Quite a time for Tony Blair's special envoy to the Middle East to be out of commission. Lord Michael Levy was arrested last week in connection with the cash-for-peerages affair.
'Lord Cashpoint' has pretty much escaped any criticism over the years for being heavily biased in the Middle East conflict. The prime minister's personal envoy to the region is, according to the Sunday Times, "a pillar of British Judaism and a leading international Zionist". The Jerusalem Post has had him pinned as “undoubtedly the notional leader of British Jewry”.
His relationship to Blair has been built on money. Levy has raised millions for the New Labour cause. His relationship with Blair is described in a very revealing recent account from Dominic Lawson in the Daily Mail:
When the telephone rang during the meal, I loved the way Michael mouthed in a stage whisper to all of us: 'It's Tony!' As it was the night Michael Howard became leader of the Conservative Party, the discussion naturally dwelt on the revived prospects (as it then seemed) for the Tories. Lord Levy declared that he 'could now raise a great deal of money for the Conservatives'. 'Would you like me to ring Michael Howard now?' I asked. 'I said could, not will,' Levy replied with a giggle, wagging his index finger at me reprovingly.
In fact, it is Michael Levy's extraordinary achievement to have rerouted vast sums of money, which Jewish businessmen had traditionally directed at the Tory Party, into the coffers of New Labour. Never can a spymaster have 'turned' so many agents of influence.
Well worth reading the whole piece, especially for those interested in political wheeling and dealing.
Kim Howells is the government's other man in the Middle East. As a minister at the FCO he has special responsibility for the region. His previous interest in the area was that he was the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel.
He was in the headlines for saying something mildly rebuking to Israel on Saturday. I wonder about the significance of this move. Is it because Blair is so scared about speaking on the reality of the situation in Lebanon and Gaza that he thought there would be enough distance between himself and Howells so as not to irk Levy and his friends?
I'm sure Howells will revert back to type soon enough. Both he and Levy are too hopelessly biased to be regarded as serious players in the situation. It's astonishing that Blair has not been taken to account for this. Instead we have TV documentaries waging war against ordinary civil servants like Mockbul Ali.
We have Matthew d'Ancona in the Telegraph, wondering why William Hague is employing a Muslim as part of his backroom staff:
It was all the more surprising, then, to hear William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, declare on Thursday that "elements of the Israeli response are disproportionate" and that "a disproportionate Israeli response will damage the Israeli cause in the long term". To leave us in no doubt, he added that "it is by no means clear that continued bombardment of Hezbollah areas will result in military success for Israel", and repeats the same message on the facing page.
For those of us who have followed Mr Hague's career with interest and admiration, this was an astonishing statement. Few Tories have been more staunch over the years in their support of Israel and America's strategy in the Middle East; Mr Hague is a friend of President Bush, who - if he ever learns of these remarks - will be wounded by them. Dark rumours swirl around the Tory Party about the influence of Mr Hague's staff - especially his senior adviser, Dr Arminka Helic, a Muslim emigree from the Balkans. Whatever its cause, Mr Hague's wobble has unnerved the young modernisers in his party, most of whom are strong defenders of Israel and America in the battle against Islamism: not so much Notting Hill Tories as Mount of Olive Conservatives.
Message is clear. Having Zionists working at all levels within the political and diplomatic process is perfectly normal. Muslims, on the other hand, must keep out.