UK civil servants want Israel banned from key AI summit at Bletchley

UK civil servants want Israel banned from key AI summit at Bletchley
Foreign Office officials suggested excluding Benjamin Netanyahu from an upcoming summit on AI at Bletchley Park which will see leaders from around the world attend.
2 min read
01 November, 2023
Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the summit remotely despite the Foreign Office advice [Getty]

British Foreign Office officials want Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned from a key summit on AI at Bletchley Park in the UK this week over a brutal ground and air offensive on Gaza.

Global leaders, technology executives, and experts, including Elon Musk, will convene at Bletchley Park, the historic site of World War II codebreakers, for a summit focused on the safety of artificial intelligence on Wednesday and Thursday.

However, foreign office officials have advised Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to revoke the Israeli prime minister’s invitation to the event as global outrage over Israel's bombing of Gaza - which has killed around 8,800 Palestinians - mounts. 

The civil servants reportedly believe that after the Israeli ground incursion into Gaza began on Friday night, the Israeli premier's attendance could be a distraction. They suggested that if Netanyahu were to bring up the conflict, it could overshadow Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosting of the summit.


Cleverly and Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science and Technology, quickly rejected the advice, according to The Times, as it does not align with the UK government’s support for Israel. "The answer was very firmly 'No, they (Israelis) are coming'," a source at the Foreign Office said.

The Times quoted a senior government source as saying that "Arabist" tendencies in the Foreign Office as the motivation behind the advice.

Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, which began after Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, has so far killed over 8,500 Palestinians, most of them women and children, causing outrage around the world and prompting calls for a humanitarian ceasefire.

The UK government recently dismissed the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) at the Science Department after he said that a ceasefire "would save lives and allow for a continued column of humanitarian aid to reach the people who need it the most".

Sunak plans for this to be the first in a recurring series of global AI summits, following the formats established by G7, G20, and COP conferences.

His attendance at future summits may depend on the outcome of next year's election, which the Conservatives are expected to lose.