Arms companies supplying Israel with bombs and parts for warplanes have been invited to the Scottish Parliament despite the rising death toll in Gaza and allegations Britain could be complicit in war crimes.
Firms invited to a reception at Holyrood include the US arms multinational Raytheon which makes smart bombs for Israel, and Italian arms giant Leonardo which makes components for F-35 fighter jets, which are used by Israeli forces.
The Holyrood reception has been organised by an umbrella group for the arms sector called ADS Group and sponsored by Thales, a French arms firm which was targeted by protestors for its links to Israel.
It was also sponsored by Labour MSP Paul Sweeney who previously worked for BAE Systems, which also makes parts for F-35 fighter jets. However, Sweeney withdrew his sponsorship after The Ferret asked him to respond to criticisms of the event.
It is unclear whether the event will go ahead as ADS may need another MSP to sponsor it. ADS has been asked to clarify the situation.
Critics of Israel’s offensive in Gaza said it is “staggering and shameful to invite Israel’s arms dealers into parliament when tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians are being killed.”
The arms industry defended the event, however, and pointed out that the defence sector is “vital” to Scotland’s economy.
The ADS Scotland is planned for 21 February 2024. ADS Scotland is part of ADS Group, which pointed out the defence, aerospace, security and space sectors employ 33,500 people in Scotland and provide £3.5bn to the economy.
The ADS Scotland Council is led by senior executives from multinationals with a Scottish presence, including Leonardo, Thales, Raytheon, and BAE Systems.
French arms firm Thales is lead sponsor of the event. Thales produces the Watchkeeper drone for the UK’s Ministry of Defence through a joint venture with Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms company which produces the Hermes 450 drone. This drone has been used against Palestinians, so Thales’ relationship with Elbit has made it a target for pro-Palestinian activists who caused £600,000 of damages at its Glasgow factory last September.
Raytheon – also previously the target of pro-Palestinian activists – makes guidance systems for smart bombs in Glenrothes. In the US, Raytheon makes Paveway II guided missiles which are used by Israel.
The row comes as the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas continues. Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after 1,139 people were killed by Hamas – proscribed as a terrorist group by the UK Government – on 7 October last year. Since then at least 27,478 people – including 11,500 children – have been killed and 66,835 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza. The IDF said this week that 226 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza. More than 100 people are still being held hostage in Gaza.
Last month, Israel was accused of genocide in Gaza by South Africa, an allegation it strenuously denies. Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered an interim ruling that Israel must take all measures to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza.
Israel accused South Africa of a “blood libel”, a term used to describe antisemitic false allegations against Jewish communities of bloodletting, originating in Europe in the Middle Ages.
The UK has been linked to alleged war crimes in Gaza. In January, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) filed a criminal complaint against senior UK politicians, including ministers, alleging their complicity in alleged war crimes committed in Gaza.
Meanwhile, it emerged this week that South Africa is going to file legal action with the ICJ against the UK and US for alleged war crime complicity.
The UK is also facing a legal challenge from the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq and the UK-based Global Legal Action Network (Glan). In December they applied for a judicial review of the UK government’s export licences for the sale of British weapons capable of being used in Israel’s action in Gaza.
UK government statistics, compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade, show that in the last 10 years the UK has licensed at least £486m worth of arms sales to Israel.
The responsibility for arms exports to Israel lies with the UK Government and ministers insist it has one of the most robust procedures for ensuring that they comply with laws.
Critics of the Holyrood event include Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens MSP, who described ADS Group as a “who’s who of the world’s worst arms dealers and war profiteers”.
He added: “Many of the companies it represents have armed human rights abusers and dictatorships across the planet, including the Israeli occupation forces currently inflicting a genocide on the people of Gaza.”
Emma Cockburn, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, accused politicians of “cosying up to warmongers” and added her call for it be cancelled. She also said funding for arms companies must be removed with policies put in place to ensure “not a single penny from the Scottish taxpayer lines the pockets of arms dealers again”.
Gerry Coutts, of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “As executives are entertained at a prestigious reception, hundreds of thousands of displaced families are living an unfathomable existence in cold flooded tents in Rafah.”
He added: “Business is booming for weapons manufacturers and while their shareholders count their vast profits the children of Gaza are paying the price.
“It is shameful that companies are profiting from what the International Criminal Court calls plausible genocide carried out by the Israeli military.”
A spokesperson for ADS said: “Our sectors are vital contributors to our prosperity. We are dedicated to supporting industry, civil society and our armed forces to navigate an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment. We are unwavering in our support to our four sectors that protect the UK’s safety, security, and very way of life.” ADS has been asked to clarify if the event will go ahead as planned.
A spokesperson for Thales said “Thales in the UK” does not supply drones to the Israeli military. “Thales, and the UK defence and security industry, works within robust ethical standards that are among the highest found anywhere in the world, and treats its responsibilities under the law with the utmost seriousness,” they added. “The joint venture we have with Elbit only supplies the intelligence gathering unmanned air system to the British Army and none of the work on that is done at our site in Glasgow.”
Paul Sweeney MSP said that “given the ongoing and appalling atrocities in Gaza” he was withdrawing his sponsorship of the event as he was “mindful of the sensitivities surrounding a number of ADS’s member organisations”.
He told The Ferret: “I had initially agreed to sponsor the ADS ‘highlighting the role of apprentices in science and engineering’ parliamentary event for Scottish Apprenticeship Week, as I am acutely aware of the importance of apprenticeships to Scotland’s engineering industry.
“As the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on maritime and shipbuilding, I regularly hear of the difficulties that shipyards have in attracting young talent into the shipbuilding industry – an industry that benefits Scotland’s economy greatly.”
The Scottish Government has given arms firms linked to Israel at least £10m of taxpayers’ money, as reported by The Ferret.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament said: “We can confirm that this event is scheduled to go ahead on 21 February and that all events held in the parliament require an MSP sponsor.
“Securing MSP sponsorship of an event is the responsibility of the event organiser.”
BAE Systems, Raytheon, Leonardo and the UK Government have been asked to comment.
Main image: A Lockheed F-35A Lightning II landing after the Combined Arms Demo at Aviation Nation 2017. Credit: Noah Wulf