Shocking behaviour from elected MPs here – in several different ways.
Firstly, Labour MP Ruth George has been forced to apologise after claiming that the new “Independent Group” – of seven Parliamentarians who have split from the Labour Party – may be funded by Israel.
In a Facebook post she wrote: “Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’, of which Luciana [Berger] was chair, is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it, especially when the group’s financial backers are not being revealed.
“It’s important for democracy to know the financial backers for any political group or policy.”
She subsequently retracted her statement, commenting: “I had no intention of invoking a conspiracy theory.”
Which conspiracy theory is this, then?
There isn’t a conspiracy theory relating to the state of Israel.
There is one relating to Jews – that a shadowy cabal of people belonging to that religion/ethnicity is trying to control international politics/the press/[fill in the blank] – but the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism makes it abundantly clear that this may not be attributed to criticism of Israel that could also be made about any other country: “Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
That is not the case here.
Nevertheless, when Margaret Hodge appeared on BBC Radio 4’s PM, she did not hesitate to equate the reference to Israel with anti-Semitism, and was not challenged on that by the show’s presenter. I wonder why not.
The second issue arising from this is one that I raised in a previous article: That the “Independent Group” has formed itself as a company, meaning that it does not have to divulge the identities of donors.
For all we know, the Israeli government could be funding this organisation – or perhaps other foreign powers may be. Even if neither is true, we cannot trust these MPs to have the interests of UK citizens at heart, above those of their funders.
And the question of foreign interference in UK politics is a big issue at the moment. Think about the questions around Russian involvement in the EU referendum.
The behaviour of both Ms Hodge, in make a false argument, and the “Independent Group”, in hiding the identity of its backers, is deplorable.
There is an easy way to dispel suspicions about all of these issues, of course – and that is for the “Independent Group” to open up its books to the public.
Until that happens, the people of the UK cannot trust Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey. It’s as simple as that.