Abuse of Holyrood Parliamentary Protocols by the Tory Party in Scotland
February 2015: 700+ artistes (authors, poets entertainers,lecturers) formed a group “Artistes for Palestine” and announced a boycott on Israel cutting all cultural ties until such time as they complied with all UN resolutions.
October 2015: Israel hit back. “Culture for Coexistence” surfaced claiming it had 150 signatories calling for a strengthened Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue Rather Than Boycotts. Investigation revealed that the new entity was in fact a front for an Israeli “Hasabara”. The committee includes Neil Blair (Literary Agent for JK Rowling) and a number of other prominent persons with strong Israeli connections. JK Rowling is listed as a signatory to the markedly smaller list. And it requires a deal of stretching of the imagination to identify the names as artistes.
October 2015: Danny Cohen, director of BBC Television, and a number of other senior executives declared their support for the aims and objectives of the “Culture for Coexistence organisation”. questions were raised with BBC about impartiality rules and clearly evident pro-Israel reporting. Answers were unsatisfactory.
February 2016: Very recently formed “Scottish Tory Friends of Israel” group Invited the Jewish Lobby Group “Culture for Coexistence” to Holyrood to debate a motion “against the Palestinian, Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign”. There was pandemonium outside Holyrood, involving protestors. The first ever pro-Israel debate was conducted in the presence of only 30 MSP’s, of whom 17 backed the motion. It is of note that, Jackson Carlaw, (deputy leader of the Tory party in Scotland) was the Tory candidate for Eastwood, near Glasgow, home to the bulk of the 12,000 Jewish community. He was duly elected to office in May 2016.
November 2016: Ruth Davidson Approves High-Level, Ill Judged Scottish Tory Fact Finding Team Holiday visit to illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Golan Heights
Hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel, nine Conservative MSPs, including several shadow cabinet ministers, the chief whip and the party’s director, met with Israeli MKs, local businessmen and security officials and received briefings by the Israeli Defence Force(IDF) on the occupied Golan Heights.
John Lamont was interviewed by The Times of Israel. He said: “In recent years, many debates over the Middle East in the Scottish parliament have been “very unbalanced or biased toward the Palestinian perspective. Conservatives tend to be more sympathetic to Israel than members of the SNP or the Labour party. But there is a job to be done to ensure that [Conservatives] are as well informed as they possibly can be about the issues that face this region. Anti-Israel sentiment is being spread in Scotland mainly by church groups and marginal organizations advocating for a boycott of Israel. These people are telling the [Scottish public] that Israelis are bad and Palestinians are good and then sign up to some boycott.
That’s not based on any properly informed position, because nobody’s given them the alternative views. So part of this exercise [taking Scottish lawmakers to Israel] is making sure that more and more people are getting at least a balanced position and a positive view of Israel. There is a “small but very vocal minority” in Scotland that is hostile toward Israel. But the vast majority of Scots are relatively passive on issues, but are influenced by that very vocal minority. Those few activists succeeded in airing their views in the Scottish Parliament, which then influenced public opinion, he posited. It’s not because people have very strong views on either side of the debate, but because they only hear one perspective and that influences their thought process about Israel, about Gaza and the West Bank.”
Arab Human Rights Centre in The Golan Heights (Al-Marsad)
Al-Marsad, the only human rights organisation operating there, is at loggerheads with the Scots Conservatives’ leader after raising concern about the group’s visit to the Golan Heights winery in Katzrin. They say the delegation did not contact Al-Marsad or other representatives of the Syrian community in the “occupied Syrian Golan” to get a “balanced view”. And they say they have repeatedly failed to get an explanation for the visit to the territory from Ms Davidson or any condemnation of the illegal settlement.
The group, which is described as an independent, not-for-profit international human rights organisation, said it was “highly concerned” that it sends the message that the Scottish Conservative party endorses the illegal activities of such settlements. The UN, in 1981, issued a resolution saying that Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights was illegal. The strategic ridge was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981. Since then, every year the UN passes a General Assembly resolution titled “The Occupied Syrian Golan” which reaffirms the illegality of the Israeli occupation and annexation.
Al-Marsad, which has previously voiced concern over what it deems Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of the Syrian Arab population in the Golan, say they have written two letters to Ms Davidson asking in particular about the visit to “occupied Syrian Golan” but without response.
November 2016: Row as pro-Israel lobby group approved at Holyrood
A row has broken out after a pro-Israel lobby group was approved at Holyrood in a bid to counter claims that MSPs are overly hostile to the state.
Politicians from all parties, with the exception of the Scottish Greens, will be represented on the “Building Bridges with Israel” group, which aims to establish closer cultural, academic and economic links with the country. It has been set up in a bid to oppose anti-Semitism and offer an “alternative viewpoint” to what it says is a pro-Palestinian stance that has been dominant since the Scottish Parliament’s inception in 1999. The group will hold its first meeting early in the New Year.
There are questions that need to be asked about the trip to Israel. Why was the group “artists for Palestine” not invited to debate the motion providing balance? The one-sided motion was unacceptable in that context!!! Who met the estimated £30K costs of the trip to Israel? What did Israel get in return? Is Israel financing the Tory party in Scotland? Is Ruth Davidson aware that the trip, the conduct of her delegation in Israel and her discourteous failure to reply to letters from the official Arab Human Rights monitoring Group (Al-Marsad) might possibly create a diplomatic incident, bringing the Holyrood parliament into disrepute.
Preamble: The comprehensive story is detailed below:
February 2015: Artistes for Palestine Sign Up To A Cultural boycott of Israel
The call for a boycott by artistes is focused on the free World’s cultural ties to the Israeli state and is in response to Israel’s brutality against Palestinians (similar to that of the South African Apartied Regime.) Culture is an important factor in the political sphere of Israel’s society and morality and the boycott will send a clear and unambiguous message that Israel does not enjoy impunity from the law and advance the cause of Palestinian freedom.
“Along with more than 600 other fellow artists, we are announcing today that we will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel. We will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government.
Since the summer war on Gaza, Palestinians have enjoyed no respite from Israel’s unrelenting attack on their land, their livelihood, their right to political existence. “2014,” says the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, was “one of the cruellest and deadliest in the history of the occupation.” The Palestinian catastrophe goes on.
Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank – and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of “Brand Israel”.
During South African apartheid, musicians announced they weren’t going to “play Sun City”. Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.” See the full list of over 700 supporters at: artistsforpalestine.org.uk
Statement of Support From Signatories Including – Liz Lochhead – Playwright and Maker (National Poet for Scotland):
“It is essential to use every tool we have to communicate to the Israeli Government and the people of Israel, as well as our own complicit government and that of the USA, the deep repugnance felt by all who value basic human rights, international law and freedom of speech at the Apartheid and injustice under which the Palestinian people continue to exist. This goes far beyond even the hell of the situation in Gaza. As communicators and lovers of Free Speech it pains us to have to support this necessary boycott. We deeply resent being accused of anti-Semitism when we criticise the actions of the State of Israel. Liz Lochhead, playwright and Makar (national poet for Scotland)” https://artistsforpalestine.org.uk/introduction/signatories-statements/
October 2015: Culture for Coexistence Organisation Created
Mission Statement: Culture has a unique ability to bring people together and bridge division, and the organisation wanted to be a tiny part of the jigsaw that can work towards breaking down barriers.
Author’ Statement: “Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace. Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict.”
Authors Call for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue Rather Than Boycotts:
A number of British artists and authors (including JK Rowling) have backed the newly formed network promoting coexistence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, partly to counter support for a cultural boycott of Israel. https://cultureforcoexistence.org/media/
The Culture for Coexistence Organisation – Committee:
Loraine da Costa: (the Chair) was on the executive board of Conservative Friends of Israel until recently. She was also on the executive board of One Family UK, an organisation “dedicated to working in the face of terror to facilitate a resilient Israeli society.
Neil Blair is a literary agent, most famously for JK Rowling. Founding Partner, The Blair Partnership – Founding Partner. Director, Pottermore Limited (JK Rowling’s new business). Partner (2001 – 2011) Christopher Little Literary Agency. European Head of Business Affairs, Warner Bros. Director, Lumos (JK Rowling’s charity.)Director, UK Friends of The Abraham Fund – Development Committee Member, The London 9/11 Project.
Rob Suss: Investment banker. Director Pace Holdings Corp. formerly Managing Director, Goldman Sachs. Committee Member “Culture for Coexistence”, an organisation that opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Trustee of Lumos,(children’s charity founded by JK Rowling).
Mark Smith is an executive director of Chime Communications Plc and has been a Chartered Accountant since 1978 having qualified with Touche Ross & Co (now Deloitte & Touche LLP). Following two years as European Finance Director at RCA Records, he joined Good Relations Group plc in 1984 and became its Group Finance Director in 1985. In 1986, he became Finance Director of Lowe Bell Communications (now Bell Pottinger Communications) and Finance Director of Chime Communications at the time of the management buy-out in 1989. Mark is a non-executive director of Holiday Extras Holdings Limited.
John Levy: Joined the Zionist Federation, in 1970. Executive Director of The Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East, and the Friends of Israel Educational Foundation. The Educational Foundation was established in 1976; the Academic Study Group in 1978. The Trusts seek to promote an informed and analytic understanding of Israel and the Middle East; and forge closer collaborative ties between academics and other experts in the UK and their professional counterparts in Israel.
Yigal Elstein: Educated (MBA), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. EMEA Vice President (Hi-Tec cloud platform development)
Da Costa statement:
“supporters of Culture for Coexistence) reject boycotts. Culture has a unique ability to bring people together and bridge division and the organisation wanted be a tiny part of the jigsaw working towards breaking down barriers”. The network is planning a seminar to discuss the merits or otherwise of boycott as a political tool, to which pro-boycott artists will be invited. It also hoped to take people to Israel and the Palestinian territories to have a dialogue with cultural counterparts there”. https://cultureforcoexistence.org/media/
October 2015: Director of BBC television – Danny Cohen – signs the “Culture for Coexistence Organisation” – pro-Israel letter
Cohen, a member of the BBC’s executive board and one of the most senior figures in the organization,(whose salary is funded by license fee payers) joined top Israel apologists — including the chair of Conservative Friends of Israel and the vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel — adding his name to a highly politicized letter (looking suspiciously like a front for a much larger hasbara “propaganda” organization) which states: “Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace,” and calls for “cultural engagement” in place of boycotts. In response to an enquiry asking if Cohen was in breach of BBC guidelines requiring employees to show impartiality regarding the situation in Palestine and Israel, the BBC Press Officer said: “Danny Cohen was expressing his view about his belief in the importance of creative freedom of expression.”
Other signatories to the letter (which also declares support for a new organization called “Culture for Coexistence” include Eric Pickles MP, chair of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group which, according to its website, “works to ensure that Israel’s case is fairly represented in Parliament.” Another 13 members of parliament also signed the letter. Seven of them are CFI’s parliamentary officers, five others are either members of CFI or have recently been on one of its delegations to Israel, and the 13th, Michael Dugher, is vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel — the Labour Party’s equivalent group.
Cohen’s position at the BBC, demands neutrality and if he supports Israel in its suppression of the Palestinian people, those views should not be allowed to affect his work at the BBC. And yet, here he is, with others, very publicly arguing for a continuation of the status quo which favours the Israeli state against the occupied Palestinian people, employing vacuous terms such as “building bridges” to hide the fact that Israel is a serial violator of international law and Palestinian human rights, whose senior politicians openly declare that there will never be a Palestinian state. It is a stupefying display of favouritism towards Israel from the BBC’s director of television, a man whose job supposedly demands impartiality.
His influence within the BBC is huge. He oversees the BBC’s four main TV channels, BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four, in addition to BBC iPlayer, and online content for BBC Television. He also oversees the drama, entertainment, knowledge and comedy genres and BBC Films. Further responsibilities include the BBC Television archive and BBC Productions, Europe’s largest television production group. And his views on Israel and the occupation are now out in the open. His behaviour is yet another example of the Endemic bias against Palestine, rife within the BBC. There are many other senior figures at the BBC known for their pro-Israel sympathies.
The BBC’s director of news and current affairs, James Harding, once told a conference organized by the pro-Zionist Jewish Chronicle newspaper: “I am pro-Israel and I believe in the State of Israel.” In 2011, (when he was still editor of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Times) Harding added, “I would have had a real problem if I had been coming to a paper with a history of being anti-Israel. And, of course, Rupert Murdoch is pro-Israel.” He is responsible for the entirety of the BBC’s news and current affairs output across BBC radio, TV and online, including its current coverage of October’s violence in Palestine and Israel. The position he holds at the BBC is described as “arguably the most important editorial job in Britain.”
The BBC’s director of strategy and digital Purnell is a former Labour MP and minister who, for two years, served as chair of Labour Friends of Israel.
Another signatory of the letter in last week’s Guardian is Michael Grade, who served as chair of the BBC between 2004 and 2006. As well as calling for Israel to be protected from boycotts, Grade last week publicly complained that the BBC was too pro-Palestinian in its coverage of events in October which have seen at least 61 Palestinians killed in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as 10 Israelis. The Jewish Chronicle reported that Grade had written to the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, accusing the BBC of failing to show stone-throwing Palestinians in its reports and creating an “equivalence between Israeli victims of terrorism and Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli security forces in the act of carrying out terror attacks.”
Ironically, as close monitoring by Palestine Solidarity Campaign has demonstrated, the BBC’s coverage in October focused almost exclusively on Israeli stabbing victims, and its flagship radio news program Today even attempted to fool its audiences into thinking that all those killed during October were Israeli. But it would seem that, whatever lengths the BBC goes to in order to present the occupying Israeli state as a victim, it can never go far enough for some who have worked at the organization. It cannot be denied that support for Israel runs deep through the top layers of BBC management, both past and present, and that support probably trickles down through the rest of the BBC as a matter of corporate culture.
This could explain why BBC editors failed to see the pro-Israel bias of commissioning historian Simon Schama to make a five part series for BBC Two in 2013, during which he made what he called “the moral case for Israel” and announced, in one episode, “I am a Zionist and quite unapologetic about it.” Schama, unsurprisingly added his name to the letter on cultural boycotts.
The same corporate culture could also explain why BBC Online’s Middle East editor, Raffi Berg, felt comfortable enough to send his colleagues an email during Israel’s November 2012 assault on Gaza asking them not to “put undue emphasis” on Israel for starting the prolonged attacks. And it may explain why Cohen feels he can sign a letter in support of Israel without fear of reprisal from his bosses for breaching impartiality requirements.
Consumers of BBC news and current affairs may often wonder why the number of Israeli spokespersons appearing across the BBC’s output far outnumber Palestinian spokespersons, why Palestinians, when they do make a rare appearance, are constantly interrupted by BBC presenters, while Israelis such as diplomat Mark Regev are given free rein to speak almost without challenge. They may wonder why the killing of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers goes unreported by the BBC, while rockets fired from Gaza which cause minor damage to roads make headlines. The biased views of those at the top of the BBC have created a corporate culture of pro-Israeli bias throughout its editorial ranks and its one-sided reporting is no longer a surprise.
25 February 2016: The Scottish Tory Friends of Israel Party and the Jewish Lobby Group at Holyrood
Early 2016 Ruth Davidson manipulated the Holyrood debating agenda and arranged a formal invitation to the Jewish Lobby Group (Culture for Coexistence) and Britain’s deputy Israeli ambassador Eitan Na’eh to meet with MSP’s and debate and vote in support of a motion “against the Palestinian, Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign” tabled on their behalf by Jackson Carlaw, deputy leader of the party.
On 25 February 2016, Parliament debated the first ever pro-dialogue Israel motion in a year that saw a staggering total of 62 anti-Israel debates at Holyrood. It was attended by 30 MSPs and did not culminate in a vote but a show of hands indicated 17 MSP’s backed the motion.
Motion debated: “Israel Needs Cultural Bridges, not Boycotts”:
“That the Parliament acknowledges the recently published open letter signed by over 150 high-profile cultural and political figures in support of the aims of Culture for Coexistence, an independent UK network representing a cross-section from the cultural world;
Notes that this open letter calls for an end to cultural boycotts of Israel and Israeli artists.
Notes the views expressed in the letter in support of a two-state solution and the promotion of greater understanding, mutual acceptance and peace through cultural engagement.
Notes that one example of this cultural exchange took place in 2015 when the Israeli artist, Matan Ben-Cnaan, won first prize in the 2015 BP International Portrait Award and was given the opportunity to teach art to local school children at the opening of the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
Hopes that, through groups such as the Centre for Scotland and Israel Relations, based in East Renfrewshire, similar educational and cultural programmes will take place in the coming months.
Notes the views expressed in the letter that “Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use”.
Jackson Carlaw, praised Israel’s contributions to international science and criticised campaigners who “overtly personally blame ‘the Jews’… over the actions of a foreign country”. Stressing the debate’s importance to the Jewish community in Scotland he said: “I think this is a landmark day in the Scottish Parliament because we are able to host the first positive motion in support of Israel since the Parliament was founded in 1999. I think that it is important because it allowed us to actually show Israel in a much more rounded context and also to address the concerns of many who live here in Scotland within the Jewish community who have felt that the language of this parliament has been advertently hostile to Israel.”
Labour MSP’s and one Scottish Nationalist MSP criticised the “depressingly illiberal” tactics pursued by the anti-Israel lobby.
A Green MSP, Alison Johnson claimed boycotts of Israel were “entirely consistent” with holding a “deep and unwavering commitment that none of us should ever downplay or forget the atrocities of the Holocaust”.
John Finnie, Green Party leader spoke against the motion:
I declare my membership of the Scottish Palestinian solidarity campaign and the Scottish Green Party, whose mantra is people, planet and peace. Peace and security can be achieved only through global justice and the world will never be safe while we allow the obscenity of poverty, economic exploitation and illegal occupations to continue.
I turn to the issue of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Mr Carlaw’s motion is misleading because there is no boycott of Israeli artists such as Matan Ben Cnaan, as long as artists refuse to collude in the Israeli abuse of human rights. There is a boycott of the Israeli state and those who seek to normalise the occupation of Palestine.
The Scottish Green Party supports the Palestinians’ call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, including a boycott of Israeli goods and services and an academic and cultural boycott, until Israel fulfils its obligations under international law. Those obligations are: withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders; withdrawing from east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and other land that was seized in 1967; withdrawing from and depopulating Israeli colonies in the West Bank; dismantling the separation wall; ending the siege of Gaza; granting the right of refugees from 1948, 1967 and other expulsions and their descendants to return to their homes, as required by United Nations resolution 194; and affording equal rights to all citizens within Israel, irrespective of religion or ethnicity, especially Palestinian citizens in Israel.
If I am accused of anti-Semitism because I am speaking like this, I have to say that I have no allegiance to any faith nor would I be critical of any faith.
The Scottish Green Party will campaign for and support divestment by local authorities, other institutions of government—including the local government pension scheme—and civil society organisations from Israel, Israeli companies and companies that support the Israeli Government’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
The Scottish Green Party supports the Palestinian non-violent struggle resisting the colonisation of their lands, resources and peoples by Israel and by Zionist settlers.
The Scottish Green Party will press for European Union legislation to prohibit the import into the EU of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Scottish Green Party will work with solidarity groups within Scotland and with political parties and civil society organisations within Palestine and amongst the Palestinian diaspora that share our objectives.
The motion talks of a culture for coexistence; we cannot have that when there are apartheid walls. It talks of greater understanding, but is there an understanding of an imprisoned population? It talks of peace through cultural engagement. I love peace, I campaign for peace, I encourage peace and I condemn violence from whatever quarter—I hope that all other participants in the debate would do likewise.
I want to encourage equality. I support conflict resolution but peace came in the north of Ireland not when the walls went up but when the walls came down. I spoke to someone who was involved in the violence in the north of Ireland and he said, “We killed each other, we maimed each other, we injured each other, and we damaged each others’ property—nothing changed until they bombed the city of London.”
I am not condoning violence from any quarter, be that violence against individuals or violence against property, but there is no doubt that financial imperative can shape minds and change opinions, so I am four-square behind the boycott, divestment and sanctions.”
Loraine da Costa, Chair of Culture for Coexistence said: “It has been a privilege to spend a day in the Scottish Parliament hearing the motion ‘Israel needs cultural bridges, not boycotts’ debated. I believe that through our initiative, “Culture for Coexistence” is illuminating a path whereby such issues can be discussed in a positive manner looking at what can be done to move peace forward and how culture can help to do so.”
Chargé d’affaires, Eitan Na’eh said “I am honoured to be the first Israeli diplomat to be invited to your parliament. The visit continues to build on the good and historic friendships that exist between Scotland and Israel. These have recently been significantly strengthened through the ongoing work of the Israeli Embassy all across Scotland.”
November 2016: Row as pro-Israel lobby group approved at Holyrood
A row has broken out after a pro-Israel lobby group was approved at Holyrood in a bid to counter claims that MSPs are overly hostile to the state. Politicians from all parties, with the exception of the Scottish Greens, will be represented on the “Building Bridges with Israel” group, which aims to establish closer cultural, academic and economic links with the country.
It has been set up in a bid to oppose anti-Semitism and offer an “alternative viewpoint” to what it says is a pro-Palestinian stance that has been dominant since the Scottish Parliament’s inception in 1999. The group will hold its first meeting early in the New Year.
Jackson Carlaw, the Conservative MSP who will act as convenor of the group, said it was “sadly true” that there had been more anti-Israel motions at Holyrood than the other parliaments of the EU put together. He went on: “This is not going to be a group that will simply be an apologist for the government of Israel. This is not a group being set up with a view to having a row with anyone or being antagonistic. It’s genuinely there to seek to have bridges built between the Jewish community, Scotland and the state of Israel. Responding to vocal critics of Israel in Scotland, he added: “I regard Israel as the only democratic state in that region. I’m not a fundamentalist in relation to these issues, I think the more we have an ongoing dialogue and an opportunity for all sides to participate so much the better.”
Mick Napier, a spokesman for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, strongly opposed the group’s message. He said: “This is an effort to change the subject from what Israel is doing in Palestine to a phony attempt to build bridges.”
November 2016: Ruth Davidson Approves High-Level, Ill Judged Scottish Tory Fact Finding Team Holiday visit to illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Glan Heights
Davidson has been heavily criticised by a Syrian human rights group after a high-powered group of ten Scottish Tories visited an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Golan Heights. Al-Marsad, the only human rights organisation operating there, is at loggerheads with the Scots Conservatives’ leader after raising concern about the group’s visit to the Golan Heights winery in Katzrin. They say the delegation did not contact Al-Marsad or other representatives of the Syrian community in the “occupied Syrian Golan” to get a “balanced view”. And they say they have repeatedly failed to get an explanation for the visit to the territory from Ms Davidson or any condemnation of the illegal settlement. The group, which is described as an independent, not-for-profit international human rights organisation, said it was “highly concerned” that it sends the message that the Scottish Conservative party endorses the illegal activities of such settlements. The UN, in 1981, issued a resolution saying that Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights was illegal. The strategic ridge was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981. Since then, every year the UN passes a General Assembly resolution titled “The Occupied Syrian Golan” which reaffirms the illegality of the Israeli occupation and annexation. The Israeli government disputes this position. Answering Al-Marsald’s concerns, a Scottish Conservatives spokesman said their position is the same as the UK government position which is “not to support illegal settlements”.
The row surrounds a delegation of ten Scottish Conservatives, including nine MSPs were on a Conservative Friends of Israel-funded trip to Israel, the West Bank and Golan Heights in August. It was described by CFI as a trip to “promote bilateral trade between the two countries and bolster the growing pro-Israel advocacy movement in Scotland”.
Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw followed up the trip earlier this month with controversial plans to establish a cross-party group, called ‘Building Bridges with Israel’. It has been set up in a bid to oppose anti-Semitism and offer an ‘alternative viewpoint’ to what it says is a pro-Palestinian stance that has been dominant since the Scottish Parliament’s inception in 1999.
But the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, strongly opposed the group’s message with a spokesman saying: “Israel doesn’t build any bridges, it demolishes homes, farms and is demolishing Palestine.”
The delegation to Israel in August included the director of the Scottish Conservatives, Mark McInnes, Scottish Conservative chief whip, John Lamont along with shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross, shadow economy, jobs and fair work cabinet secretary Dean Lockhart, shadow environment secretary Maurice Golden, tourism and small businesses spokeswoman Rachel Hamilton, community safety spokesman Oliver Mundell, digital economy spokesman Jamie Greene, further education, higher education and science spokesman Ross Thompson and welfare, reform and equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells.
James Gurd, director of the CFI, told the Jewish Chronicle that the trip, reflected a growing sympathy towards Israel north of the border saying: “For years a vocal minority seen as dominating debate there were very pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli.” http://www.impartialreporter.com/news/14884171.Ruth_Davidson_slammed_over_high_level_Tory_visit_to_illegal_Israeli_settlement/
Arab Human Rights Centre in The Golan Heights (Al-Marsad)
Al-Marsad, which has previously voiced concern over what it deems Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of the Syrian Arab population in the Golan, say they have written two letters to Ms Davidson asking in particular about the visit to “occupied Syrian Golan” but without response. Dr Nizar Ayoub director, said “Given this lack of clarification, I am highly concerned that the Scottish Conservative party appears to condone the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements – illegal under international law – in the occupied Syrian Golan.” The group said it was “highly concerning” if human rights issues, in particular, in the occupied territories are “not considered or trumped by business interests”.
Dr Nizar Ayoub told Ms Davidson in his letters: “As I imagine that you are aware, such settlements are illegal according to international law, and their construction and expansion at the expense of the native Syrian inhabitants have been repeatedly condemned by the international community. I am highly concerned that the delegation has visited a winery in an illegal Israeli settlement without providing any explanation of the purpose of the visit. In effect, this sends a message that the Scottish Conservative party endorses the illegal activities of this settlement – built on land illegally appropriated from its original Syrian owners. Even more worrying is the fact that the Scottish Conservative party has refused to answer questions about whether the delegation raised the broader issue of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan during its visit.”
He was further concerned that, describing the visit, Mr Lamont said “on Israel’s northern border with Syria we witnessed first-hand the devastating civil war raging metres away from Israel”
Dr Ayoub reminded Ms Davidson that: “The only part of Syria that Israel borders is the occupied Syrian Golan. The fighting in Syria is not taking place metres away from Israel, it is taking place metres away from the occupied Syrian Golan. From Mr Lamont’s comments, it appears that he considers that the occupied Syrian Golan is part of Israel, which it is not.”
He added: “I am highly disappointed that the delegation did not contact Al-Marsad or other representatives of the Syrian community in the occupied Syrian Golan in order to discuss the daily challenges faced by the remaining native Syrian population in the Syrian Golan due to Israel’s illegal occupation. This would have ensured that the delegation obtained a more balanced view of the situation in the occupied Syrian Golan.” http://golan-marsad.org/