‘Arms race’ for visits over world’s most contentious conflict

 

Groups linked to both sides of the conflict have spent over £130,000 since the last UK general election on taking Parliamentarians to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Many of those MPs who accepted trips have gone on to make supportive speeches and statements in Parliament and the media backing the positions of the groups that have paid and organised their travel.

On the Israeli side, the biggest single donor, according to the register of MPs’ interests, is Conservative Friends of Israel, which has spent over £30,000 taking more than two dozen Tory backbenchers to Israel and the West Bank since the election on five separate trips.

Earlier this week, as the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians intensified, the organisation co-ordinated a public letter supporting the Israeli cause. “More than 1,000 rockets and mortars have been indiscriminately fired into civilian areas by Hamas and other terror organisations operating under its protection,” it read. “Israel has a sovereign duty to protect its citizens. Hamas needs to know that the British Government will not reward its terror tactics.”

It was signed by 17 Tory MPs – 10 of whom had been on pro-Israeli delegations to the region in since the 2010 General Election.

Other pro-Israeli groups who have paid for MPs to travel to the region include Labour Friends of Israel who have funded nine places for Labour backbenchers on trips and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel who have spent £5,400. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has spent over £10,000 on trips since 2010, the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange £11,000 and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre £5,000.

Earlier in the week, during a Parliamentary debate on the current conflict, at least 14 of the speakers on either side of the argument had travelled to the region.

Louise Ellman, the Labour chair of the Transport Select Committee, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier this year as part of the Australia Israel UK Leadership Dialogue. In the debate she said: “Does the fact that Hamas is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, that in 2005 Israel removed all its 9,000 settlers and soldiers from Gaza and that that was followed by Hamas firing thousands of rockets from civilian centres in Gaza targeted at Israeli citizens mean that Israel deserves full support in defending its citizens against this aggression?”

Richard Ottaway, the Conservative MP for Croydon South visited Israel in November 2011 as part of a Conservative Friends of Israel trip. He said: “Over the weekend, Israel was widely condemned for a military strike on an international media centre in Gaza in breach of the Geneva convention. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it was in fact a base for Islamic Jihad and that the only person who lost their life was its military commander?” Neither made mention of the trip in their interventions – although some other MPs did.

Both MPs told The Independent that the Commons Speaker had consistently upheld the principle that there are “certain proceedings” where a declaration of interest may not be practicable, for example “oral questions”

It is not only Israeli lobbying groups paying for MPs’ trips to the region. The Sir Joseph Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights and Peace building in the Middle East has spent over £30,000 paying for 26 MPs to visit the West Bank, Israel and Gaza since the election. But these visits were in fact organised by the Council for Advancing Arab British Relations, a pro-Palestinian outfit which admits it sees the conflict through an Arab perspective.

The Conservative Middle East Council, funded by a number of wealth Arab donors, has also spent over £16,000 taking nine MPs on visits.

A spokesman for the Council for Advancing Arab British Relations said: “More than anything these visits are about showing how people are struggling to survive under occupation.” But he added: “There is no point lecturing MPs. They have to come to their own conclusions.”

Overseas visits: The Rules

MPs are required to notify the House of the destination, date and purpose of their overseas travel when paid for by a third party and where the cost of the visit exceeds one per cent of an MPs annual salary.

The Code of Conduct states that they are also required to name the organisation, Government or company that funded the travel and the costs involved. Visits on behalf of or funded by Her Majesty’s Government are exempt from registration.

Any gift to the MP or any “material advantage” received from or on behalf of a company, organisation or person while overseas must be declared.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick