1970-1979 | Palestine

Harold Wilson orders ministers not to be friendly with PLO delegates

Tony Benn (Toulouse Archives via Wikimedia) and Harold Wilson (LBJ Library via Wikimedia)
Tony Benn (Toulouse Archives via Wikimedia) and Harold Wilson (LBJ Library via Wikimedia)

29 August 1975

Today in 1975,  Tony Benn, the secretary of state for industry, noted in his diary that he had received ‘special instructions from Harold Wilson about tomorrow’s IPU (Inter Parliamentary Union) Conference. The prime minister had issued a warning that ministers were not, under any circumstances, to be friendly towards the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) delegates, and they were only to speak to them if they were approached at parties.’ He added that had this instruction become public knowledge, it ‘would have confirmed the worst of the PLO’s fears, that the Labour Party was not even sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.’1

The IPU Conference was being held in London with the aim of gathering together parliamentary delegates of different sovereign states, in the words of article one of its founding charter, ‘to strive for peace and cooperation among peoples.’2 Accordingly, the previous conference in 1974 had decided to invite members of the Palestine National Council, which was elected by Palestinians and which formed the legislative arm of the PLO, as observers to the London conference.  The PLO itself had been granted observer status at the United Nations the previous year.

The visit, however, was denounced by leading Labour and Conservative politicians and the press with headlines such as ‘MPs furious over terrorists’ visas’ and ‘Cambridge to greet a terrorist.’ The article on Cambridge in the Daily Mirror referred to one of the delegates, Anis Abdullah Sayigh, merely as ‘one of the Palestinian terrorists.’ The newspaper commented that ‘as if it were not impertinent enough to be coming here at all,’ he was ‘planning to visit his old Cambridge college while in this country.’3 However, the only terror incident link to him I could discover when researching his history, was a letter bomb which exploded in July 1972.  It was opened by Sayigh himself, injuring his head, shoulder and hand, having been sent to him by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.4


  1. Ruth Winstone ( editor ), Tony Benn: Against the Tide, Diaries 1973-76, Hutchinson, London, 1989, pp. 430-31.
  2. ‘What is the IPU ?’ Inter-Parliamentary Information Brochure, accessed online at url http://archive.ipu.org/PDF/publications/IPU_info_en.pdf
  3. ‘Cambridge to greet a terrorist,’ The Daily Mirror, 27 August 1975, p. 11 and ‘MPs furious over terrorists’ visas,’ The Birmingham Daily Post, 11 August 1975, p. 1.
  4. ‘Anis Abdullah Sayigh,’ Palestinian Journeys, accessed online at url https://www.paljourneys.org/en/biography/9771/anis-abdullah-sayigh

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