UK minister falls on her sword over 'undisclosed' meetings with Israeli officials
Oli SCARFF (AFP/File)
The United Kingdom's international aid minister Priti Patel succumbed on Wednesday to a growing political crisis over "undisclosed" meetings with top Israeli officials, quitting her post ahead of her widely expected firing by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Patel, the International Development Minister, was forced to apologize on Monday for taking time out of a family holiday to Israel in August to hold 12 separate meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians without May's knowledge.
But she was summoned back from a trip to Africa on Wednesday after British media outlets revealed she had held a meeting in the Golan Heights -- which is not officially recognized by the UK as Israeli territory -- and discussed sending aid money to the Israeli army in order to help their provision of medical care to Syrians affected by the country's civil war.
It also emerged late Tuesday there had been another two unauthorized meetings in September, one with Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
After rushing directly from London's Heathrow Airport to the prime minister's residence at Number 10 Downing St, Patel met with May, where she reportedly submitted a letter of resignation.
"I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation," she wrote, becoming the second minister to leave the cabinet in one week.
Patel wrote in her letter that there had been a "number of reports about my actions and I am sorry that these have served as a distraction."
May accepted Patel's resignation, replying in a letter that "the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally."
Patel told the Guardian newspaper last week that the UK Foreign Office and its Secretary, Boris Johnson, were aware the meetings, which included several senior officials and charities.
However this was disputed and, on Monday, Patel released a statement conceding that “in hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, and how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures. I am sorry for this and I apologize for it."
We're all going on a summer holiday
Patel was accompanied on all the meetings in Israel except one by Lord Stuart Polak, the honorary president of lobbying group Conservative Friends of Israel, a veteran lobbyist who has laid low as the controversy exploded.
The Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment on the affair.
A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday condemned the meetings as "scandalous", urging May to take action.
"I think it is scandalous and that leads me to question how many more cases, not just in Britain but other places, have not been exposed," Hanan Ashrawi told AFP.
May has struggled to keep her ministers in line since losing her Conservative parliamentary majority in a snap election in June.
Patel became the second minister to leave May's government in a week, after Michael Fallon quit on November 1 in a scandal over sexual harassment and sleaze that has rocked parliament.
A third cabinet minister, May's de facto deputy Damian Green, is under investigation for allegedly touching a journalist's knee in 2014 and for having "extreme pornography" on his parliamentary computer a decade ago.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also been heavily criticized for remarks which left him accused of jeopardizing the case of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran.
AFP contributed to this report.
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Antisemitism raised its ugly face once again. Just like BBC. guardian, nyt, WaPo etc.