LONDON – A photograph of Britain’s east Jerusalem-based Consul-General Alastair McPhail wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh with the slogan “Free Palestine” superimposed on a map of Israel has caused a major Islamic charity to publish what is effectively an apology.
McPhail was photographed in April during an official inaugural visit to a jointly funded project at the Health Professions Laboratory at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, sponsored by the British government through his office and Islamic Relief Palestine.
Standing alongside one of his co-hosts, similarly attired, the diplomat was clearly seen wearing the keffiyeh at the foot of which was a map of Israel partially shaded in red effectively overwritten by the words “Free Palestine.”
Initially a spokesman for the Foreign Office indicated it had no comment to make on the attire of its main representative to the Palestinian territories, beyond saying “The UK’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not changed,” phraseology that ignored McPhail’s diplomatic gaffe.
However, pressed by The Jerusalem Post to explain how a representative of the UK government could be caught wearing such a politically loaded statement, effectively endorsing the campaign of replacing Israel with a “Free Palestine,” a clearly embarrassed Whitehall official, who in an off-guarded aside admitted the action was – to say the least – ill advised, declined to comment on the diplomat’s faux pas and instead drew attention to a statement issued by Islamic Relief.
Dated August 22, and clearly in response to repeated calls for an explanation of the incident, the charity said that it has come to their attention that an error had occurred in the reporting of the inauguration concerning a photograph taken at the event involving a keffiyeh.
“We would like to clarify that the scarf that was worn momentarily by the British consul-general was not given to, or placed on him, by Islamic Relief staff or volunteers. The photograph was posted in error and no political message was intended by its publication. IR Palestine has apologized to the British consul- general for the inadvertent publication of the photograph.”
Islamic Relief Palestine added that they were dedicated to eradicating poverty and alleviating suffering, and that it “does not take political positions.”
Nor, they said, did they wish to take “much-needed attention away from the pressing humanitarian need in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which they were serving with international partners.
The Foreign Office spokesman emphasized to the Post that the scarf had been placed over McPhail’s shoulders as the photographs were being taken and the garment was removed moments later when other snaps recorded the ceremony.
And in the circumstances especially of Islamic Relief’s explanation and admission of an error, it was made clear no further comment was necessary or likely and that the diplomat himself had nothing to add on the matter.
The question of a reprimand did not apply and as far as the Foreign Office was concerned, the issue was closed.
However, in what had all the hallmarks of a joint exercise to extricate McPhail from a difficult situation that could easily have led to questions from MPs in the House of Commons over his impartiality, the Islamic Relief website entry ended with a lengthy explanation of the basis of the UK’s Middle East policy in support of the two-state solution. Crafted by a Whitehall wordsmith, it opened with the “information” that the UK government’s position on the conflict, “as shared by the British Consulate in Jerusalem,” is: “The UK government’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not changed.”