by Kevin Williamson
A recent meeting at Bute House between Alex Salmond and the UK’s Israeli ambassador, Daniel Taub, has only just come to light. Given the controversial nature of any official links with the pariah Israeli state the Scottish government felt it necessary to issue an explanatory statement:
“The First Minister held a courtesy meeting with the ambassador at Bute House on Tuesday of last week. The meeting was part of His Excellency’s first official visit to Scotland and a number of issues of mutual interest were discussed, including the situation in the Middle East and the Scottish Government’s support for international efforts to secure a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The First Minister also discussed with the Ambassador the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to tackle and eradicate all forms of religious and racial prejudice in Scotland, wherever it occurs and whoever the victims are.”
It is rare that an ambassadorial courtesy visit would be turned down, even with representatives of a universally reviled rogue state such as Israel. The problems with the visit came in its aftermath.
There seemed to be an agreed media blackout on the meeting. News only surfaced on Friday (2nd Nov) when the Israeli ambassador claimed in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle:
“”I gave the First Minister an update on the situation in the Middle East and shared with him my concerns about the elements of extreme hostility to Israel in parts of Scottish society.
“We also explored the possibility of co-operation between Israel and Scotland, particularly in the fields of business, technology, health and renewable energy.”
This last part goes way beyond the remit of a “courtesy visit” and, if true, would take the Scottish government into dangerous waters. There is an ongoing international campaign – supported by Bella Caledonia – calling for sanctions to be taken against the Israeli state and for a boycott of Israeli goods.
So who is telling the truth here: the Scottish government or the representatives of the Israeli state?
The Israeli state are masters of propaganda and spin. Every foreign visit and every cultural exchange is used to present a false picture of normalised international relations. In this respect Taub was using the visit to tell Jewish Chronicle readers: “Look, we are not international pariahs. The Scottish government wants to discuss trade links with us. This will help give us respectability among the international community.”
This is how Israeli state propaganda works. Time-served critics of the Israel-Palestine conflict have heard all this before. When it comes to claiming black-is-white the disinformation that comes out of the Israeli Ministry For Propaganda would make Pinocchio blush. They are strangers to the Torah’s 9th Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Yet, despite this, some on the Scottish left have taken the statements of the Israeli ambassador at face value, giving no credence to the Scottish Government’s summary of the meeting. Based on little more than an Israeli spinmeister’s comments, the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign issued a statement at the weekend headlined: ‘Salmond’s New U-Turn on Israel’. Their statement ended with the famous lines from Orwell’s Animal Farm about the pigs and humans being indistinguishable, alongside photographs of Tony Blair and Alex Salmond.
This comparison seems particularly loathsome when Tony Blair’s actions in the Middle East and Israel are set alongside those of Alex Salmond. It shouldn’t be necessary here to spell out the difference between two political track records. The words night and day come to mind. (The STV report lists some of the First Minster’s principled and humanitarian stands against Israeli aggression.)
What has further fanned the flames of controversy was a line in media reports claiming: “A follow-up meeting has been arranged between the Israeli embassy and enterprise minister Fergus Ewing.”
At this point alarm bells should quite rightly be ringing. If the Scottish government make any attempt to normalise trade relations between Israel and Scotland this would be a disastrous move,and one with repercussions. It would be extremely divisive within the Scottish Independence movement and correctly be seen as an unforgivable betrayal of the Palestinian people.
Yet there is no evidence of this. No Scottish government sources are given for this proposed meeting nor any stated agenda. The primary source for the Ewing meeting is, yet again, the Jewish Chronicle (1st Nov). The Scottish press only picked up on this later in the day which suggest the whole story has been promoted through Israeli PR departments. The lazy Scottish media, as so often happens, have simply regurgitated Israeli press releases.
On this tenuous basis the SPSC, without a shred of evidence to back up their claim, blustered that the Scottish Government are now “building trade with Israel against Palestinian BDS call.”
Regular readers of Bella Caledonia know we don’t do uncritical cheer-leading for either the Scottish Government or Alex Salmond. A wide-ranging inclusive movement for Independence needs friendly and critical dialogue. There was a fine example of that around the debate on NATO membership when both sides stood their ground, thrashed it out, and a democratic decision was arrived at within the SNP. As it happens Bella ended up on the losing side of that debate but we fought our corner. We’d expect the same sort of robust debate with the Independence movement should any Scottish government – present or future – attempt to develop trade links with Israel.
Support for self-determination for the Palestinian people, and opposition to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine are non-negotiable. This should be the principled position of our elected government too. It would be helpful if the Scottish Government set the record straight regarding the nature of any future discussions with the Israeli state.