Remember the Russian spy ring that infiltrated, er, parent-teacher meetings, coffee mornings and barbecues? It transpired that one of them had been using a false British passport. In response to this, Miriam Shaviv, Foreign Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, set a test:
A few days back, after it emerged that Russian spies had been using fake UK passports, I posed an Israel test: Will the UK launch an investigation and expel a Russian diplomat, as they did when they accused Israel of forging UK passports following the Mabhouh assassination in Dubai? Or do different rules apply to Israel and to Moscow?
Britain then failed the “Israel test”. Shaviv quoted the Wall St Journal:
At this stage during the Dubai affair in mid-February, the Labour government had already summoned the Israeli ambassador and announced criminal investigations amid furious statements from all political parties. It expelled another Israeli diplomat a month later. The Guardian newspaper ran some 17 articles highlighting the passport accusations.
By contrast, a week into the Russian forgery story, there is not a hint of a diplomatic row between London and Moscow. The Guardian mentioned the fake passport allegations in two articles that lacked the breathless condemnation directed at Israel. The paper’s editorial on the Russian spy-ring ignores the passport angle altogether.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that what really infuriated the British was not so much the alleged offense but the identity of its perpetrators.
However, it should be pretty obvious that these two scenarios are not comparable. The Israeli incident that Shaviv compares this to happened under a different government (as the Wall St Journal also noted) and a different news cycle. There’s been a crowded news agenda for the past couple of weeks. We have had the most controversial budget for a generation, the cancellation of the schools building programme and Michael Gove’s grovelling apology, and a crazed gunman on the run for the past week. Not to mention Wimbledon and the football World Cup taking up space in the news schedules. All of these distracted from the Russian spyring. When the spyring has been mentioned on the news, it’s usually either to show how this is a quaint throwback to the Cold War, or as an excuse to publish pictures of attractive women.
Also, the manner in which these passports were used is completely different. There is apparently “compelling evidence” that Mossad used cloned passports to assassinate a senior member of the Hamas military wing. It changed the photos of these passports, but not the names, which led to innocent British citizens being linked to a killing they had no knowledge of whatsoever. The interviews some of these people gave to the Mail are frightening. They had no knowledge their identity had been stolen in this way until they read about it in the newspapers. That is the main issue here.
Whereas forging documents, although obviously not OK, is less sinister just own its own. The good guys do it in the Great Escape:
Which means that forging passports is basically a Christmas tradition. And as mentioned above, these Russian spys seem to be fairly low-level fare, who didn’t do much scary stuff. Certainly no killing under the names of innocent people.
In conclusion, I’m not sure you can claim the UK passed or failed any “Israel test” because the two scenarios are completely different. It seems to me that anyone who supports, or opposes, the foreign policy of a particular country shall always think that Britain is acting for, or against, that particular country, usually for some sinister reason. See, for instance, this recent post on Inayat’s Corner:
The UK government has actually initiated a policy of refusing to allow Iranian passenger planes to refuel at UK airports. The new measure is meant to convey official UK government displeasure at the refusal of the Iranian government to succumb to UN demands regarding its nuclear programme.
Israel, of course, meanwhile faces no such sanctions. That’s justice for you.
To have two different people arguing at the same time that the UK double standards both favouring and condemning of Israel is obviously absurd.
In short, a bit more analysis and a bit less paranoia would be very welcome. I would argue, contrary to the Wall St Journal, that it’s hard to escape the conclusion that what really infuriated the British was not so much the identity of its perpetrators but the gravity of the alleged offence.