8th November 2017   •   opinion
How one friendly tweet from an Israeli politician helped bring down Priti Patel

Image: Twitter
The UK's International Development Secretary was sacked from the Cabinet last night after Theresa May finally ran out of patience. It was dressed up as a "resignation" but it was nothing of the sort. No one was willing to defend her anymore.

Patel had already been reprimanded for meeting with senior Israeli politicians, including its Prime Minister, without telling anyone in advance. On Monday she had to apologise for misleading MPs and the media. The PM was willing to let her off with a warning.

But what broke the camel's back were new revelations yesterday that Patel had also breached diplomatic protocol by visiting the illegally occupied territory of Golan Heights.

"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," wrote a Haaretz newspaper columnist, who broke the story.

The gravity of what Patel did is best summarised by Nick Tolhurst here: "To plan and undertake such a mission requires use of one’s own communications – a clear security risk. Such a visit, where the foreign government is aware that a Minister is acting clandestinely, also instantly opens them up to potential blackmail."

What's ironic is that Patel's clandestine activities were first highlighted by her friends.

On August 24th this year, the Israeli politician Yair Lapid tweeted this:

In the picture the meeting clearly looks unofficial. Neither does it look like any diplomats are recording it. A former FCO staffer told me the tweet very likely set the Foreign Office scrambling to find out what was going on.

It is highly unusual for cabinet ministers to meet senior politicians of other countries without diplomats. Or, for that matter, of there being no official record of it having taken place. It is also very likely the same tweet got journalists sniffing into her "holiday".

Until that tweet Patel had not informed anyone of her meetings with senior Israelis. With that now out in the open, Patel informed the FCO the same day. The following day she left Israel to return home.

On 2nd November, Theresa May hosted the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street. According to the FT May was unaware that Netanyahu had met Patel just weeks earlier.

A day later controversy erupted when both the PM and Boris Johnson found out about Priti Patel's secret meetings through the BBC. May was reportedly furious she had to learn about this through the media.

At first journalists were told it was just a few people. Only on Monday it emerged that she had also met the Prime Minister. Even at this point Downing Street was saying her job was secure. Patel's apology was supposed to be the end of the matter.

But it wasn't because even more irregularities came out in the open. The final straw came yesterday evening when it emerged Patel had also:

- had two other undisclosed meetings: with Gilad Erdan (minister of public security) and Yuval Rotem (a diplomat) in September.
- visited the Golan Heights, which the UK considers as illegally occupied as per international law
- lobbied for directing aid from DFID to the Israeli army’s humanitarian work in Golan Heights (rejected by her own team)
- proposed closer development co-operation between Israel and the UK directly after her meetings (which suggested her private meetings had indeed influenced her work).

Even before Patel got to Westminster she was "toast", as one journalist put it.

There is nothing positive to be said about Priti Patel here. She was unashamedly lobbying to help the Israeli army in illegal territory, in her spare time. The only silver lining is she was brought back down to earth by the same group of right-wing Israeli elites she was trying to help.
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Sunny Hundal has been a journalist and commentator since 2004. He is editor-in-chief of Barfi Culture
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