Middle East Eye / March 9, 2023
Lord Polak questions decision not to engage with far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who was previously convicted of incitement to racism.
A British peer in the House of Lords has accused the UK government of “effectively boycotting” an Israeli minister after the British foreign secretary said he had no plans to work with far-right figure Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Speaking on Tuesday during a debate in the lower chamber about a recent escalation in tensions in Israel and Palestine, Lord Stuart Polak commented on a letter UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly wrote last month.
“The UK government has not engaged Itamar Ben-Gvir in his role as minister of national security, and we have no current plans to do so,” Cleverly wrote to the Council for Arab-British Understanding on 24 February.
“It is not about whether one agrees with minister Ben-Gvir,” said Polak.
“We work with all elected Israeli politicians, and we must be very careful not to go down a route of suggesting that our support for Israel is somehow conditional on any individual politician.
“Could we be holding Israel to a different standard from other countries?” he asked.
Ben-Gvir has been convicted in Israel of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organization.
As the current national security minister, he has oversight of the police and the force that controls security at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“It seems that we are fine working with Prime Minister [Giorgia] Meloni’s extreme right-wing Italian government and with some kleptocracies and dictatorships, but working with elected officials who could be tried and found guilty in democratic Israel is somehow not fine,” said Polak, who was director of the Conservative Friends of Israel for 26 years.
Last month, a former confidante of Ben-Gvir said the far-right leader took him as a teenager to raid a UN base and paid other minors to vandalize Palestinian property more than 20 years ago.
In an interview with The New Yorker published on Monday, Gilad Sade said Ben-Gvir drove him to a UN base in occupied East Jerusalem in 2001, provided him with a wire cutter, and showed him where to breach the fence.
The minister denies the accusations.
In the 1990s and early 2000, Ben-Gvir was a student and disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahane, an Israeli Jewish supremacist rabbi who inspired deadly attacks against Palestinians.
Kahane founded the Kach party in 1971 and was elected to parliament in 1984, where he publicly advocated the mass expulsion of Palestinians.
He was killed in New York in 1990.
Aged 16, Ben-Gvir joined Kach as an activist before it was designated a terror group by the US and banned in Israel in 1994 after a Kach member killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded dozens in Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
Ben-Gvir, now aged 46, has been convicted on eight charges, including for his support of Kach and incitement to racism.
Last year, he attended a memorial honouring Kahane saying he believed he was all about “love”.