Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West and known as a reasonable man of the left. Flynn is a campaigning MP who has asked some difficult questions about the Werritty-Fox affair. He speaks passionately about the Iraq War and UK intervention in Afghanistan, which he feels were terrible errors. Having read reports that Werritty and Fox met in Israel with Mossad in the presence of the UK ambassador to discuss a military strike on Iran, Flynn became worried about a neo-con plot. What's more, the ambassador, Matthew Gould, happens to be Jewish.
As a member of the Public Administration Select Committee, Flynn raised his concerns during the questioning of Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the civil service, who conducted an inquiry into the Werritty affair.
His remarks can be seen in the minutes of the hearing on Wednesday 23 November. The Welsh MP, who proclaims himself a friend of Israel said:
'I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran, in the service.'
He was challenged on this by his Conservative colleague on the committee, Robert Halfon, who suggested that it was out of order to suggest that Mr Gould was working for a foreign power.
Mr Halfon later commented on the matter in an article in the Jewish Chronicle:
'The subtext, of course is that Jews by nature are not loyal to the country that they serve but are working for foreign powers, This has been the habitual accusation of anti-Semitism throughout the ages.'
Having been alerted to Flynn’s remarks, I called the MP last week to ask him if he stood by what he had said to the committee. He said 'absolutely'. Indeed he went further and questioned the wisdom of a Jew holding the post of UK ambassador to Israel because of the risk of 'going native'. His remarks caused outrage across the political spectrum and provoked the Jewish Board of Deputies to issue a statement. We reported the whole sorry episode on the front page of the Jewish Chronicle last week.
Flynn has used his blog to say that any suggestion that he is anti-Semitic is 'ludicrous'. But he does not deny making the remarks to me. People will have to make their own judgement. Owen Jones has written an interesting piece in the New Statesman from the perspective of a campaigner for the rights of Palestinians challenging Flynn to explain his comments. I don't agree with everything he says but he is right that further clarification is in order.
I think it is only fair that I describe the detail and context of my conversation with Paul Flynn. I called the MP's office several times last Wednesday to ask for clarification of his remarks at the select committee. After playing phone tag, we finally spoke towards the end of the day. I suggested he might wish to issue a considered statement rather than talking off the top of his head.
But he explained that he stood by what he said in the select committee and believed he was doing the right thing in trying to get to the bottom of the Werritty affair. He said that Matthew Gould had described himself as a Zionist and felt that 'as an ambassador he needs to take a more distant role'.
He told me he thought it was legitimate to raise the issue of a dinner attended by Werrity which took place in Israel in February at which Matthew Gould was also present. As it had been reported that Mossad were also present, Flynn thought it was important to question whether anything untoward was going on, especially as Werritty was in receipt of money 'from think tanks who take a neo-con line who are fomenting war in Iran'. As an opponent of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan he said he was worried about the UK being 'sucked into a war in Iran'.
At this point I asked whether he was aware that Matthew Gould was Jewish and he said that he was. This was when he said:
'In the past there hasn’t been a Jewish ambassador to Israel and I think that is a good decision: to avoid the accusation that they have "gone native".'
He explained that in the case of Israel the UK needed 'someone with roots in the UK and can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty'. He added that he wanted 'to know if a neo-con organisation in America used our Secretary of State to advance their agenda'.
He also expressed his frustration that the select committee had been 'politicised by right-wingers'.
Finally, I asked Flynn if he knew anything about the constituents who had raised questions about Matthew Gould's loyalty. He said he knew who they were. 'I have accepted what they have told me,' he said.
I asked if he knew that at least one of them had objected to being helped by British staff in Israel with Jewish names and he said he did not, but concluded: 'I wouldn't have thought they were antisemitic.'
I happen to think that Paul Flynn's comments in parliament mark a new low. A particular form of ill-informed anti-Zionist discourse has now become imbedded in mainstream politics. The matter has now been referred to Labour's Chief Whip, Rosie Winterton. She must act quickly to stop this poison spreading.