This article titled “Priti Patel visited Israeli military hospital in Golan Heights, reports say – Politics live” was written by Andrew Sparrow (now) and Claire Phipps (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th November 2017 17.02 Asia/Kolkata
This is from my colleague Rafael Behr.
In the blog we have been referring to Yuval Rotem, whom Priti Patel met in New York in September, simply as “an Israeli foreign ministry official”. A reader has been in touch to point out that this rather understates his importance. He is director general at the ministry, the equivalent of permanent secretary, which means he’s the official in charge.
The Israeli defence forces field hospital that Priti Patel reportedly visited in the summer (see 9.58am) is being run under the auspices of an Israeli military medical aid effort that has assisted both wounded civilians as well as wounded rebel Syrian fighters, some of whom have been accused of being members of jihadi groups fighting the Assad regime.
Complicating Patel’s depiction of her visit to Israel in the summer as a private one was a reply given to a Guardian inquiry regarding her visit to the Golan Heights by an Israeli military spokesman, who strongly suggested Patel’s trip had been organised by the country’s ministry of foreign affairs.
In a text message to the Guardian, Major Jonathan Conricus, asked whether the Israeli military had facilitated the visit, declined to answer. But he added:
She visited Israel. Please refer to the MFA [ministry of foreign affairs] for details, since they organised the visit.
The new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, refused to directly answer questions about Patel’s future when he spoke to reporters on his way into a Nato summit in Brussels.
Asked if Patel should be sacked he said:
We are very much focused on talking about military matters here and that is what I’m going to be doing all day.
Asked if he advised May to sack Michael Fallon, he said:
The prime minister makes her own decision on who is serving in her cabinet, and they are only the prime minister’s decisions. She makes her own decisions and she always does make her own decisions.
Sir Craig Oliver, head of communications at Number 10 for David Cameron, thinks the Jewish Chronicle claims (see 10.39am), are very significant.
And Marcus Dysch, the Jewish Chronicle’s political editor, thinks his boss’s scoop raises a question about Theresa May’s future.
But Pollard is just saying that Number 10 knew at the start of this week about Priti Patel’s meeting Yuval Rotem, an Israeli foreign ministry official, in New York in September. Pollard is not saying that Downing Street knew about the other “new” meeting disclosed overnight, her meeting with Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister for public security, in the Commons in September. As Robert Peston (see 8.54am) and Peter Beaumont (see 9.32am) argue, this meeting is the more significant one.
But Number 10 may be on shakier ground if Pollard is right when he says that Patel had discussed her August meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, and her plan to divert aid spending through Israel, with Theresa May some weeks ago. PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield and BuzzFeed’s Emily Ashton explain why.
Stephen Pollard, the Jewish Chronicle editor, says that Priti Patel did tell Number 10 about her meeting with Yuval Rotem, the Israeli foreign ministry official, in New York in September. But the meeting was not included in the list of her meetings with Israeli ministers and officials published on Monday “as it would embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office”, Pollard writes.
DfID, the department for international development, aren’t commenting yet on the Haaretz story about Priti Patel visiting the Golan Heights while she was in Israel in the summer. (See 9.58am.) They will be saying something later, I’m told.
Here is Sir Christopher Meyer, a former ambassador to Washington, on Priti Patel.
Patel visited Israeli military hospital in Golan Heights, says Israeli media
The Israeli news organisation Haaretz reports today that when Priti Patel was in Israel, she visited an Israeli military field hospital in the Golan Heights. This was not included in the information she disclosed about her trip on Monday.
Haaretz says in its story:
Britain’s international development secretary Priti Patel is at the center of a political scandal that has emerged in recent days with information about a series of meetings she had with senior Israeli officials, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without notifying the British embassy in advance. The criticism is set to increase Wednesday as Haaretz found that Patel visited an Israeli military field hospital set up by in the Golan Heights to treat Syrian refugees and victims of the civil war …
Like the rest of the international community, the British government does not recognize Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the six-day war in 1967.
The diplomatic protocol is that British ministers and senior officials do not travel in the Golan, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, under the auspices of the Israeli government. Patel’s visit to the Israel defense forces field hospital in the Golan Heights as a guest of the Israeli government during her visit is a clear breach of protocol. Upon her return to London, Patel suggested that Britain help fund the field hospital’s operations.
Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP and, like Priti Patel, a prominent Vote Leave supporter, told the Today programme this morning that Patel had made “a genuine mistake”. He said:
I’m quite certain that Priti made a genuine, genuine mistake.
We need to recognise that a lot of ministers are not experienced in high office when they take on these roles and they need a lot of support. I see this as an accident, I don’t see this is as malign or malicious, though a very serious breach of the protocols, no doubt about that.
Of all the meetings that Priti Patel held with Israeli ministers and officials, the meetings with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, are the most unusual and potentially damaging. She met him on her visit to Israel in August, and again in September in London. (See 7.27am.)
Erdan, an ambitious and abrasive member of Netanyahu’s own right wing Likud party, is better known for working against the kind of human rights advocates familiar to DfID staffers from their work.
In his strategic affairs role Erdan in particular has displayed McCarthyite tendencies, expressing at one stage his desire to set up a database of Israeli citizens who are involved in promoting and supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movements against Israel or the settlements – a proposal that was opposed by the country’s attorney general Avichai Mendelblit who said he had no legal authority to collect data on the political views of Israelis.
A similar scheme targeting foreign nationals for intelligence gathering has been used to deny people entry to Israel.
In 2015 Erdan’s ministry was given powers including those to “guide, coordinate and integrate the activities of all the ministers and the government and of civil entities in Israel and abroad on the subject of the struggle against attempts to delegitimize Israel and the boycott movement”.
Among those who have fallen foul of Erdan’s ministry have been Isabel Phiri of Malawi, a senior official in the World Council of Churches who was detained arriving at Ben Gurion airport and deported.
Earlier this month Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International – some of whose international projects are supported by DfID – was prevented from crossing from Jordan into the West Bank. A spokeswoman for Israel’s interior ministry said Erdan had recommended he be denied entry.
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, today landed in Washington for two days of talks with senior Congressmen designed to shore up American political support for the Iran nuclear deal saying the deal had made the world a safer place.
His chief message to key figures such as Paul Ryan, the republican House leader, will be US and the UK together must together condemn, and possibly act against the wider destabilising behaviour of Iran across the Middle East, but that does not require abandoning the Iran nuclear deal.
US President Donald Trump refused to recertify the deal, handing responsibility to congress, and congress now has a month to decide how to respond, including whether to impose fresh sanctions.
Ahead of the round of meetings, Johnson said:
Supporting the nuclear deal does not mean we should not call out and take action against disruptive Iranian behaviour elsewhere, including its ballistic missile programme and the unjustified detention of British dual-nationals. However, it is vital that we do not conflate the issues on which we should rightly condemn Iran and a deal which is neutralising the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
It took thirteen years of tireless diplomacy between the UK, US, our European partners and Iran to make the world a safer place. Now is not the moment to put that at risk but rather it is time for the US and UK to draw on the strength of our relationship and to focus on addressing Iran’s destabilising activity in the region.
Tory MP claims campaign against Patel part of plot to reverse Brexit
Priti Patel might be in a marginally stronger position if Tory MPs were coming out to defend her. But generally they are not. When Alistair Burt, her deputy, was in the Commons answering an urgent question about her conduct yesterday, none of the Conservative backbenchers who stood up to ask a question gave her their full backing.
But on Newsnight last night on Tory did speak up for her. Nadhim Zahawi, a member of the foreign affairs committee and, like Patel, an enthusiastic Brexiter, said the campaign against her was all a plot go up by remoaners. He told the programme:
Israel is one of our closest partners. This is not an enemy state that she somehow was having clandestine meetings with. The Foreign Office knew during the trip that she was having these meetings. Yes, the ambassador should have been there. She’s already admitted the mistake of not following procedure and apologised for it.
I somehow feel that some of this stuff is being drummed up because both Priti and the foreign secretary are big beasts in the Brexit campaign and some Labour remoaners and others think, if we take out some of these beasts and derail the government, then maybe we can actually do a U-turn on Brexit.
Speculation about who might replace Priti Patel as international development secretary has already started. Sky’s Adam Boulton has two very credible candidates.
And here is the Labour MP Chris Byrant, a former Foreign Office minister, on the Priti Patel affair.
Here is Douglas Carswell, the former Ukip MP, on the Priti Patel affair.
In a post on his Facebook page, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston says Priti Patel is “set to be sacked” and he has fresh information about her September meeting with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security meeting, which helps to explain why. Peston says:
The meeting which looks to have done for her was with Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan on September 7.
What is most shocking about this meeting is that it had been declined on her behalf by her department officials. But unbeknownst to them, it was then fixed up by her constituency office.
None of her officials attended it. The meeting was not minuted or recorded. The only other Briton present was the businessman and honorary presidential of Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak.
If this had been isolated freelancing with a foreign government by Patel she might keep her job.
It wasn’t and she won’t.
Alex Wickham, who works for the Guido Fawkes website, has posted a link to the flightradar website website showing tracking the plane that he thinks Priti Patel is on as she flies back to London.
Priti Patel flying back to UK after being summoned by Theresa May
Good morning. I’m Andrew Sparrow and I’m taking over from Claire.
The Press Association has just snapped this.
International development secretary Priti Patel is flying back to Britain from Africa at the request of Theresa May, Whitehall sources said.
The Telegraph’s economics correspondent Anna Isaac, who is travelling on the Uganda trip with Liam Fox and (at least in theory) Priti Patel, says the international development secretary did not board the plane this morning from Nairobi to Entebbe as planned.
It’s not clear whether Theresa May has spoken to Patel since the further revelations last night of two more undisclosed meetings – after the international development secretary had been hauled in front of the prime minister to account for her earlier omissions.
It’s also still not yet clear precisely where Patel is. She was due to be in Uganda with international trade secretary Liam Fox. But now it seems likely that she did not make it to Entebbe as planned, and might even be on her way back to London already.
Labour peer Charles Falconer has told the Today programme that Patel must “definitely” be sacked – and that the fact Israel is an ally makes no difference:
She should not be colluding with a foreign government … It means she’s not part of a collective government trying to do the best for Britain … It’s appalling.
Tory MP Crispin Blunt, on the same programme, unsurprisingly trod more cautiously, saying:
It’s a matter for the prime minister.
Blunt said the meetings could be put down to “naivety or inexperience … or in her own explanation, enthusiasm. The obvious flaw in that position should have been known to her.”
Sky News is now reporting – which I can’t yet confirm – that Patel is on her way back to London.
Nairobi to London is an eight-and-a-half-hour flight time. That’s quite a long spell to have your phone on airplane mode …
Did Priti Patel even make it to Uganda? The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports not, saying she stayed overnight in Nairobi, Kenya – and could be heading back to London already.
This hasn’t been confirmed.
While Priti Patel currently occupies the “most likely to leave the cabinet today” position, Boris Johnson’s behaviour also remains under the spotlight.
The foreign secretary yesterday continued to insist that his words had been misunderstood when he told the foreign affairs select committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a British-Iranian woman serving a five-year jail sentence in Iran – was “simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it”.
The Iranian judiciary has used those words to pursue further charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, now says she wants to meet Johnson, who has so far not met her or her family.
As my colleague Jessica Elgot points out, one of Patel’s newly disclosed unsanctioned meetings – on 7 September, with Gilad Erdan, the Israeli public security minister – was tweeted out by Erdan himself on that date:
The problem for Patel, of course, is that this meeting – one of 14, it now turns out, with Israeli officials – did not follow protocol and fellow ministers were not notified.
The admission by the Department for International Development (DfID) on Tuesday night about the September meetings further undermined Patel’s earlier insistence that she had come clean about all her unofficial business with Israeli officials:
On 7 September, she met Gilad Erdan, the minister for public security, and was photographed with him on the House of Commons terrace.
On 18 September, while in New York, Patel met Yuval Rotem, an official from the Israeli foreign ministry.
Neither meeting was set up or reported in a way which accorded with proper procedures, sources said.
Patel had already faced censure from Downing Street on Tuesday night, after it emerged she had failed to inform the prime minister of departmental discussions over plans to send aid money to the Israeli army to support humanitarian operations in the Golan Heights.
She was also rebuked by No 10 after giving the false impression in an interview with the Guardian that foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office knew about the meetings.
At 13 out of a total of 14 meetings with Israeli officials over August and September, she was accompanied by Lord Polak, a lobbyist and a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel.
No 10 on Tuesday said Patel had not informed the prime minister about the “aid to Israel” discussions at a crunch meeting on Monday which was supposed to draw a line under the row.
Instead, May learned about the proposals from reports in the media, a Downing Street source said.
Read our full report here:
The BBC’s Norman Smith reports that Patel’s scheduled events for this morning – she’s currently on a trip to Uganda with international trade secretary Liam Fox – have been cancelled:
An early start for the politics live blog today, which for under-pressure Priti Patel – according to some reports – could be her last as a member of this cabinet.
Patel, the international development secretary, is in Uganda with international trade secretary Liam Fox. But attention is instead on Israel, where Patel held 12 undisclosed meetings with senior officials – including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – during an unusually busy family holiday to the country in Israel.
Late on Tuesday night, it emerged that Patel had two further meetings in September without notifying fellow ministers. And in 13 of those 14 meetings, she was accompanied by Lord Polak, a lobbyist and a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel – something the Times reported would be a further breach of the ministerial code.
Amid reports this morning that Patel’s timetabled events in Uganda have been cancelled, the political Twitter consensus is that Patel is now breakfast toast:
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