As a former diplomat, you might expect new Tory MP Richard Graham to choose his words carefully, especially because he works as the parliamentary private secretary to FCO minister Lord Howell, and definitely when talking about Israel and the Palestinians. So I was surprised to hear him talking to a fringe event on Sunday describing the Israeli government’s report into last year’s raid by its navy on the Gaza aid flotilla as a “whitewash”.
When talking about the report by the Sri Lankan ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission‘ into the struggle there between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, Graham said:
We know that internal government reports do not have a good track record. The Israeli report into the Gaza flotilla, for example, falls into the whitewash category.
That Israeli report, in which both Lord Trimble and Brigadier General Ken Watkin participated, was controversial, especially with the Turkish government, which cut off military ties with the Israelis over the incident (the boat raided was based in Turkey).
But “whitewash” is definitely not the official British view. As always with this issue, the official foreign office line is more nuanced:
Part one of the Turkel Commission report appears to be a thorough analysis of the evidence before the Commission, and included international involvement.
The participation of Lord Trimble and Brigadier-General Ken Watkin as international observers was essential. Both observers stated clearly that they thought that the Commission was independent.
However, we regret that while the Commission made efforts to hear both sides, not all relevant evidence was available to the Commission.
A government source has told me Graham was freelancing, and his views clash with the official line. I also understand he is to be reprimanded by Alistair Burt, the foreign office minister, for his comments. Not a great start to his conference then…