THERE ARE readers – and I freely admit that from time to time I have been among their number – who have only to see the words “Council of Europe” and their immediate response is to curl up in a tiny ball, shouting “go away!” at intervals.
But occasionally it is worthwhile uncurling from the foetal position to take note of what is happening in Strasbourg.
So it proved this week as the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, worked himself into a righteous froth of indignation at a Council of Europe meeting.
Foolishly, readers, you might have thought that the Scottish National Party politician was ranting about something close to home, such as, er, Scotland. No, no. Don’t be silly. When Salmond really wants to have a go, who is in his sights? That’s it, you’re getting the picture. Israel.
So what exactly was exercising Mr S in Strasbourg? Apparently it was all to do with timing and appropriateness.
He took exception, it appears, to remarks made by Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and now a Knesset member for the Kulanu political party. Mr Oren, who is not himself above controversy, was underwhelmed by the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in France and Italy.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, the Iranian “Supreme Leader”, Ayatollah Khamenei, released a video questioning whether the Holocaust was a reality or not. The Khamenei website promoted the video with a montage of videos, including one of Hitler. Additionally, Iran has announced its third International Holocaust Cartoon competition, together with a separate contest for the best cartoons of Israel’s premier, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Iranian prime minister has been feted by both France and Italy during his visits – the Italians, in particular, falling over themselves to cover up nude statues which might have offended him.
Mr Oren was thus not best pleased at European kissing-up to Iran. And before a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the Council of Europe, Mr Oren, who led the Israeli parliamentary delegation, asked: “How can Europe honour the memory of the Holocaust, and on the exact same day host the leader of the Iranian regime, which denies that the Holocaust actually happened?”
Seems a perfectly legitimate question to me. Mr Oren’s politics are not mine, but the double standards being applied surely shriek from the rooftops: we’ll make nice in Europe to Jews on ceremonial occasions such as Holocaust Memorial Day, but won’t lift a finger to censure the behaviour of the Iranians who are now, dizzy with the joy of political rehabilitation, skipping through Europe enjoying a hero’s welcome.
But all this has apparently passed Alex Salmond by. Stoutly proclaiming the righteousness of his position by insisting that he was only saying what everyone was thinking, Salmond told the Council of Europe that there was “a time and place for international politics” and that Israel should not have issued the criticism “during a solemn commemoration service”.
Astonishingly Salmond is both a member of the UK Holocaust Commission and has just returned from a visit to Iran, where he managed to tell a Tehran news agency that Scotland’s ruling party had “always been against the decisions Westerners make against Iran”.
So where exactly is Alex Salmond coming from on this? Is he, or is he not, an apologist for the Iranian regime? Judge for yourselves: here is Salmond, actually identifying himself as a member of the UK Holocaust Commission, and slagging off Israel. “I found it inappropriate that the Israeli ambassador launched attacks on the Republic of Iran and its president, who is a guest of this republic,” he said. “We cannot vet what people say, but we have the right to state that there is a time and a place for international politics. Such attacks should not take place during a solemn commemoration service.”
He later asserted that the Israelis were free to repeat their criticism at other times, only not during the commemoration service.
I don’t buy for a minute that Salmond was only saying what everyone else was thinking. For once, that privilege was Michael Oren’s, and the Council of Europe should be ashamed that it did not issue a formal condemnation of Iran’s behaviour, all the more so when it had Rouhani in its backyard.
But now, I’m curious. I wonder when exactly Alex Salmond thinks it is appropriate for Israel to criticise Iran? Iranian national holidays? Probably not. Day of new Iranian trade deal with Europe? Unlikely. When Iranian-funded weapons find their way into the hands of Israel’s enemies? Difficult, that. Timing, as we all know, is everything.