Jewish communal organisations and pro-Israel groups have welcomed the UK government’s suspension of millions of pounds’ of aid to the Palestinian Authority, amid claims that it was going to convicted terrorists.
The reaction follows a decision late last week by International Development Secretary Priti Patel to freeze £23 million in aid, pending an investigation, after years of suggestions that taxpayer money was going to those who had murdered Israelis.
Among the organisations welcoming the news were the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation, grassroots group We Believe in Israel, and parliamentary lobby groups.
The Board’s senior vice-president Richard Verber said: “We have long been deeply concerned by the Department for International Development (DfID) and its assertion that British tax money categorically does not fund terrorism and incitement.”
JLC chief executive Simon Johnson said the decision “reflects the worst fears of many within the Jewish community,” adding: “It is vital that the government is robust in ensuring funds are used to help those in need and not to support destruction and disruption within an already tense political climate.”
We Believe in Israel director Luke Akehurst, said he was “delighted,” adding: “After years of grassroots campaigning, the government is finally taking action. This is welcome but long overdue. It is appalling that aid money from British taxpayers has been abused to reward terrorists.”
ZF chairman Paul Charney said that the community’s campaigns had faced “endless obfustications, denials, and plain falsehoods,” and appeared to liken the “victory” to the great civil rights successes of the past.
“Martin Luther King said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice, and we’ve seen that today,” he said. “The thousands of grassroots activists… made all the difference. This is a huge victory.”
Labour Friends of Israel’s Ian Austin MP said it ended “months of procrastination and denials” about the end recipients of aid money, adding: “DfID appears finally to have accepted that aid to the PA cannot continue for so long as it engages in anti-Semitic incitement and remains the ultimate paymaster of salaries to convicted terrorists.”
Conservative Friends of Israel called it “an important step towards peace”. In a joint statement from CFI chairman Sir Eric Pickles and CFI president Lord Polak, the lobby group said: “It sends a wake-up call to the PA… It will benefit Palestinian residents as funding will be unambiguously focused on coexistence, economic development and peace.”
British aid to the PA is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding, in which Palestinian leaders promise to uphold the principles of non-violence and respect for human rights. Until recently, DfID had concluded that the PA was not in breach.
The sudden U-turn signalled by Patel last week led Austin to call for a “full, independent inquiry into how British aid can best support the realisation of a two-state solution,” saying: “DfID simply does not have the credibility to conduct its own review behind closed doors.”
Israeli-based lobbyists had told lawmakers earlier this summer that UK aid for civil servants in Gaza was being transferred to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to pay terrorists serving sentences in Israeli jails.
An example given was of one Hamas bomber, who was allegedly given more than £80,000. Other stipends paid to terrorists are understood to have gone to families of suicide bombers and teenagers attacking Israelis.