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Behind the Headlines Pro-arab Bias in British Foreign Office

June 2, 1977
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Steps by Prime Minister James Callaghan to check the traditional pro-Arab bias of the Foreign Office are revealed in a book published here today. The book, “The Diplomats,” reveals that when he became Foreign Secretary shortly after the Yom Kippur War, Callaghan told the Foreign Office that the new Labor government would not repeat the policy stated in Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s Harrogate speech during the preceding Conservative administration, which had inclined Britain heavily towards the Arabs.

Author Geoffrey Moorhouse writes that Callaghan was acting on the assumption that the Foreign Office was “pro-Arab, pro-Catholic and pro-Europe almost to a man.” He was stiffly told that the Office deeply resented the rumor that it fostered an Arabist “Mafia.” However, Moorhouse’s book–based on a two-year authorized study of Britain’s Foreign Service–more than confirms Callaghan’s suspicions about the extent of pro-Arab influence. In 1975, more diplomats spoke Arabic than any other “hand language”–182 fluent Arabists compared with 159 Russian experts and 35 who could speak Chinese.


Most of them were trained at the Foreign Office’s Middle East Center for Arabic Studies, based at Shemlan, near Beirut, until it was temporarily transferred to Jordan during the Lebanese civil war. According to Moorhouse, graduates of Mecas are a special caste within the diplomatic service. At one point in 1975, Arabists were the private secretaries to the Foreign Secretary and to three of his four subordinate ministers. “Some people outside diplomacy see this Arabist influence as part of a Foreign Office plot to weigh policy against Israel. “The author says that even the Shah of Iran complained that the British Foreign Office was populated by “White Arabs.”

Arabists, on the other hand, were likely to say that every British diplomat emerging from Israel had been “brainwashed into an excessive appreciation of the kibbutz and Marks and Spencer” (the Anglo-Jewish-owned department store). Moorhouse who sees nothing sinister in the proximity of so many Arabists to the Foreign Office politicians, defines their outlook as follows: “No Arabist sees Britain’s interest being best served by friendship to Israel and hostility to Arab nations. This is not by any means the same thing as an attitude of hostility to Israel, though it can include a feeling that if only Israel were not there, the Middle East would be a much simpler place.”


The book–published by Jonathan Cape–recalls that in contrast with Callaghan’s more pro-Israel stance, George Brown (now Lord George-Brown), Foreign Secretary in Harold Wilson’s first Labor government, transferred an Ambassador from Tel Aviv “because he decided the man was becoming too much of an apologist for his host country.” Brown too held the view that, belonging to a party with strong traditional sympathies for Zionism, and being himself married to a Jew “he could very well do without the Israeli argument being rammed down his throat in every dispatch coming from his man on the spot.”

The diplomat in question is assumed to have been Sir Michael Hadow, who, on retiring from the Foreign Office, became director of the Anglo-Israel Association and married a member of the Marks and Spencer “family.” Later, the Foreign Office was also embarrassed by the pro-Israeli attitude of Prime Minister Harold Wilson whose public embrace of Premier Golda Meir early in 1974 raised the “blood pressure of the Arabists” and provoked the Egyptian National Assembly to freezing a number of commercial contracts with Britain which were on the point of being signed. It did not, however, prevent Britain from winning further large contracts with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia the following year.

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