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Spat in a hat

Betsan Powys | 09:26 UK time, Wednesday, 11 June 2008

It's unlikely all that many AMs will have sat down yesterday with a copy of the Telegraph and read the Israeli ambassador's comments on how the UK - once admired for its liberal fairness and decency - has seen extremists "hijack" its debate over Israel.

Ron Prosor, who took over as Israeli ambassador to the UK last year, told the paper that his country has been turned into a "pantomime villain" by Britons who deny it has any right to exist and is, we're told, "particularly scornful of the academics who want to boycott Israeli universities over the country's treatment of Palestinians."

"Fairness is all too frequently absent in a debate that has been hijacked by extremists" says Mr Prosor.

But today, they might well want to take stock of Mr Prosor's views as they decide whether to turn up to meet him in a conference room in Ty Hywel on June 24th - or not.

The Assembly's only Muslim AM, Mohammad Asghar, thinks they should. He's invited them all to a reception - one he rather optimistically asked them to keep under their hats, only to find that Emails copied in to half the Assembly never, ever remain under anyone's hats for long.

The Llywydd - or Presiding Officer - made no such request when he fired off his reply. He pressed the "reply to all" button and let rip.

"I am unwilling to accept the invitation to meet the Ambassador, because of my objection to the failure of the State of Israel to meet its international obligations to the Palestinian People of the Holy Lands. I would invite other Colleagues to the same".

So far, so row brewing between a backbench AM and the Llywydd.

This morning Mohammed Asghar told Radio Wales why he thought Lord Elis-Thomas is wrong:

"I don't want to put my head in the sand, and I appreciate everybody's feelings, and being Muslim, probably everyone knows my feelings, but I am a human being, and a peaceful human being.

"I like Lord Elis Thomas, he's a great friend of mine, and I respect his views, but I'm sure in due course he might change his mind, and one day he will sit on the table to talk on the initiative if we get one.

"If AMs have concerns, as I do myself, about polices followed by the Israeli Government then surely it's better to use this event to talk about those concerns rather than to put up barriers which can only promote further misunderstanding".

Enter the leader of Cardiff Council, Rodney Berman:

"I believe that given his position as Presiding Officer, Lord Elis-Thomas needs to understand the impact of his comments on people across Wales - including members of its Jewish community. Many members of that community will be quite shocked by the strident tone he has adopted and his complete unwillingness to even attend this meeting to express his legitimate point of view.

Then this morning comes the suggestion from the Government that the Israeli Ambassador may be meeting Counsel General Carwyn Jones during his visit - a visit that's starting to sound rather more official by the minute.

"A senior moment" says one AM, describing the PO's response. But he's unrepentant.

He will not be accepting his colleague's invitation to change his mind.

He won't even be talking in diplomatic niceties about 'being unavailable' to meet the Ambassador.

He's said no and he's sticking to it.

UPDATE: What was that about the visit starting to sound more and more official?

By this lunchtime the Welsh Assembly Government had taken a good look at the diary and found it's not a case of 'may be meeting Carwyn Jones' at all. In fact the new Ambassador will definitely be meeting the First Minister on his very first visit to Wales "to familiarise himself with our country and what Wales has to offer the world."

And if Dafydd Elis-Thomas chose to speak bluntly, the same goes for one or two others.
Brace yourselves.

The Llywydd's intervention, says an Israeli embassy spokesman is "another worrying example of unacceptable boycotting of Israel and Israelis and it's unfortunately part of a campaign run by some sectors here to demonise and vilify Israel at any price in any circumstances."

But another Email, copied to all AMs, is even blunter.

Deputy Minister Leighton Andrews informs Mohammad Asghar he won't be at the meeting. That's because he'll be elsewhere, not because he wants any "part of the juvenile gesture politics provoked by the Presiding Officer. I think his response to the invitation to the Israeli Ambasasdor is discourtous to you, insulting to the people of Israel, and demeaning to the National Assembly".

He's in favour of "dialogue, not pointless gestures".

Relations between a growing group of AMs and the Llywydd have been strained for a while (remember the blog censoring row?)

It just got a whole lot worse.


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  • 1. At 11:40am on 11 Jun 2008, legendaryavocet wrote:

    Disgraceful behaviour by the Presiding Officer, not much evidence of diplomacy or impartiality here.

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  • 2. At 12:49pm on 11 Jun 2008, Penbedw wrote:

    The Presiding Officer's comments are quite understandable, considering the manner in which this was arranged.

    However, it's important to keep dialogue open, and if this visit does take place, it is very important that Palestinian representatives are also invited.

    In the meantime, the Israeli government must not think for one minute that their behaviour towards Palestine and the Palestinians is condoned by the National Assembly or the people of Wales. This is an invitation by an individual AM, no doubt with the best motives and intentions.

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  • 3. At 4:50pm on 11 Jun 2008, JacquesT wrote:

    I notice that, according to the report on the BBC Wales news site, one Jean Evans has commented on this issue.

    Is this the formerly very vociferous woman, always ready to defend the Israeli government at the drop of a hat? The very same woman who suddenly ceased her 'campaigning' activities a year or two ago?

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  • 4. At 5:57pm on 11 Jun 2008, plaidman wrote:

    A revealing little blog. Fair play to Mohammed Ashqar for promoting peaceful dialogue. He's a credit to the nation.

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  • 5. At 7:05pm on 11 Jun 2008, b_zcardiff wrote:

    Totally disgraceful behaviour by the Presiding Officer.

    As a member of Wales' small (and shrinking) Jewish community, I wonder how much of an impact this statement is going to have on already growing reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in general.

    This extremely foolish behaviour seems to be very heavily influenced by recent calls in the UK for a boycott on Israeli academics. The one group within Israeli society which has consistently, vigorously and courageously campaigned against the occupation since its inception. All this done while enduring the racist abuse of their heavily European leftist counterparts. They have been singled out for professional ruin and denounced systematically purely because of their country of origin, and I worry that this incident sends the same message.

    Mohammed Ashqar most certainly has been a credit to the nation in promoting peaceful dialogue.

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  • 6. At 7:59pm on 11 Jun 2008, diogenes78 wrote:

    This is utterly disgusting behavior by the Presiding officer who should learn from Mohammad Asghar as whatever this AM's opinions he has shown the courtesy to meet with the Ambassador and civilly express them. The Presiding officer has made the assembly look like it represents a country of ignorant bigots, a mantle I wish that he keeps to himself and his fringe colleagues in future.

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  • 7. At 00:06am on 12 Jun 2008, neoBetsansConscience wrote:

    "Now we are here, next year may we be in the land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year may we be free." Haggadah.

    There are few people who rightly deserve our admiration. But I think the Jews are one of those people. Consider what other people have been scattered from their homeland, and have been abused, murdered, and ridiculed (and worse). Yet each year wherever they are, they gather for the same festivals.

    Yes they have a de facto right to exist in their nation state. Take a look at a map of the Middle East and you will notice three things. Firstly, Israel is a tiny nation. Second it is surrounded by a sea of Arab nations. Lastly, it does in actual fact exisit!

    Dialogue is critical to finding a win-win solution. But, even I as I am writing this there are Arab Nations (e.g. Iran) who state that Israel, and the Jewish people should be eliminated. Yes that's right- think Hitler all over again!

    Thank heavens for sensible and politically astute people like Mohammed Asqar. As for the Presiding Officer he is evidently a true fool who should hang his head in shame. Or take a visit to Aushwitz and clear his mind of any doubts that anti-semitism is a 'clear and present danger'.

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  • 8. At 09:03am on 12 Jun 2008, colwynprogressive wrote:

    Dafydd Ellis Thomas' leaked email urging Welsh Assembly Members to boycot a meeting with the Israeli ambassador demonstrates an incredible degree of naivety and shows a complete lack of gravitas, which is a pre-requisite in a role such as his. His unwillingness to discuss issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian problem highlights a schoolboy approach to diplomacy. One must hope that a two-state solution based on justice and fairness is found, but this can only be done through complex and painstaking negotiations. By demonstrating a clear unwillingness to allow Welsh parliamentarians to put forward their views to the Israeli ambassador, Mr Ellis Thomas demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the conflict and may damage Wales' standing on the international stage. He should carefully consider his position.

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  • 9. At 09:43am on 12 Jun 2008, JacquesT wrote:

    Oh how strange. One or two remarkably similar little phrases crop up in some of the comments here, from a particular lobby no doubt.

    Oh how predictable. It didn't take long for the inevitable 'confusion' between the Israeli government and the Jewish community. To criticise the Israeli government does not equate with anti-semitism - please note.

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  • 10. At 11:34am on 12 Jun 2008, Jason_Cardiff wrote:

    While I do not agree with the Presiding Officer I am happy that in Wales we can have this debate and at the same time know were people in politics stand instead of them just agreeing then doing the opposite.

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  • 11. At 2:03pm on 12 Jun 2008, neoBetsansConscience wrote:


    Two things. One I am not part of any 'lobby'. Where did that idea come from?

    Secondly, yes sure if you want to get a touch obsessive there's a conceptual difference between anti-Judiasm, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism. I will give you that.

    However, the 'lived reality' is much the same- it is all about the rights of a given people to live in their own nation-state, free of the threats of terrorism.

    Just imagine 'Europe' hating 'Wales'. Then imagine the English stating in their Constitution that a) Wales does not have the right to exist, b) at every opportunity sending bombs and/or terrorists to blow-up people in Cardiff, and c) raising your children to take-up the same set of prejudices. When your children are dead- come and talk to me about conceptual differences...

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  • 12. At 3:10pm on 12 Jun 2008, colwynprogressive wrote:

    I can assure Jacques T that I am not from a particular lobby- in fact I am merely an individual who attempts to look at the Arab-Israeli conflict from a rational position, instead of being caught up in emotive, but ultimately futile gestures, the like of which we see from certain politicians in the Assembly. What will happen if we have another state visit from an important dignatory to the Assembly? I am sure a number of our elected members will demonstrate their lack of maturity by boycotting their visit and making us look like a laughing stock.

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  • 13. At 5:23pm on 12 Jun 2008, invisibleJay_Cardiff wrote:

    I was pleased to read that not all Assembly members are tarred with the same brush. Betan's report states that Leighton Andrews AM took a more sensible, rational and measured approach.

    It provides some hope for the future..

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  • 14. At 7:29pm on 12 Jun 2008, wheredowegofromhere wrote:

    neoBetsansConscience writes:

    "it is all about the rights of a given people to live in their own nation-state, free of the threats of terrorism."

    Yes, of course Israel has this right. However, so do the Palestinians have the right to live in their own nation-state, free from occupation by a foreign state.

    And so yes, by all means meet with the Israeli ambassader, and tell him this to his face.

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  • 15. At 8:51pm on 12 Jun 2008, diogenes78 wrote:

    I would sadly agree that the 'inevitable confusion' of which the poster comments upon is a reality.
    Anti-Israel sentiment is often a cover all for anti semitic attacks and a justification for besieging a minority community. Sadly this is an excuse all too readily accepted by some.

    And one should really come to terms with the fact that people can disagree with opinions without necessary membership of a lobby and it is comments like these that are making some on the far left appear rather silly, slightly paranoid and a tad removed from reality.

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  • 16. At 10:27pm on 12 Jun 2008, neoBetsansConscience wrote:

    Dear wheredowegofromhere

    I think you are agreeing with me. If you agree that the nation-state of Israel has a right to exist, then we are in total agreement.

    You may recall that in 1948 (15th May) the Arabs instantly attacked Israel on the birth and legitimacy of its nation!

    In fact a significant amount of the land that is now being debated was reclaimed as the Jews defended themselves (yet again!!) with the 6 Day War which was fought between Israel and her Arab neighbors Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The nations of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria also contributed troops and arms to the Arab forces.

    You may recall that the Arabs lost! When they day comes that the Arabs can recognise the nation-state of Israel then there will be 'peace in the region'.

    I am all for a win win solution- and by that I mean a solution that means a state of Palestine not funded, run and execution by Hamas or someother terrorist organisation!

    However, returning to the vital point being raised by Betsan- should we boycott Jewish academics, not participate in on-going dialogue, etc? My view is NO.

    The Torah underscores the requirment (Mitzah) for Loving Your Neighbour (see Leviticus). The Jews are a peace-loving people.

    But they will defend their right to exist. After all what other option do they have?

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  • 17. At 11:13pm on 12 Jun 2008, wheredowegofromhere wrote:

    Re post 16:

    I agree in general with what you say but not completely in your choice of words:

    During the Six Day War, Israel did not "reclaim" Palestinian land but unilaterally occupied it, thereby denying this people until now the possibility of establishing their own state.

    Both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, in this very small area of land have suffered in the past 60 years, and attrocities have been committed by both sides, but until a solution takes into account the legitimate aspirations of both nations, there will be no peace.

    Sympathy for Israel "defending its right to exist" (and here you confuse the State of Israel with the Jews who, like Christians and Muslims, are members of a faith spread throughout the world) has no meaning unless in the same sentence you support the same right for the Palestinians.

    To finish, I do agree with you that boycotts of Israeli academics (or politicians, intellectuals, artists, sports organisations, ordinary people or what have you) is not a way to engage meaningfully in the peace process.

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  • 18. At 12:12pm on 13 Jun 2008, neoBetsansConscience wrote:

    Re post 17

    I am glad that we agree on the first and second principles.

    But there are distinct differences in the recent and ancient history of the Jewish peoples and the Palestians. Three examples may suffice.

    Firstly, the Arabs have a massive amount of land surrounding Israel. They have never experienced the equivalent of the Diaspora, the Holocaust, the European pogroms, and so forth.

    Second, the Arab nations and the Palestinians generally share the notion that Israel and the Jews (i.e. not the Muslims/Christians living there) should be eliminated and have this stated explictly in their constitution (e.g. Iran).

    Lastly, how can they engage with Hama's (who effectively run Palestine) who are a terrorist organisation?

    Consider your equivalent scenario: If the 'Anglo-Saxons' hated the 'Celts' and started bombing from Bristol, and you successfully defended yourself by occuping Bristol as a 'buffer zone' from the missles- would you just give it back, even though they are quite clear that when they had it back the bombs would start again?

    I think not! I think you would engage in dialogue and seek a win win solution. It is simple: when the Arabs reocgnise the right of Israel to exist there will be 'peace in the region'.

    The real reason Iraq wants nuclear capability (as we all know) is to implement the 'Final Solution' that Hitler failed to do. And 'the lefties' are boycotting Jewish people...I ask you!!

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  • 19. At 2:36pm on 13 Jun 2008, wheredowegofromhere wrote:

    I will make this my "last post" on the issue.

    neoBetsansConscience is confusing a lot of issues, either through misinformation or ignorance, or both.

    1. Iran is NOT an Arab nation.

    2. "Iraq wants nuclear capability". Perhaps you mean Iran, but see point 1.

    3. "Arabs have a massive amount of land." But the issue is the Palestinians. Why should they have to live in Exile in other Arab countries? It would be like asking the English to vacate their territory to make room for the Scots and Welsh and to go and live in other English-speaking countries. Why should they?

    4. The Palestinians "have never experienced the equivalent of the Diaspora." They are experiencing it now. Of an estimated 10.5 million Palestinians, approx 6.8 million live in Exile.

    5. Arabs "share the notion that Israel and the Jews should be eliminated". A gross over-simplification. Many Palestinians are prepared to accept a two-state solution. Engage with them. Egypt and Jordan recognise Israel. Strengthen them.

    6. "Hamas ... effectively run Palestine." Not true. Granted they effectively run Gaza, but not the West Bank. Engage with the Palestinian Authority there.

    7. "The lefties are boycotting Jewish people." I too think this is a mistake, but I think you mean they are boycotting Israelis, not Jews in general. Not all Jews live in Israel - you are confusing creed and country.

    On the whole, neoBetsansConscience you adopt a wholly partisan stance. But remember, some people are right a lot of the time. A lot of people are right some of the time. But no-one is right all of the time.

    Over and out.

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  • 20. At 5:41pm on 13 Jun 2008, neoBetsansConscience wrote:

    Dear wheredowegofromhere

    Yes you can have the last word as this seems more important that debating the core question in hand:- should 'the lefties' boycott Jewish leaders?

    My stance is fair from partisan- they are many living in Israel who see a military solution as the only real way of gaining some sense of freedom from terror (e.g. arms and the protective wall).

    I have advoctaed dialogue. I have criticised those who are seeking to boycott 'anything Jewish' because they do not appreciate the tensions of the region (and usually are not Jewish).

    When Iran (sorry a typo thanks for pointing this out) goes nuclear, and Israel takes a Amercian style 'pre-emptive strike' and this, in turn, creates a third world war...come and tell me I am a partisan.

    Yet again I say- when the Arab nations state categorically that Israel has a de facto right to exist, then and only then, will there by the opportunity for peace in the Middle East.

    I would pick-up your other points, but we would be moving to an academic essay, with operational definitions rather than common parlance (which on ablog one tends to use), and I am on my way out the the Bay for supper.

    Thank Heavens there will be no freedom fighters/terrorists seeking to blow me up because of my ethnicity/religion/race!!

    Of course, there are parts of Israel that you cannot say that in...

    over and out!!

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  • 21. At 10:16pm on 16 Jun 2008, raytheredrebel wrote:

    Well done, Dafydd El, for your stand. Ron Prosor has stated that "there is no platform he will not utilize for PR work" to promote Israel; he is talking about platforms like the Welsh Assembly. But he has a major PR problem- the appalling human rights record of his government's illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.

    There will no doubt be Assembly Members eager to meet the Ambassador. As with previous visits by officials of his government, they may well be offered an all expenses paid trip to Israel to give one side of the picture, which does not include a visit to the checkpoints, Apartheid Wall, or illegal settlements. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

    I know there will be some who hope to have the opportunity to question the Israeli Ambassador on the humanitarian catastrophe which is taking place in the Palestinian territories whose borders Israel controls.

    But I must tell all those fair minded people that on the basis of his previous statements, Mr Prosor is not interested in debate. Briefed by Mrs Jean Evans, he is likely to ignore everything you say, ridicule your arguments and attack your principled stand.

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