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November 9, 2017 3:52 pm

British Jews Fear Longterm Fallout From Row Over UK Government Minister’s Undisclosed Meetings With Israeli Leaders

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Former UK government minister Priti Patel. Photo: House of Commons.

British Jewish leaders fear that the public row over a UK government minister’s undisclosed meetings with Israeli leaders while on a family vacation in Israel will have negative implications for their community that will last for several years.

Priti Patel, the minister concerned, announced on Wednesday she was resigning from her post as international development secretary in the government of Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May. Patel held meetings with 12 senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, without disclosing these to the foreign office in London — a major violation of protocol. Some of the meetings were facilitated by Lord Stuart Polak, the head of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) lobby group, who has been accused along with Patel of giving contradictory accounts of the timing and frequency of these meetings.

Patel’s resignation has not ended the speculation about which of her seniors in the British government knew about her meetings, and exactly when they acquired this knowledge. According to The Jewish Chronicle, May’s office was alerted to Patel’s meeting with Netanyahu through a conversation that Michael Oren, a deputy minister in Netanyahu’s office, held with one of Patel’s ministerial colleagues on the same day.

The Jewish Chronicle also claimed that Patel was instructed by May’s office not to disclose her meeting with a senior Israeli official in New York in September, “as it would embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.” The paper’s editor, Stephen Pollard, said such revelations “mean that there are some serious questions for Number 10 to answer about who knew what, when — including the PM.”

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Yet Jewish leaders are concerned that the affair will gravely damage British-Israel relations and encourage the further spread of antisemitic conspiracy theories. One official was quoted as saying, “This will set us back 20 years.”

“This will feed into the conspiracy theories,” a Jewish MP said. “It needn’t damage UK-Israel relations, but it will make many people more wary.”

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