By John C. Dyer, UK Correspondent
On 8 Dec 2010, the Department of Education confirmed the award of up to £2 million in public funds to Community Security Trust (CST) for “the extra measure of security guards at 39 Jewish voluntary-aided faith schools across England.” The announcement described CST as a charity working to secure the safety and security of the Jewish community in the UK, a description consistent with CST’s own.
Fast forward to 27 Jan 2012.
On 27 Jan 2012, the Guardian published an article concerning this award. The Guardian reported that Educational Secretary Michael Gove had personally made the decision to award the £2 million despite the fact that Gove has been a member of CST’s advisory board since 2007. Not only that, Gove has personally “taken credit” for securing the funds in correspondence with CST’s CEO.
The Guardian went on to recount criticism levied by David Miller of Spinwatch. Miller criticized Gove’s participation in the process under these circumstances as a conflict of interest. Miller then urged clearing up the “murky” world of charity funding and relationships.
The Guardian acknowledged that Secretary Gove had a long history of clear opposition to anti-semitism, but it was clear at least in context that the Guardian questioned Gove’s role in taking an active part in the funding decision.
It was not on the surface an obvious “hit piece.” Yes, it is well known that The Guardian is not terribly fond of the Coalition in general or Michael Gove in particular. But the Guardian was careful in its reporting. The Guardian characterized Spinwatch as a “pressure group.” The Guardian reported the criticism as Miller’s. The Guardian also included the response of the Department of Education to the effect that the permanent secretary (highest civil servant) had been aware of Secretary Gove’s advisory role at the time of the award and did not then or now consider it to have been a conflict of interest.
The Guardian article prompted an immediate raft of angry reaction from numerous sources, including CST, attacking the Guardian as well as Miller for the timing of the article in relation to Holocaust Memorial Day. According to the Jewish Chronicle, a source close to Gove said, “It is unbelievable to attack any politician for funding the protection of Jewish children. It is even more extraordinary, and frankly offensive, to do it on Holocaust Memorial Day.” 1
One article defended the Guardian, characterizing the reaction as an overreaction to an article focused on questions about a public official’s conduct in office not on the ethnic ties of the organization receiving the funds.
Most main stream media did not handle the story at all. I watch Channel 4 and BBC daily and from time to time Sky News for a third view. If they covered it I missed it. Perhaps the lack of coverage was due to the events unfolding over the weekend rather than a decision to ignore this emotionally charged hot potato.
30 January the Guardian apologized, admitting the article ill timed. But this apology was not good enough for those it had offended, who pointed out that the Guardian apologized only for the timing, not for the implications concerning Secretary Gove’s participation in the decision.
As I note above, the Guardian piece was hardly an obvious “hit piece.” Its focus did seem to be, as asserted by the one article that defended the Guardian, the Secretary’s conduct in office, not the ethnic ties of the organization receiving the funds. Yet it was clearly taken as the latter by a number of organizations and persons, for example Backspin Honestreporting. Reading this example one can immediately see the level of emotion.
Who came so vociferously to the Secretary’s defence?
The critics included the Jewish Chronicle editor Steven Pollard. I have already previously explored Pollard’s connections with Friends of Israel, Michael Gove, and the Henry Jackson Society in a piece in which I questioned whether these connections might not have something to do with the disappearance from radar screen of the conduct of Atlantic Bridge, Liam Fox, and Adam Werity.
Another was Toby Young, an associate of Secretary Gove. The rush funding of Young’s private school by the Education Department had already prompted an earlier Guardian inquiry into the Secretary's conduct of his office.
Then there was Spitton Heresy by Khalid Richards, who asked if the Guardian’s editorial policy was now expressly anti-Semitic. According to Powerbase, Spitton is a hard-to-trace anti-Islamic neoconserviative organization.
I was not able to find anything much on 4 Freedom’s Community.
Most of those who rose to the Secretary’s defence and to attack the Guardian appear to share a Neoconservative point of view. Most appear to share a pro-Israeli, anti-Islamist point of view and they have sought to make the ethnic ties of CST - and indeed the community itself - the issue.
It is certainly tempting to take the bait.
The allegedly murky relationships among and between some of these organizations, their alleged promotion of Neoconservative causes, and the less than transparent funding and supporting of various organizations for political parties, candidates, and causes popped up in relation to both Liam Fox and Atlantic Bridge and the Henry Jackson Society.2 The lack of transparency in those relationships was a theme of the Miller Spinwatch piece quoted by the Guardian. But others, too, have written about those murky relationships, and, indeed, of the seductiveness of their message.
Other organizations that occupy a similar niche celebrate Neoconservative champions.
So it is indeed tempting to take up the challenge offered by the various defenders of the Secretary, to examine in detail the murky interrelationships between organizations, philosophies, political parties, and policies, to examine the need for transparency.
Those interconnections, whatever they may actually be, were not the subject of the Guardian article. They were the subject of the Miller article. The Guardian sought to call attention to Michael Gove’s conduct as Secretary of Education.
It is clear that Michael Gove has a personal passion. He trumpets it. The Jewish Chronicle reported that Secretary Gove, in an address as guest of honour at a fund raising event for the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) on 22 Sep 2011, “told an admiring audience that he had been a socialist in his teens and a journalist in his twenties, but one thing had remained constant in his life. “(Quoting Gove directly) I was born, will live and die proud to be a Zionist.”
He also is clear that he acts on that passion in his role as Secretary of Education. In the same speech, Secretary Gove reaffirmed a personal commitment that no Jewish parents should have to pay extra to provide for the security of their children attending faith schools.
The passion is returned. The Jewish Chronicle described the crowd at the UJIA event as “admiring.” Secretary Gove’s declaration of interests statement discloses that, prior to assuming office, then MP Michael Gove received an honorarium of £12,260 from the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto to finance four days attendance at a conference at which he spoke and held private meetings.
I don’t have a problem with Michael Gove having a personal passion. I am no enemy of either Israel or the Jewish people. But the question is, is it appropriate for a Cabinet Secretary in the exercise of his office to fund a private, personal passion through an organization for which he has been, and remains, engaged as an advisor? Why isn’t it a conflict of offices if not a conflict of interest?
Those who would retort that my questions have an anti-Semitic bias should consider how they would analyze the questions if the funding had been for an Islamist group to which Secretary Gove was an advisor of long standing. Of course, there isn’t one. But the Board of Directors of British Jews has made a point concerning the involvement of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Islamist faith schools. Why should they support a double standard? Moving to a less controversial example, what if the Secretary was using his office to fund the school of a buddy who had supported his campaign for office, as allegedly the Secretary did in the case of Toby Young?
It is true that Secretary Gove has powerful friends with cross party influence. I documented that in my previous piece on Secretary Gove and MP Chris Bryant. It was made manifest again in this case as no less than Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls leapt to Secretary Gove’s defence. But that isn’t the point.
The point is, allegations that a Cabinet Secretary used his office to fund personal priorities, passions, friends and an organization in which he simultaneously held a position is serious. It may be seriously inappropriate, even illegal, especially if the office holder holds an office in the funded organization or received money from a related organization.
I don’t know whether Secretary Gove did. I can’t tell from the evidence as presented whether or not he did. Not all funding by a public official of what coincidentally is a personal passion is a conflict. The facts as proven are quite significant in determining the issue. But the allegations should be investigated by an independent authority, not covered up by misplaced passion or friendship.
It isn’t anti Semitism or the State of Israel that is at issue. It isn’t whether or not the Israeli government is manipulating pro-Israeli friends to influence government. It isn’t whether pro-Israeli friends are influencing government out of idealism. It isn’t whether Neo Conservatives are using pro-Israeli passions to support a Neo Conservative agenda. It isn’t whether the Conservative Party is manipulating Neo Conservative ties within the pro Israeli community to support the Conservative Party. It is none of these.
The issue is whether a high office holder has misused his position to fund personal priorities through an organization in which he holds a conflicting office. When the facts are clear, then we may return to other questions (if the evidence warrants it). But right at the moment those interconnections only cloud the issue.
Let’s bring the facts out into the light and have a good look. Sweeping it under the rug with wild and emotionally charged accusations of anti-Semitism levied at the Guardian for having the temerity to raise a difficult question about a friend is not the answer. Public faith in government requires transparency without fear or favour. It does not work for friends to take care of friends where public funds are concerned.