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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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