Candid friends like Alistair Burt make us yearn for enemies
Posted on February 8th, 2013

Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe

The procession continues. Even before the plane carrying the three-member team of American Deputy Under Secretaries Moore, Zimmermann and Singh had taken off we had another “ƒ”¹…”friend’ bearing gifts. This time it was Mr Alistair Burt, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the British Foreign and Commonwealth office.

The words of reassurance of the ‘long standing relationship’ by the three deputies from America were still echoing when Mr Burt reminded Sri Lanka of their ‘candid’ friendship with us: even though the words came from a lowest ranking of the three tiers of British government ministers, junior to a Minister of State and a Secretary of State, a blessing is a blessing and we could not complaint.

The overwhelming feelings of a warm glow inside however, were dimmed by the sting in the tail of Mr Burt’s speech at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute: he went on to say that the UK will support ‘whatever decisions’ taken by the United Nations or the Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) regarding the LLRC report, or the impeachment of the Chief Justice, reminding us that it would be ‘in the interest of the country.’

The External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris put matters right in the gentlest but unequivocal manner by narrating a lesson he learnt as a nine-year-old to Mr Burt: Professor Peiris quoted Jawaharlal Nehru, from a speech to the Parliament of Ceylon, about his “reluctance to advise others on the resolution of their own issues”.

Professor Peiris hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the untenability of the British (and American) position of acquiescence with the Israeli boycott of the UNHRC Universal Periodic Review process (UPR) on account of the concerns being ‘domestic issues’, and choosing to hector Sri Lanka about its positive engagement with the UPR. Delightfully, Professor Peiris pointed out that Israel seems have no “ƒ”¹…”friends’ who want to point out the error of their ways, but only those hoping for a change of heart!

An Israeli flag fluttering over a view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ofra. Picture courtesy: The Telegraph
Alistair Burt

Though Professor Peiris’ remarks should, in theory, compel Mr Burt to reconsider his cunning plan to ‘take Sri Lanka to task’ at the March Sessions of the UNHRC, his position is unlikely to change: it is not an oxymoron to say that the secret workings of the so-called Western democracies are quite predictable these days!

Burt’s agenda in Sri Lanka was self-serving

The clues to Mr Burt’s approach to Sri Lanka, now and in the future, will be dictated by the contingencies of the virtual stranglehold of the two-party system of democracy in his country by the pro-Israeli lobby: in Britain, like in the the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand the lobby exercises complete control of political parties, mainly through the control of the pre-selection process for electoral contest, gaining ultimate control of foreign policy.

One of the most important tasks the elected politicians have to perform in return for favours from the lobby is to help keep international limelight away from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and the ongoing illegal border expansion and settlement building in the Palestinian territories.

There is no easier way of keeping international attention away from Israel than by shifting focus to other “ƒ”¹…”trouble spots’ of the world: as the whole of Sri Lanka now knows, people like Eric Solheim did everything possible to extend the Sri Lankan war through duplicitous manipulation, and the end of the Sri Lankan war really displeases them.

In the absence of real trouble spots that almost invite foreign and UN intervention, it becomes the duty of loyal Israeli supporters in the West to “ƒ”¹…”dig deep’ to look for matters to complaint about in post-conflict situations. Exploitable situations could range from lack of government interest on symbolic reconciliation rituals as advocated by them, counter espionage actions on NGOs and baseless “ƒ”¹…”concerns’ about human rights “ƒ”¹…”abuses’.

Alistair Burt’s background in British politics and the content of his speech at the Kadragamar Institute point to an agenda that fits neatly in to this template.

Having first entered politics at the local government level in 1982, Burt rapidly entered Parliament in 1983 as MP for the “ƒ”¹…”new’ seat of Bury North. He lost the seat at the 1997 elections to Labour, and worked at an executive search firm.

Lo and behold, he found a very safe Conservative seat (Bedfordshire North East) in 2001, and has remained an MP since. Such fast-tracked political rise and longevity suggests that Burt “ƒ”¹…”has to be’ a true Israel loyalist.

Indeed he is: Alistair Burt has been a long serving officer of the “ƒ”¹…”Conservative Friends of Israel’ lobby group until being appointed as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2010. He has been described by the “ƒ”¹…”Jewish Chronicle’ as a ‘champion’ and ‘passionate supporter’ of Israel. He led an all-Party group campaigning for visiting rights for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was held by Hamas for several years. He has been making annual trips to Israel since he became a minister.

Burt’s address to students at Bar-Ilan University during his visit to Israel and the West Bank in January 2012 helps gain a glimpse of his obviously biased devotion to Israel: having praised the strong bilateral relationship between the UK and Israel, he declared “your values are our values, your strength is our strength, and your well-being is our well-being”. His statement that “world needs Israel’s values of tolerance and justice” sounds like words spoken in jest, at least to an objective mind! Mr Burt probably applies a uniquely peculiar moral standard, or maybe he was standing on his head!

Palestinian provisional statehood poses a challenge

The UN General Assembly vote on granting non-member observer State status to Palestine on November 29, 2012 posed a moral challenge to the West, putting them in a diplomatic tight spot at a practical level.

Most European countries voted for Palestinian membership and others abstained in a compromise with the domestic pro-Israeli lobbies. Britain fell in to the second category, after unsuccessfully trying to secure a “ƒ”¹…”letter’ from the Palestinians, outside the UN process, guaranteeing that they will not lodge war crimes cases against Israel.

Burt being the junior minister responsible, had to handle the aftermath of the vote, the Israeli “ƒ”¹…”revenge plans’ to build new homes beyond the Green Line in particular. As Western politicians usually do, Burt attempted to persuade Israel not to go ahead with the plans by warning of the damage to their international reputation.

Minister Prof. G L Peiris
David Cameron

Burt also took the “ƒ”¹…”brave’ step of formally summoning Israeli Ambassador to the Foreign Office and reportedly ‘making clear’ of the UK’s disappointment at the Israeli government failure to heed their calls to not to undermine the Palestinian Authority following their victory at the UN.

Burt described the move to build new settlements on Palestinian lands ‘profoundly provocative’ action that would constitute war crimes by contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention. It must be said that such statements, made compulsory by the need to maintain lucrative oil and weapons deals with Middle Eastern countries, approached the limits of admonishment any Western foreign minister would try with Israel.

Burt’s action on Sri Lanka is aimed at deflecting UNHRC attention

Having ruffled Israel’s feathers to a certain extent, Alistair Burt is now obliged to repent and prove loyalty again by saving Israel from international condemnation at the UNHCR, and worse still, from any action that may lead to trade and other sanctions.

Most unsatisfactorily for Israeli lobbyists like Burt however, there is a real shortage of flaming internecine wars in the world at present: there are no Islamists to be seen in Mali, and the situation between Sudan and the American client state of South Sudan is technically an “ƒ”¹…”international’ war now, making it difficult to kick up a human rights row about. So they need to “ƒ”¹…”lean on’ Sri Lanka, but as gently as possible!

This the reason why Burt has been trying to sell us his UNHRC plans at the end of a ‘golden thread’ that is supposed to provide the foundation for sustainable prosperity and development: according to Burt, absence of war is not enough, and apparently as David Cameron also has said, true prosperity is not possible without good governance, property rights and the rule of law, effective public services and strong civil institutions, free and fair trade, and open markets. This apparently is the reason why he wants to ‘encourage’ the Sri Lankan government to implement LLRC report recommendations.

He also ‘called on all parties’ to uphold civil and political freedoms, and for the government to set an example. Then he gets on his high horse of judicial independence as sedge way to the issue of impeachment of the Chief Justice, and expresses ‘deep concern’.

He struck a sinister note in ending with the threat that “intense international scrutiny will return at the UNHRC in March to review progress on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations”. Burt also would like to see us extend invitations to UN Special Rapporteurs!

Such patronising on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Independence was insulting

The platitudinal nature of Burt’s remarks and “ƒ”¹…”concerns’ show that he was in Colombo to simply pre-warn Sri Lanka about the British plan to prop up the planned US “ƒ”¹…”motion’ at the UNHRC in March, removing the element of surprise. Burt explained that the reason why UK cares about Sri Lanka is due to our “deep links”, an important partnership, history and their desire to see a secure, prosperous and stable country for all Sri Lankans.

Four years after the war, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is doing everything possible to make peace here sustainable, and that it is upholding the rights of all its citizens. This is the time for Sri Lanka to create a peaceful, free, democratic and prosperous future.

Sri Lankans are entitled to take such comments, observations and criticisms as patronising and insulting: on what grounds does Burt imply that there is no good governance, property rights, the rule of law, effective public services, strong civil institutions, free and fair trade, and open markets?

A closer look is bound to reveal to Burt that as a functioning democracy, Sri Lanka’s governance infrastructure functions satisfactorily on a par, or better in some areas, than the British institutions. Sri Lanka clearly upholds the rights of all citizens and Burt is free to compare the plight of Bangladesh is in Birmingham with the Tamils living in Colombo.

It is 65 years since we broke the yoke of our long, deep and candid “ƒ”¹…”relationship’ that resembled a “ƒ”¹…”bacon and egg’ joint venture between a pig and a hen and your motion at the UNHRC will not bother us.

We can look after our own affairs, thank you Mr Burt.

2 Responses to “Candid friends like Alistair Burt make us yearn for enemies”

  1. MuhammadFS Says:

    Israel trained both soldiers and LTTE to drag the war so they could sell their weapons.

    Only Muslim countries stood by Srilanka all the way.

    Thank you Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe

  2. Voice123 Says:

    MuhammedFS, are you saying that just because you are a Muslim and have some sort of blind hatred for Israel/loyalty to the Arab countries, or is this being said with the whole of SRI LANKA’s interests at heart?

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