UK minister 'held undisclosed meetings' on Israel holiday

UK minister 'held undisclosed meetings' on Israel holiday
UK government faces potential embarrassment as revelations surface about a cabinet minister's undisclosed meetings in Israel earlier this year.
3 min read
03 November, 2017
Priti Patel met with an Israeli politician while on holiday in August [Getty]

Britain's International Development Secretary reportedly held undisclosed meetings while on holiday in Israel, accompanied by a "powerful" British pro-Israeli lobbyist, a new report has claimed.

According to the BBC, Conservative Party minister Priti Patel took part in the meetings without informing her party while visiting the country in August.

A source cited by the state-owned broadcasting corporation said that at least one of the meetings was set up on the suggestion of Israel's UK ambassador.

"What does it say to the rest of the Middle East if a senior Cabinet minister in charge of Britain's huge aid budget disappears for 48 hours from a family holiday in Israel and is under the wing of a pro-Israeli lobbyist?" a former minister told the BBC.

By attending the overseas meetings without informing the Foreign Office, Patel allegedly broke ministerial convention.

Patel, who is a staunch supporter of Israel, is a former vice-chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) group and has taken a tough stance on donations to Palestine as International Development Secretary.

Under her watch, guidlines on UK spending in the Palestinian territories were made more stringent. An unnamed Foreign Office source who spoke to the BBC claims that she had recently tried to implement more restrictions.

Leadership ambitions

Revelations about her holiday in Israel have reportedly ruffled feathers in Whitehall, where staffers and former ministers have suggested that Patel is cozying up to powerful party donors in preparation for a future leadership bid.

During the meetings, she was accompanied by Lord Polak, the CFI's honorary president.

A 2009 documentary by Channel 4's Dispatches investigative series described the CFI as "beyond doubt the most well- connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups".

Polak and Patel reportedly met with Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid. Lapid once served as finance minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government.

Lapid tweeted a photo of the meeting in August, with a caption describing Patel as a "true friend of Israel".

'No wrongdoing'

While the newly-emerged details of Patel's holiday could cause huge embarrassment for the British government, some have jumped to defend the minister's actions.

Polak said that he "just joined her [Patel] for a couple of days, some drinks, some dinner, that kind of thing," and that the minister paid for the holiday herself, according to the BBC.

He also claimed that the meeting with Lapid "wasn't anything formal" and was "all very innocent".

The revelations may also harm Britian's efforts to present itself as a neutral party in the Israel-Palestine conflict. This increased pressure comes as the world commemorates the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which brings to the fore Britain's historical role in shaping the current crisis.