By JONNY PAUL
On Tuesday, the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee dismissed a petition – submitted by anti-Israel activist Asid Khan in February – that called on the Parliament “to urge the Scottish government to review its policy with respect to trade missions or trade initiatives by publicly-funded bodies to Israel and to direct or influence Scottish Trade International to end any ongoing initiatives with Israel.”
“We are greatly concerned and disappointed to find that Scottish Development International (SDI) arranged a trade mission to Israel from 10-15 January 2010. This, we consider, was contrary to the spirit of the resolution of the Scottish Parliament on 8 January 2009 condemning the attacks on Palestinians in Gaza,” the petition stated.
In April, the committee took evidence from Khan and agreed to write to the Scottish government, the Scottish Trade Union Congress, the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to seek responses to points raised in petition PE1308 and during the panel’s deliberations.
Khan told the committee that because Scottish Development International is a publicly funded body, tasked to attract foreign investment and explore potential business partners, the mission to Israel may be seen as implying that “the Scottish government is not concerned about the State of Israel’s violation of International law, notably [UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338].”
A briefing paper published by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre in February confirmed that SDI’s aim is to “broaden Scotland’s international appeal and to assist the growth of the Scottish economy, by encouraging inward investment and helping Scottish- based companies develop international trade.”
The briefing also stated that “There are currently no concerns within the government about the trade mission to Israel and there are no restrictions or guidance in place in respect of the SDI trade mission or trade missions generally.”
In a response to the Petitions Committee, the government added: “The Scottish government’s policy with Israel is aligned with Foreign Office guidelines. Israel is an important market for Scottish and UK companies and this mission, focused on potential business and investment opportunities, was planned with the aim of improving trade and investment links between Israel and Scotland. Israel remains an important market for Scottish companies.”
In a comprehensive written response to the committee, the Foreign Office said the British government “actively supports and encourages” trade relations with Israel.
“Israel is an important trading partner for the UK. Exports of goods to Israel in 2009 were worth over £1 billion and exports of services are worth a further £500 million annually.
Israeli firms are significant investors in the UK economy.
Trade missions constitute a key part of maintaining such fruitful business relations,” said Lord Davies, minister for trade, investment and small business.
Last week, the Petitions Committee revisited the petition and in light of the reports submitted by the British Foreign Office, the Scottish government and others, rejected the call to end all trade initiatives with Israel and closed the petition.
The discussion lasted less than a minute and Member of Scottish Parliament John Wilson was the only MP to speak.
“In light of the responses received, I recommend we close the petition,” Wilson said.
The decision was welcomed by Jewish community group Scottish Friends of Israel.
“The UK and Scottish governments, through their various agencies, have re-stated their unequivocal support for improving trade and investment links between Israel and Scotland,” Friends of Israel spokesman Stanley Grossman said. “It couldn’t be any clearer.
No boycotts, no divestments and no sanctions.”
The petition was supported by Sandra White, Scottish MP for the Scottish National Party, who spoke on behalf of the petitioner to the Petitions Committee. Despite a number of requests, White – who is a member of the Cross-Party Group on Palestine in the Scottish Parliament – refused to comment.