Given that 22,000 people tracked the flight path of British politician Priti Patel from Africa to London ahead of her resignation on Wednesday, one would think that she had done more than hold secret meetings with Israeli officials.
Patel, who until Wednesday held the post of British international development secretary, had been in Uganda when the scandal over her clandestine meetings reached its boiling point and Prime Minister Theresa May ordered her to return to London.
The BBC repeatedly published maps of her flight path.
A hashtag was created, #hasPritilandedyet, with people speculating about whether she would resign or be fired
. They even imagined May standing at the airport or Patel asking the pilot not to land.
All in all, some 85,000 people tweeted about her story.
But was it Israel or the fate of the British government that incited such a social media frenzy? It is easy to spin the story within the context of the deep and conflicting emotions toward Israel in Great Britain.
One has to ask, though – if Patel had secretly met with officials in the Netherlands, would anyone care? There has long been a love-hate relationship between Israel and Britain, whose history with the Jews dates back almost one thousand years.
Britain is enshrined in Zionist history because of its issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which made it the first country to publicly endorse the right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of the Bible.
But appreciation for that act was replaced with enmity in 1939 when Britain, which governed the area, clamped down on Jewish immigration to what was then known as Mandate Palestine, thereby preventing a Jewish escape route from the Nazis in Europe.
In modern day parlance, the country is split between what is viewed as a pro-Israel stance of the Prime Minister’s Office and the ruling Conservative Party and the perceived pro-Palestinian position of the Foreign Office and the Labour Party, which heads the opposition.
Last Thursday night, May gave a rousing endorsement of the Jewish state at a special gala event to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, explaining that anti-Zionism was a modern form of antisemitism.
Just six days later, Patel was forced to resign after the media reported that she had held a series of secret meetings with Israeli officials in August while on vacation, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Ministry director- general Yuval Rotem and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
At issue was her failure to disclose those meetings to the Foreign Office prior to her arrival and to follow proper protocol in holding those meetings, which should have included British officials in Israel.
Further revelations showed that she visited an Israeli field hospital that treats wounded Syrians on the Golan Heights, which Britain considers to be “occupied territory.” She also wanted to use British funds to help the IDF treat the wounded from the Syrian conflict.
In addition, when she apologized
to May on Monday and described her activities, she omitted two subsequent meetings with Israelis, one with Rotem in New York and another with Erdan in London.
Patel, a rising star in the Conservative Party, herself admitted that she had broken protocol.
Israel issued no statement on the matter holding that it was an internal British affair.
Diplomatic sources rejected media stories that the Foreign Office had leaked information on Patel because they were upset that the Prime Minister’s Office was bypassing them on policy issues regarding Israel.
But on social media her supporters and opponents fell into pro and anti-Israel camps, with some speculation that Patel’s sudden fall was proof that Israel’s ties were a toxic topic for British politicians even though May took care to speak of Israel as an important ally, in chastising Patel.
Social media pundits critical of Israel noted that this was the second scandal this year involving Israel. In January, an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera tapped a political officer from the British Embassy speaking about ways to discredit British parliamentarians who were anti-Israel. They also questioned Jewish Conservative politician Lord Stuart Polak’s involvement in the Patel scandal, noting his close ties to May. Polak was with Patel in many of the meetings.
Scottish Labour politician George Galloway, known for his pro-Palestinian sympathies, said on talkRADIO that his anger over the Patel scandal had nothing to do with his position on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Imagine that Patel had been on vacation in Sochi and not Israel, he said.
“She doesn’t tell anybody that while she’s in Sochi, she meets 12 Russian government ministers and meets President Vladimir Putin. Without the British ambassador from Moscow having a sniff of the fact that that cabinet minister was even in the country.
“I tell you bluntly not only would that cabinet minister have been an ex-cabinet minister for at least a week, they’d be an ex-member of Parliament and almost certainly be facing criminal charges, if not for treason, than for breaches of the Official Secrets Act,” Galloway said.
Patel’s supporters explained that she had held meetings involving humanitarian aid with a close British ally. They noted that she was not the only British politician to have held questionable meetings, pointing to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has in the past met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, members of Hamas, Hezbollah and, prior to 1994, the Irish Republican Army.
A mock Corbyn Twitter account stated: “Priti Patel met the representatives of a friendly nation in secret. They fired her.
I met the representatives of our enemies openly (and praised them). They made me leader.”
The British group North West Friends of Israel tweeted: “Priti Patel has meetings to discuss giving aid to injured Syrian refugees.
Biggest crime of the century.
Corbyn meets mass murderers & is seen as the Messiah.
Left totally obsessed with Jews & Israel.”
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson suggested that Downing Street and the Foreign Office had known about Patel’s activities in real time and that she had met with British consulate members while in Israel.
The Patel scandal, however, is just one of a number of problems rocking May’s government and her cabinet ministers.
Last week, her defense secretary, Michael Fallon, resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is also in hot water over comments he made that could endanger British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Iran.
Patel’s story is best seen as part of a sequence of events that have endangered May’s government and it has garnered attention accordingly.
British journalist Piers Morgan wrote in an opinion piece on the Daily Mail’s online site: “For God’s sake go now, Theresa.
Because NOTHING can be any worse for Britain than this embarrassing slow-motion national car-crash.”
May is considered one of Israel’s closer allies among European heads of state. So for Israel the Patel scandal is less important than the overall question of whether it stands to lose a genuine friend at Downing Street.