Salmond's new U-turn on Israel

Mick Napier
2 November 2012

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond met with Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub in Edinburgh shortly before Taub faced protests from students angry at his visit to Edinburgh University. Expressing his concerns about the state of public opinion, Taub complained to Salmond about “the elements of extreme hostility to Israel in parts of Scottish society.” Luckily, Israeli methods for dealing with hostile Palestinian public opinion – torture and mass imprisonment – are not options here.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Taub October 2012Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Taub October 2012
Despite the difficulties with public opinion, Israel's honorary consul to Scotland, Stanley Lovatt, said the two had a "very convivial meeting".

Not far from this conviviality, students were acting very much in line with general public opinion in Scotland and around the world, and certainly in the spirit of Alex Salmond’s repeatedly stated opposition to Israeli crimes and human rights violations.

Speaking in Glasgow on BBC’s Question Time on March 25th 2010 Scotland’s First Minister came close to using the language of boycott and sanctions against the apartheid state when he called for a review of the UK’s trading relationships with Israel. This followed the use of forged British passports by an Israeli death squad in the assassination of a Palestinian resistance leader in a Dubai hotel room. Salmond told the audience, “You can’t have normal relationships if you believe another country has been involved in what Israel has been involved in”.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband had announced the previous week that a Mossad agent was to be expelled from the UK over the Israeli intelligence agency’s “intolerable” misuse of British passports in the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January. Salmond insisted the response “should be more than expelling a diplomat”, which he derided as a “diplomatic dance”, and added, “This has implications for example in trading relationships”.

This principled position seems about to ditched on the heels of the SNP government’s abandonment of opposition to NATO membership last week.

Israeli Ambassador Taub seems to think so. He told the Jewish Chronicle “We also explored the possibility of co-operation between Israel and Scotland, particularly in the fields of business, technology, health and renewable energy.”

This is a significant U-turn, given Alex Salmond’s condemnation of Israel over the years. In 2002 he attacked Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for exporting display units for F-16 fighters "used in attacks on Palestinians in the illegally occupied territories". Two years later he called Tony Blair "George Bush's toady" for backing a policy switch on "illegal" Israeli settlements, and condemned "massacres in Gaza", using the appropriate terminology, during an Israeli invasion that year.

Mr Salmond has strongly attacked UK "inaction on Palestine", declaring himself "appalled by the British approach that runs contrary to our Scottish view of the world".

In making such attacks, Salmond has enjoyed SNP and wider public support. One SNP MEP Alyn Smith noted Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s lack of "any regard for human rights", and called on the EU "to bring the Israeli government to account” using “economic weapons”.

There seems to be more than a general declaration involved. STV report that “A follow-up meeting has been arranged between the Israeli embassy and enterprise minister Fergus Ewing.”

Many who were angry at the NATO decision will have to swallow another bitter pill; Alex Salmond’s about-turn from talk of trade sanctions against a criminal regime to an instruction to his Minister to grow the trade links he denounced a few years ago. John Finnie who resigned over the issue, showed a high degree of prescience when he warned delegates during that debate: "Vote to join Nato and there will be pressure on Alex Salmond and his deputy not to support the Palestinians and similar causes around the globe."

Humanitarian aid to the Palestinian victims of Israeli massacres will not compensate for the Scottish Government's aid to an Israeli settler company involved in gross vilations of human rights (see below), or signing trade deals with the apartheid state in violation of the Palestinian appeal for boycott. From opposition to Israeli crimes, the Scottish Government will now work to expand the economic base of the ethnic cleansing regime throttling the life out of the Palestinian people.  When goverments support the crime, people have to take direct action to support the victims.

Israel has not become less criminal; Alex Salmond is taking the same path trodden by the Tony Blair he publicly despised and once tried to impeach.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

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See also: Scottish Government helped Israeli company deal with boycott "threatening future of Eden Springs UK"