emerging weapons are ‘inconsequential’. Some of the ‘non-lethal’ technologies have been billed as casualty-reducing and therefore more ‘humane’. Here are some of the reasons why CND should think about these new technologies.
After the 9/11 attacks, the ‘homeland defense’ industries really took off, with massive increases in budgets and contracts for all kinds of defence systems. The ‘black’ Pentagon budget for secret projects was said to be $34billon in 2009. Drone warfare became a frontline tool in the US armoury. Global Hawks, Predators and Reaper drones are now commonly in use by US and UK forces in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and beyond.
The arguments against drones have been widely debated and centre on legality and civilian casualties – innocent lives have been lost due to a technology which is not as precise as its advocates claim. In common with other new technologies it allows the perpetrator to inflict death, damage and distress in secrecy, at a distance and with no risk to themselves. There are no laws, conventions or rules for the use of drones by state or non-state actors.
We in CND should further note:
Cyber attacks cover a wide spectrum from nuisance, disruption, and theft to destructive, state-sponsored attacks. The latter could cause large-scale civilian casualties if they targeted nuclear power plants, transport systems, and critical infrastructure. The 1998 US-Israeli Stuxnet virus was able to cause great damage to Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.
Only major attacks make the headlines. We do not know, for example, how many CND members and other activists have suffered theft of data, disruption, or changes in content of messages and data. States have set up military cyber units to engage in war and other operations. There are no conventions or protocols about the use of cyber weapons.
It was also pointed out how cyber warfare affects nuclear weapons:
The women of Greenham Common are rightly praised for their courage and determination to oppose cruise missiles in the 1980s. It is often forgotten the harassment and violence which they suffered. One aspect of this was to subject them to a primitive form of ‘non-lethal’ weapon. The former radar technician and Greenham supporter, Kim Besly documented this.
Non-lethal weapons include acoustic, electrical, directed energy and chemical compounds. The extent of their usage and their effects both mental and physical are largely unresearched. They may have implications for the management of safety-critical systems such as nuclear power stations. Much work on these weapons is likely to have been done behind a cloak of military and commercial secrecy, where the normal rules of scientific procedure are not applied.
CND has experienced the effects of surveillance . In 1986 Cathy Massiter blew the whistle and revealed the full extent of phone-tapping, mail interference and disruption which leading and ordinary CND members were suffering. The revolution in information and communication technology (ICT) has brought in powers of surveillance – and harassment – which could not have been predicted then.
Edward Snowden showed that the American and British security services were jointly monitoring the lives and electronic communications of millions of their own citizens, through operations such as Tempora and Prism. The Investigatory Powers Act in the UK has ‘legalised’ the situation. Modern surveillance is justified by the intention of ‘preventing terrorism’. It is likely that peace and other campaigners will be targets.
CND’s message is straightforward: in the world we live in our own security is bound up with that of our supposed enemies. ‘National interest’ is not plausible in a nuclear armed world. We need to discuss how to work in the environment of new and emerging weapons, and highlight the vulnerabilities in our publications. And we need to join with others to argue for updating laws, treaties and conventions regulating the new weapons technologies.
Call for concerted action before UN sessions in March
Representatives from more than 20 organisations, including medical, scientific, faith and women's groups; university departments and think tanks; and local, national and international campaigns gathered in London in mid December to discuss how to make the most of the few months leading up to ban treaty negotiations due to begin in March at the UN. The meeting was organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
On 27 October 2016, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution L.41 to convene negotiations in 2017 on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The voting result was 123 nations in favour and 38 against (including of course the UK), with 16 abstentions.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the ban treaty conference will be held at the UN in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017. ICAN will be holding a meeting in New York the weekend before the conference to set out the organisation’s strategy, advocacy, communications and media plans.
ICAN member Matt Hawkins gave a presentation about using the media to attract public attention in coming months on the subject of the UN conference, including a ‘Where’s Boris?’ campaign to highlight the fact that the British Foreign Secretary will not be at the negotiations.
CND may organise a lobby of Parliament while, since the ICAN meeting, Anne Scott from Scottish Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has given notice of a new petition calling for a Parliamentary debate on UK participation in the negotiations. The petition can be found at:
The ICAN meeting heard from Scottish campaigners about their efforts to get a voice for pro-ban Scotland at the negotiations. Especially post-Brexit, the Scottish First Minister is increasingly speaking on issues that would previously have been considered outside her remit, and an interesting precedent was set when pro-ban Ireland recently spoke on behalf of Scotland. There was a warning however that the ban negotiations, like so many other issues, may become overshadowed by Brexit.
Faith group campaigners spoke about how the work they do together, interfaith, is as important as efforts targeted at specific religious institutions. The meeting discussed the need to engage faith organisations through their grassroots members as well as via the leadership - an approach that applies to other spheres as well. There will be an interfaith side event at the NPT conference in Vienna in May.
Scientific and medical campaigners told of some success recently in getting letters published in The Telegraph newspaper signed by senior and high profile members of their respective professions. It was agreed that more still needs to be done in the UK to stigmatise nuclear weapons by highlighting the catastrophic medical and environmental damage they cause.
There was also discussion on the need to continue raising awareness of the cost, safety, risk and local arguments e.g. using the resources provided by the Nukes of Hazard convoys campaign and divestment project Don't Bank on the Bomb <http://www.dontbankonthebomb.com/> , which has just published its latest report for 2016. An angle that does not often come up was raised, namely the economic impact of the use of nuclear weapons.
The role of victims was discussed, including giving a voice to survivors and advocating support for a Hibakusha Appeal for a Nuclear Ban Treaty. The treaty will likely contain provision for victim assistance and ICAN will be contacting friends at the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association to ask if they are able to send any representatives to the negotiations.
On the subject of reaching out to other NGOs the meeting welcomed Martin Butcher representing Oxfam International, and heard about how Amnesty International is also getting involved in the ban treaty movement. Now would be a good time to contact local Amnesty, Oxfam and Greenpeace groups to engage their grassroots supporters.
The message that goes forward from the conference is that, whilst emphasising that the UK should participate in good faith with ban treaty negotiations and criticising the government's failure to do so up until now, it is also important to point out that the treaty will go ahead with or without us. The strategy of STIGMATISE - BAN - ELIMINATE has the potential to change the culture and status of nuclear weapons, challenging not just their legality but their legitimacy. The emphasis was to keep the messaging positive and upbeat as this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make real progress towards a world free from nuclear weapons.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND