Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today there was “no justification whatever” for Israeli reports he had made anti-Semitic comments last week.
Several Israeli news sources reported the claims of former Knesset member Einat Wilf on her Facebook page that Straw had talked of “ ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] in the US.”
Her claim made it into Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday, spun with the headline: “Ex-UK FM: Jewish money biggest obstacle to Mideast peace.”
In a statement emailed to The Electronic Intifada by a spokesperson, Straw said:
There have been reports that [Wilf] claimed I had embarked upon an “anti-Semitic rant,” I note that she did not use that term in her Facebook posting, although she is reported as saying that my remarks, “reflect prejudice of the worst kind.”
In any event there is no justification whatever for such claims, arising from my remarks at this seminar, or on any other occasion.
I am not remotely anti-Semitic. Quite the reverse. I have all my life strongly supported the State of Israel, and its right to live in peace and security.
In the statement, Straw said that at the meeting on Tuesday he had “pointed out that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a player in domestic US politics, on the Republican side, and that under US political funding rules (or their absence) huge sums were spent by AIPAC in support of some elected politicians (or candidates), and against others.”
Straw contrasted this with “the rules in the UK, where spending is tightly controlled” saying that he talked about AIPAC in his memoir, which “quoted from the critical study … by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.”
He also had condemned illegal Israeli settlements: “I said that this amounted to ‘theft’ of Palestinians’ land … the EU needed to take a tougher stand on this (and on the related issue of goods exported from the Occupied Territories by Israelis).”
Straw also addressed Germany’ position on settlements:
one of the difficulties in gaining EU agreement for this [tougher stand] has, in the past, been the attitude of Germany, who for understandable reasons have been reluctant to be out of line with the government of Israel. That said, I think I noted that the EU’s attitude had changed, and there are now restrictions imposed by the EU on goods from the settlements.
Straw’s statement concludes:
None of this is “anti-Semitic.” There are plenty of people in Israel who take a similar view to me – not least (as I do) because they believe that the current approach of the government of Israel will weaken the position of the state of Israel in the medium and long-term.
The comments in question were made in a meeting room in the British Parliament on 22 October, at a roundtable organized by the Global Diplomatic Forum which Straw and Wilf both addressed. The Palestinian Authority’s ambassador in London Manuel Hassassian also shared the platform.
A spokesperson for the Forum told me today that Parliamentary rules meant that no video or audio recording of the event was taken. She said that the Froum would publish its usual report on the event by Wednesday (although it would not be a verbatim transcript).
Einat Wilf is a former member of parliament for Israel’s Labor party, and for its right-wing “Independence” faction (split from Labor by suspected war criminal Ehud Barak until it failed to contest the last elections).
Since leaving the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) Wilf has focused on Israeli propaganda efforts overseas. While she was still an MK she told The Jerusalem Post that she saw such efforts as a “battle”:
the arena is no longer the Sinai Desert or international terrorism, but has moved to international forums: courts and the new media … we have not gone sufficiently on the offense in terms of agenda … we don’t come up with our own initiatives.
Was this accusation Wilf’s idea of such a PR “initiative”?
We’re used to hearing groundless accusations from Palestinian envoys but I thought British diplomats, including former ones, were still capable of a measure of rational thought.
Straw’s fairly timid comments against Israeli settlements fits a growing pattern of European Union political figures making incredibly mild comments against limited aspects of Israel’s occupation policies and still being jumped on by Israeli propagandists like Wilf.
It is no surprise that Wilf does not like it when the the very real influence of AIPAC is raised in public fora. According to Haaretz, Wilf has worked very closely with AIPAC in the past, specifically as part of her campaign against the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
Jack Straw was the UK’s foreign secretary under former prime minister and suspected war criminal Tony Blair, including during the infamous illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. That claimed the lives of over a million people in the invasion and associated civil war.
The consequences of that war are still being felt by Iraqis on an almost daily basis. A new deadly wave of sectarian bombings killed 55 Iraqis this weekend.
After a long and successful career in the Labor party, Straw recently announced that he would step down as a member of Parliament at the next election.