Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, paid fulsome and public tribute to Britain’s International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, at a Conservative Friends of Israel reception on Tuesday night, for her firm stance in ensuring that UK funding of the Palestinians went to those who deserved and needed the money.
Mr Regev told a packed House of Commons reception: “A lot of money has been claimed as going to help needy people — and money hasn’t necessarily always gone to needy people. On the contrary: we’ve had in the past examples of money that’s supposed to go to needy people that’s ended up going to other things, whether to support a maximalist extreme political agenda, to support hate speech or terrorism. I want to commend the Secretary of State, who under her watch has instituted new guidelines which will ensure that money which is supposed to help needy people really reaches needy people”.
It was one of the ambassador’s first public appearances since the uncomfortable publicity relating to the Al-Jazeera “sting”, in which a local hire for the Israeli embassy, Shai Masot, was fired after boasting about his Israeli lobby contacts.
But the CFI team appeared to have decided to meet the situation head-on: parliamentary chairman Sir Eric Pickles announced, to general amusement, that even those guests who might have a concealed Al-Jazeera camera about their person were still welcome, while the director/chairman Andrew Heller praised the ambassador for his response to the situation.
Priti Patel, herself a former vice-chairman of CFI, said that Brexit offered “a new chapter” for Britain, and that in pursuit of life after leaving the European Union, Britain was going to need great allies such as Israel.
“Our trade relations can only go from strength to strength,” she said. “My department has an important role to play when it comes to Israel — and it will play its part by investing in the right things, for the right people — but also in initiatives which can bring people together. These will include co-existence programmes. But I am also rooting out abuse in the system to ensure that that money is spent in the right way. I will be assiduous in ensuring that we follow the money to our transparency – and follow the outcome as well, because that is what we should be doing with British taxpayers’ money.”
Ms Patel spoke about the shared values of Britain and Israel, and noted that there was “much to do” in rooting out antisemitism. In a swipe at the Labour Party she said: “We have had too many incidents of intolerance and antisemitism towards Jewish people. It is absolutely outrageous that in the Labour Party, particularly under the current leadership, that there is a failure to et a grip on this issue”.
*A CFI delegation is due in Israel next month to hold a tree-planting ceremony in the Jerusalem Forest in honour of Sir Eric Pickles’ knighthood.