By Janine Roberts
We British are not like Americans – we would not tolerate having Israeli lobbyists standing over our politicians like happens in Washington and thus gathering power. Why – they might bias our decisions over our foreign policy! The influence of Israel in Washington is well documented. It is exercised both through powerful overtly Jewish Washington organisations and, increasingly, through Christian Zionist organisations.
In Jerusalem two weeks ago 600 US Christians turned up to celebrate Israel’s birthday, in the name of a powerful US pro-Israeli lobbying group claiming to represent 40 million Christians and called Christians United for Israel, led by the millionaire Rev John Hagee – head of a Texas church and of a widely syndicated Christian TV station. Their organisation is modelled on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) whose conference in Washington last year drew 6,000 participants.
The Christians came to insist that Israel must have the whole of Jerusalem – and, after marching down Jaffa Street waving US and Israeli flags, a hundred of them went on April 3rd to the major Israeli settlement of Ariel to have a party featuring dancing cow girls put on for them by the Ariel mayor in thanks for millions given for its ‘vast new sports and recreation centre’ with the name of the Reverend emblazoned on its side.
Hagee declared. "I’m delighted to be in Ariel tonight, the heartland of America in Judea and Samaria," Afterwards, at a Jerusalem rally with Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of Likud and a close friend of Hagee, they announced on April 9th further donations of $6 million to various Israeli causes
The pastor declared "Turning part or all of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban."
Its 2007 annual conference in Washington attracted more than 4,250. The conference highlight was a “surprise appearance” by Hagee-endorsed Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for President. His opening line was “It’s hard doing the Lord’s work in the city of Satan.” He received seven standing ovations.
Barack Obama under the Israeli lobby pressure took this position “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel…” Hilary Clinton went further. She is calling for “an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital’ and thus is definitely the Zionist favourite. Since 2004 Obama has received $93,700 of AIPAC money, while Hillary has taken $349,073.
However, a happier note, – a day before Hagee’s visit to Ariel, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious organisation in the United States, with over 1.5 million members, denounced Hagee and his followers for religious extremism.
But nothing like this has ever happened here in the UK? Right?
On the contrary, in some ways the Zionist lobby in this country has been even more successful – not simply historically, with getting the Balfour Declaration, but particularly in very recent times. In the US there are 13 Jews in the Senate and 30 in the House of Representatives, while in the UK, where we have a Jewish community 20 times smaller, – there are many more Jewish people in Parliament, There are 18 in the House of Commons and 41 in the House of Lords –. It is the highest Jewish representation in the West, and this achievement is due in part to Tony Blair’s patronage
Before New Labour was invented, the Labour party was more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Jon Mendelsohn of the Labour Friends of Israel has explained how it changed: ‘"Blair has attacked the anti-Israelism that had existed in the Labour Party. Old Labour was cowboys-and-Indians politics, picking underdogs to support, but the milieu has changed. Zionism is pervasive in New Labour. It is automatic that Blair will come to Labour Friends of Israel meetings."’
One of Blair’s first acts on becoming an MP in 1983 was to join Labour Friends of Israel. But the major change only occurred after he rose to control of the Labour party. To carry out his planned policies, he needed to try to break the funding influence of the trade unions. So he needed an ally with ample funds.
In 1994, a legal friend and colleague of his, Eldred Tabachnik, Q.C., the former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, introduced him to Michael Levy, a pop music mogul and fundraiser for Jewish and Israeli causes, a member of the Jewish Agency World Board of Governors, and a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust. This was at a dinner party hosted by the Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir.
Soon afterwards Blair was invited to Levy’s palatial home and tennis courts. According to Andrew Porter of The Business, Levy expressed his willingness “to raise large sums of money for the party” if there was a “tacit understanding that Labour would never again, while Blair was leader, be anti-Israel”.
The result: Levy ran the Labour Leader’s Office Fund to finance Blair’s campaign in the 1997 General Election. Levy in effect made New Labour possible. For this he was rewarded immediately with a peerage, as were some of their other donors. Levy has described himself as “a leading international Zionist” and he has since praised Blair for his ‘solid and committed support of the State of Israel’
But, Blair needed a constant source of funds if he was to reduce the influence of the unions – and, it seems, he needed to hide its source lest it be questioned. One of the better known figures at Labour Friends of Israel is David Abrahams, a Jewish property developer. The President of the Zionist Federation, Eric Moonman vouches for him: “I know David well and have travelled with him on a number of occasions.’ Abrahams took on part of the task of secretly funding New Labour. He gave more than £650,000 to the Party under four other people’s names – a move since admitted to be unlawful by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown but which has had no legal consequence.
Abrahams explains generally that he wanted to remain anonymous as he is a ‘private person.’ But he said far more to the British Jewish Chronicle. He said he gave the money to Labour secretly since he did not want ‘Jewish money’ and the Labour Party to be linked, thinking this would make people suspect there was a Jewish conspiracy.
Labour Party officials initially denied knowing about these secret methods but evidence has since emerged that Abrahams was at the time in close contact with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s election campaign adviser, Jon Mendelsohn, who also happens to be the ex-chairman of the lobby group Labour Friends of Israel. Other Jewish members of Labour Friends of Israel kicked in money. Lord Sainsbury gave a million pounds. Levy by 2001 had raised £15 million. Thus the Israeli lobby helped Labour break the power of the trade unions, in return for reshaping the entire UK political scene in the interests of Israel.
Quite astonishingly, once they had discovered them, the press treated these secret donations with kid gloves. Very few asked what was the Israeli lobby hoping to gain from such massive donations. No one asked, as far as I am aware, if it were Tony Blair who had wanted these donations kept secret – and if so, why? Few speculated on the foreign policy implications.
As we now know Iraq was never a threat to the UK – but it was potentially to Israel. Blair told his Jewish audiences, "a stable Iraq will be good news for Israel." He also held back from doing anything to bring the fighting to an end while Israel was bombing Lebanon.
Levy became our “special envoy” to the Middle-East despite having a serous conflict of Interest. He was supposed to negotiate impartially with Palestinians and Israelis but he had acted as a fundraiser for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak as well as lobbying for Israel in the UK. He has both a business and a house in Israel and calls himself an ‘international Zionist.’
A Labour campaign advert in the Jewish Chronicle has boasted that since 1997 a record 57 Labour MPs have visited Israel, mostly with [and funded by] Labour Friends of Israel, ‘swelling the number of MPS willing to ensure balance on the Middle East in the House of Commons. More Labour MPs have visited Israel than from any other party.’ The advert also boasted that the Terrorism Act of 2000 – for which LFI actively lobbied – “proscribes terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” all being enemies of Israel rather than of the UK.
Gordon is more personally immersed in Zionism than Blair. It is something he grew up with in his childhood. He told a recent gathering, ‘I have been proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Israel over three decades. My father used to spend many weeks in Israel, he was the chairman of the Church of Scotland’s Israel Committee. He went on visits to meet people twice a year for more than 20 years.’
Gordon Brown said in a speech: ‘I was brought up on slides on an old projector, all these photographs that he brought back of Israel’s history, books about Israel, and I learned very young and at first hand from my father of the struggles, the sacrifices the achievements of the new state of Israel and of the Israeli people. So I just want to say to you who are also friends of Israel that I was brought up with a very strong understanding that the future of Israel matters not just to Israel itself but matters to the whole of the world and I will continue to do what I can both to defend Israel …’
He has also stated: “I was brought up impressed by the sufferings and courage of the Jewish people, aware of the great achievements in creating the State of Israel, most of all impressed by the determination that, from whatever source, discrimination in all its forms must be fought.”
One of Gordon Brown’s first acts after assuming the Prime Minister’s role was to accept an appointment as Patron of the Jewish National Fund founded in 1901. The Israeli government sold to this Fund the land seized from Arab refugees – and then made this land only available for Jews to settle on. It planted forests over the uprooted olive trees of former Palestinian settlements. It currently owns about 14% of Israel.
Brown then announced that two children per UK secondary school will be funded to go to the site of the Auschwitz death camp. For this the Holocaust Educational Trust has honoured him. He has also been supporting economic schemes for the West bank advocated by Sir Ronald Cohen’s Portland Trust.
But it is Brown’s appointments that are much more worrying. He has ensured continued Jewish funding of New Labour by appointing Mendelssohn of Labour Friends of Israel as his chief fundraiser for the next election. He has also appointed former British ambassador to Israel, Simon McDonald, as his chief foreign policy adviser. Israel has expressed satisfaction with the choice, saying he is "a true friend to Israel."
He also made James Purnell, the chairman of Labour Friends of Israel from 2002 to 2004, secretary of state for culture media and sport, giving him oversight over the British Broadcasting Corporation and the rest of the British media. In a letter published in Prospect in December 2004, Purell said: ‘Some people are trying to turn Israel into a global villain, the new pariah regime to take the place of apartheid-era South Africa … ‘When some people talk as if Israel is entirely to blame, I ask why. The only answer I can find is that there is something deep in our cultural memory that makes us disposed to blame Jews.’ (In 2008 Brown put Purnell in charge of Pensions.)
Gordon Brown gave Jim Murphy, Chairman of Labour Friends of Israel from 2000-02, the position of Minister of State for Europe with responsibility for the BBC World Service and the British Council. Most worrying of all, his new Middle East Minister is Kim Howells a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel. The Director of Labour Friends of Israel is David Mencer, a former volunteer for the Israeli Defence Force.
Labour Friends of Israel now has a burgeoning membership in the Commons and is seen as a certain ladder for success by aspiring politicians. Receptions hosted by the lobby usually boast a huge turnout, with such guests as Gordon Brown, the Israeli ambassador and the Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence. At Labour party conference the prime minister attends the LFI meeting, and so do a good number of cabinet members. Such high-level attendance is rare for a fringe meeting
The Labour Party’s policy-defining Smith Institute is now very much under the influence of the Israeli lobby. Its chairman is Lord Haskel who is also a member of the Parliamentary Executive of the Labour Friends of Israel. The Smith Institute’s board includes Baroness Meta Ramsay, a longtime MI-6 intelligence officer who is House of Lords chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, and Tony Blair is of course now the Quartet’s Envoy to the Middle East.
They actively monitor the media and try to remove criticism of Israel. Thus an alleged reference to Israel as that ‘shitty little country’ made by the French Ambassador at a dinner hosted by Contrad Black immediately elicited a letter from the LFI demanding that the Ambassador be sacked. LIkewise they maintained a dossier on Ken Livingstone.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown seems to be the only mainstream journalist to have dared to question the Labour Friends of Israel. In an article entitled ‘Such lobbyists and their back-room influence should make us very uneasy’ published on 03 December 2007 she stated:
“Pardon me for asking. Perhaps I shouldn’t. For an easy life, some things, you learn, are best left unsaid. Nervous, am I? You bet. But these questions will not stand aside or lie down. They have been bothering me since the Labour party donor row broke last week. They are raised here in good faith. I have no wish to bring the wrath of Moses upon me and I can already hear the accusations of anti-Semitism because I dare to raise the question: Can someone explain what exactly is the role of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) in our political life? And its twin, the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) too.
“In an open democracy, we are entitled to make such queries – indeed, it is a duty. David Abrahams, the strange shape-shifter at the centre of the funding furore, was once Mr Big in LFI; so is John Mendelsohn, the smart fundraiser picked by Gordon Brown to garner "election resources" to finance the next Labour win. Lord Levy is also a key member of LFI.
“We witnessed the tortuous police investigation into the peer’s affairs during the cash for honours investigations, but not once was there any scrutiny of Levy’s connection to LFI and how that might have led to the offer of his prestigious position as the Middle East envoy, handed to him by his tennis partner, Tony Blair.
“Mendelsohn is a passionate Zionist and infamous lobbyist, described by the Jewish Chronicle as "one of the best-connected power brokers". So we can assume LFI plays a part in shaping our foreign policies in the Middle East – the most inflammable tinderbox in the world today.
“And that is neither right nor fair. The LFI take, by definition, has to be partisan. It exists to present the official Israeli view; it cannot be nuanced or considerate to "the enemy". I would venture to suggest that Tony Blair’s abject performance during the last Israeli assault on Lebanon was partly the result of the special relationship he had with LFI. It is astonishing that we have allowed it to spread through the corridors of power and infuse the air that breathed there. This corruption has no whiff, no colour. It is deadly and must now be stopped at source.”
A Recent Achievement of Labour Friends of Israel
They have strongly and powerfully lobbied for the UK and EU to cut off financial aid to the Gaza Strip as long as the elected Hamas government of Hamas is in power. Thus they share responsibility with Israel for the current atrocious and miserable living conditions in the Gaza, including the children dying because they are not allowed to go to Israeli hospitals and Gazan hospitals have been sanctioned out of medical supplies.
Labour Friends of Israel briefed the party: “
Hamas’s election manifesto is softer than its charter, in that it does not explicitly call for the destruction of the state of Israel. Yet it still advocates the continuation of the armed struggle, and offers not more than a long ‘hudna’ (truce) in return for an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Israel is tolerated as an unfortunate reality, but her right to exist as a Jewish state is not recognised. This refusal to recognise Israel’s legitimacy or any agreement signed with her by the PLO, and their insistence on the continuation of the armed struggle, makes it hard to imagine a future Hamas government as a partner for peace negotiations, not only with Israel, but in the eyes of the international community. As a result, the US, Quartet and EU, while congratulating the democratic process in Palestine, have all warned that, without renouncing terrorism and recognising Israel, there will be no negotiations with a Hamas-formed government. Bringing Hamas to change its position depends, to a large extent, on this united front in the international community.
“LFI’s recommendation…. For an economy which relies so heavily on foreign aid – to the tune of $1billion annually from donor countries and a further $55 million each month from taxes collected by Israel – the withdrawal of aid would place intense pressure on a Hamas government that refused to modify its policies.
“However, the international community and Israel cannot in practice stop completely the transfer of money as it could push the Palestinian economy out of the protracted humanitarian crisis from which it currently suffers and into a full-scale disaster.”
As for the Tories
The political director of Conservative Friends of Israel claims that with over 2,000 members and registered supporters alongside 80 percent of the Conservative MPs, they are now the largest affiliated group in the party. They run six deputations to Israel a year – paid for by the organisation. They engage in intensive lobbying – including providing briefing notes to Brown, They maintain constant contact with the Israeli embassy.
Their website is stridently anti Hezbollah and they maintain a careful vetting of all new Parliamentary candidates. “Within the Conservative Party, we actively support candidates, especially in marginal constituencies. Our programme for prospective parliamentary candidates provides weekly briefings, events with speakers, and a chance to participate in delegations to Israel. Our members give financial support and campaigning help where it matters.”
Robert Halfon is Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel and has been fast tracked to re-stand in Harlow at the next election.
Rt Hon David Cameron MP, Leader of the Conservative Party has stated “I am proud not just to be a Conservative, but a Conservative Friend of Israel; and I am proud of the key role CFI plays within our Party.” His recent tour of Israel began with a two hour Black Hawk helicopter flight with the Israeli defence minister to see the country’s borders
Dr Liam Fox MP, Shadow Defence Secretary has stated. Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together or we will all fall divided. He did not mention that since 2000 there have been four times more Palestinians killed than Israelis, and ten times more Palestinian children than Israeli. (Israeli B’Tselem figures)
The Liberal Democrats
They too have a parliamentary ‘Friends of Israel Group’ and its website is stridently pro-Israel – in fact much more so than that of the Labour group. It was the first such party group to be established. It states its prime objective is ‘to influence the Party’s Middle East policy so it places a high priority on Israel’s right to peace and security. ‘
It also states incredibly that it is a ‘myth’ that ‘Israel "occupies" the West Bank’ and a ‘myth’ that ‘the Jews created the refugee problem by expelling the Palestinians.’
The Christian Friends of Israel (UK)
An international organisation with bases in some twenty countries. In the UK it has particularly close ties with the Tory Friends of Israel, helping to man its stall at party functions and particularly helping to make sure that future Tory MPs are selected in part because they are supporters of Israel. It runs frequent tours to Israel. A recent bus tour it organised managed to skirt around the West Bank – except of course for Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
They state that ‘we are a ministry with a twin focus. We seek to: 1. Bless Israel by means of practical and moral support. 2. Serve the Church with teaching and resources about God’s love and purposes for Israel and the Hebraic roots of our faith. It thus teaches Hebrew, prays in Hebrew and uses many directly borrowed Jewish elements in its rituals.
It also teaches on its website that:
"The British Empire disappeared because she was no longer the friend of the Jewish people, but became her enemy, using both her Navy and the Air Force to try to stop the Holocaust survivors from reaching the Promised Land.”
Two Comments on the USA Parent Groups
Nancy Roman, the director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Washington programme: "Part of what is happening is that the evangelical community in the U.S. is becoming more engaged in the political process .. Whereas the church used to counsel people not to engage in politics, many churches are now counseling the opposite ..It’s important and it will have a huge influence on foreign policy over time"
Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, says that "Christian Zionism is responsible for American support for some of the most irredentist Israeli positions," including of Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, highlighting evangelical Christians’ strong influence in shaping the U.S. Middle East policy. She says that the movement’s influence is even stronger than the Jewish lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC. "The influence of Hagee is to make the American public support the government’s completely one-sided, hawkishly pro-Israel stance. These groups have much more influence than AIPAC or the so-called Israel lobby."
Don’t Forget the EU
Benita Ferrero Waldner, the EU’s external relations commissioner, has indicated that she is keener to foster closer ties with Israel than with almost any other country in the Mediterranean region. As well as remarking that Israel is "closer to the European Union than ever before," she said that a "reflection group" is studying how relations between the two sides can be upgraded to a "truly special status." Whereas formal bodies have been set up to deal with human rights questions in Morocco and Jordan, only an informal "working group" addresses such issues in the case of Israel. Israel is generally treated as if it is a member of Europe despite being outside it – just as it is for Soccer and for the Eurovision contest – yet its religiously biased constitution is a bar from membership.
The Palestinian people have paid a very high price for the rise of New Labour – and it is surely past time to reverse this.
-Janine Roberts investigative features have been widely published in the major Australian newspapers as well as in the Independent and Financial Times in the UK. Her investigative film "the Diamond Empire" was shown on Frontline WGBH in the USA and on the BBC – it was researched partly in Israel.