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The rights and wrongs of Jewish ambassadors and Paul Flynn

John Mann, chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, has said that Paul Flynn MP should “start preparing for his retirement” for, allegedly, suggesting that Matthew Gould is an inappropriate British ambassador to Israel because he is Jewish. If Paul Flynn did say that, which we doubt, it would indeed be a serious matter. It would be absolutely wrong to suggest that a Jew (or indeed anyone else) should be barred from any post because of their religion or ethnicity. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia “working definition of antisemitism” (which is widely used though by no means universally accepted) is right to argue that “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations” is an example of antisemitism.

However, as well as verifying whether Paul Flynn did in fact say what is alleged, it is also worth noting that a conference on the “delegitimization of Israel” in Manchester last Sunday, “the Big Tent for Israel“, did include a workshop at which former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons spoke, which, in its title, asserted that “every Jew is an Ambassador for Israel“. Many Jews would disagree, including, we presume, Matthew Gould, or there really would be a conflict of interest. Indeed, many Jews (whatever their stance on Zionism in principle) would resent the presumption. After all, according to a large survey last year, most British Jews are critical of key aspects of Israeli policy:

  • Two-thirds (67%) favour giving up territory for peace with the Palestinians, including 62% of self-described Zionists;
  • Almost three-quarters (74%) are opposed to the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank (70% of Zionists);
  • A large majority (78%) favours a two-state solution;
  • Just over half (52%) think that Israel should negotiate with Hamas.

An earlier survey predicted that Israel would become decreasingly central to the Anglo-Jewish community, Zionism increasingly irrelevant as Israel became less a source of unity and more a source of division within the community.

Returning to Paul Flynn, what he said publicly — at the Public Administration select committee — has been a matter of public record including on Paul Flynn’s own blog for a whole week. The issue he was concerned about was not about Matthew Gould’s loyalties to British interests or his suitability as an Ambassador but about his involvement with Messrs Fox and Verrity (with whom he had several meetings) and their American neo-con agenda, in particular with respect to  the slide to war with Iran. Indeed, if Liam Fox whilst in Cabinet could be said to have been defining British “interests”, you could say that Paul Flynn’s implication is that Mr Gould might be serving them rather well.

Although Flynn did say that “the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist“, he did so in the course of outlining two accusations made by others about Gould, which he did not necessarilly endorse. Firstly to outline the suggestion already published by the Daily Mail that Gould was involved with an under-cover Fox-Werritty agenda:

Last night there were also concerns over the role played by Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, who held a series of meetings with Dr Fox and Mr Werritty. The Foreign Office confirmed for the first time that Mr Gould had spoken to the two men while Dr Fox was a Shadow Defence spokesman and before Mr Gould was appointed to Tel Aviv last year. Dr Fox has already been censured for inviting Mr Werritty to a meeting with Mr Gould when he was Defence Secretary. Mr Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran and has made several visits. He has also met senior Israeli officials, leading to accusations that he was close to the country’s secret service, Mossad.

And secondly, an accusation made by two of Flynn’s constituents, Pippa Bartolotti (who had stoof against Flynn for the Green Party) and Joyce Giblin:

When they were briefly imprisoned in Israel, they met the ambassador, and they strongly believe—it is nothing to do with this case at all—that he was serving the interest of the Israeli Government, and not the interests of two British citizens.

This was the origin of the Jewish Chronicle’s article this morning. Nowhere did Flynn presume that Jews were Zionists, or suggest that Jews were unsuitable to act as British Ambassadors.  It was Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow who at the Select Committee accused Flynn of “implying that the British ambassador to Israel is working for a foreign power” – an accusation denied, and a denial accepted by the Committee chair.

Is it a coincidence that Robert Halfon was Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel prior to becoming an MP, and the funding for Fox and Werritty came from so many of the same sources as the funding of the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre? Who knows for sure? But I certainly wouldn’t rush to condemn Paul Flynn (who describes himself as “a friend of Israel”). John Mann, who is an honest man, was too quick to do so. Others have followed, often with more exaggerated accusations than the last. Harry’s Place, for example, suggests Flynn had said that “Jews who supported Jewish self-determination were disloyal to Britain“. Ed Miliband, too, commented before checking what Flynn had said. And if it comes down to Paul Flynn’s word against a JC reporter, I’d believe Paul Flynn.

Matthew Gould is Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel. Interestingly, he is not Britain’s first Jewish top diplomat in Israel/Palestine. That was Herbert Samuel who was Britain’s High Commissioner from 1920 -25 as well as Leader of the Liberal Party. According to Bernard Wasserstein, his biographer:

He is remembered kindly neither by the majority of Zionist historians, who tend to regard him as one of the originators of the process whereby the Balfour Declaration in favour of Zionism was gradually diluted and ultimately betrayed by Great Britain, nor by Arab nationalists who regard him as a personification of the alliance between Zionism and British imperialism and as one of those responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian Arabs from their homeland. In fact, both are mistaken… The Zionists gravely under-estimate the degree and significance of Samuel’s commitment to their ideal; the Arab nationalists the extent to which Samuel, almost alone at the time among British statesmen or Zionists, perceived the reality and force of Arab opposition to Zionism, and based his policy on an awareness of the need to come to terms with rather than repress or merely ignore that opposition.

Sounds like he was working for the British anyway.

10 Comments

  1. Murray Freedman says:

    The tenor of Flynn’s comments implies that because Gould is a Jew, he has divided loyalties.

    Would Flynn have the nerve to suggest the same about public servants of other ethnic minorities, a black, Muslim or a Sikh?

    I suspect not, and therein lies the problem. Increasingly, the left have taken it upon themselves to decide what is or is not anti-Semitic.

    The Livingston Doctrine of accusing the accusers of effectively using the race card, is a cynical and dishonest ploy to allow racists to say whatever they like and then of invoking the ‘doctrine’ thus demeaning the accusers and refuting any accusation of racism.

    The left used to be a bastion of anti racism right across the spectrum. No longer.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Murray: I don’t know wht you mean by “tenor” — as opposed to the words Flynn used. But I certainly don’t agree that what he said in public implies “that because Gould is a Jew, he has divided loyalties.” He was actually paraphrasing what accusations had been made by others anyway, including the Daily Mail. What he may or may not have said to a Jewish Chronicle journalist is more difficult to gauge because no-one else was party to the conversation. I am, however, inclined to believe Flynn.

      It is noteworthy that Robert Halfon MP who writes in this week’s Jewish Chronicle about his “shock” at Flynn’s comments at the select committee, also says “I do not believe for one moment that Mr Flynn is antisemitic“. This hardly seems to justify the JC‘s headline: “a shocking outburst of prejudice“.

      As to your suggestion that “the left used to be a bastion of anti racism right across the spectrum. No longer”: I think the Left aims to be anti-racist but some people on the Left do indeed sometimes cross the line from criticism of Israeli policy or anti-zionism to antisemitism. That should be challenged wherever it occurs. However, in my view, charges of antisemitism are also made in many instances where they are not justified, and sometimes deliberately so in order to deflect legitimate criticism of Israeli policy.

  2. Soupy says:

    So what is your conclusion? Flynn was in the wrong? We can’t be sure? Or that it is not important? Which?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Soupy: Of course antisemitism is important but I don’t believe Paul Flynn was antisemitic in his public remarks and I am inclined to believe Mr Flynn’s version of what he said to the Jewish Chronicle by way of explanation. I can’t be sure but I do believe that Paul Flynn should be treated as innocent until and unless proven guilty.

  3. MattWales says:

    “What he may or may not have said to a Jewish Chronicle journalist is more difficult to gauge because no-one else was party to the conversation. ”

    I was unaware that most journalist were required to only conduct interviews with a crowd around them, is there something specific about JC journo’s that makes anything they report instantly open to question?

    Flynn on the other hand has a track record of opening his mouth before his brain has fired up, why is he more reliable?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Sadly, some journalists are capable of misinterpretation, exaggeration and even making things up and lying. I think that Paul Flynn has a record of speaking his mind honestly, and sometimes on issues which other politicians ignore (like drugs policy). He has no history of antisemitism or even anti-zionism. Tory MP Robert Halfon, who raised objections in the first place nevertheless does not believe he is antisemitic. All good reasons to believe Paul Flynn.

  4. MattWales says:

    “Sadly, some journalists are capable of misinterpretation, exaggeration and even making things up and lying.”

    Thats a bit like saying some politicians are antisemites so Paul flynn must be too.

    This is really very poor, you’ve just insinuate this journalist could be a liar without a shred of proof, i can only assume this is done in the desperation of knowing Flynn really doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    Unless of course you do have proof of this journalist being dishonest?

    I have a feeling you dont.

  5. Soupy says:

    Jon,

    Two points:

    1. I got that, you didn’t think it was much of an issue, but could I *please* suggest, that next, when an issue of anti-Jewish racism comes up, that instead of almost automatically making a reference to Israel that the background to the very nature of the issue is explained to your Labour readers.

    Readers who might not be terribly familiar with the motifs and subtleties of anti-Jewish racism.

    By that I mean, it is perfectly possible to say something like:

    1) this is what Flynn said
    2) this what he might have meant to say
    3) this is how it sounded
    4) this is where such an accusation could be meant to be racist because…..

    A more analytical approach is needed.

    Most people in Britain get (or understanding part) racist imagery towards the Irish, Blacks and Asians.

    But, even on the Left, there is a poverty of debate towards analysing peculiar outbursts (remember Tam Dayall) and how they *might* be perceived as racist, or actually are.

    And until there is a relatively sophisticated approach to analysing this phenomena the debate is rather low level.

    2. Can I suggest that someone, even a politician, could inadvertently invoke an inappropriate image, without being an ‘antisemite’, in much the way someone could make an unfortunate remark about the Irish or Blacks without being told that he is a died in the wool racist.

    There are degrees of stupidity, racism and those that embody it.

    I think it would be far better if people remarked “that idea is racist, because…” rather than personalising it. Because when you call someone antisemite there is no room for manoeuvre.

    There is no doubt, you are then suggesting this person has views on a similar basis to David Duke, who incidentally is a professional antisemite and if that’s not what you mean then you need to choose your words more carefully, and reserve the title of antisemite for someone who has persistent views in that area.

    Anyone who hasstudied this area will tell you that unrelenting antisemites, the real thing, go on and on and on, it is one of the characteristics which enable us to spot them (remember Jenny Tonge?), they are continually hung up on Jews.

    In short, I think we should be more careful with language, to do otherwise is to debase it as a currency of communication.

    PS: Does anyone have a video clip of the Sir Gus O’Donnell questioning in the Public Administration Committee? Or the transcript?

    I can’t see it on the PASC web site? I would like to read/see Flynn’s comment as he spoke them.

  6. Soupy says:

    OK, found the transcript (apologies for the source, Craig Murray!):

    http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2011/11/gould-werritty-a-real-conspiracy-not-a-theory/

    Not terribly good for Flynn.

    My bet is that he’s fairly ignorant around the troublesome issue of “dual loyalty” and racism, but can’t admit it.

    Still, his use of “Neocon” is, er, unhelpful….I hope that he or his researcher look it up and how it is sometimes use as a synonym, then realise the issue.

    I suspect a case of foot in mouth, Flynn had better ask some of his “best friends” to explain these issues to him, at length and conceivably he might understand why that exchange was problematic.

  7. Soupy says:

    I might have to revise my previous charitable views, in light of new information:

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/martinbright/7454318/jewish-divided-loyalty-the-old-lie.thtml

    Doesn’t look good for Flynn.

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