Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Israel lobby in the UK

The Israel lobby in the United Kingdom (also called the Zionist lobby)[1][2] is the diverse coalition of those who, as individuals and as groups, seek to influence the foreign policy of the United Kingdom to strengthen bilateral tires with Israel, or in support of Zionism, Israel, or the specific policies of its government. The term Israel lobby itself has been subject to debate in criticism, over its clarity and exact definition.
Such lobbying in the United Kingdom is far less formalised than in the United States, where lobbying groups or associations may constitute formal entities, and where lobbying in the US with regard to support for Israel is far greater.[citation needed]



[edit] History

Pro-Israel rally in London
What came to be known as “Christian Zionism” emerged in England in the early 19th century when Restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and futuristic interpretation of apocalyptic texts merged. In 1839 the evangelical Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury called Westminster Parliament to support creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.[3] During the 1840s Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston supported a “Jewish entity” allied to the Ottoman Empire as a counterweight to Egypt.[4]
British Journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes that perhaps the “first lobbyist on behalf of the land of Israel” was Theodor Herzl who, after publishing his book The Jewish State in 1896, and organizing the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, met in person British Cabinet ministers and other European officials.[5] Russian Zionist Chaim Weizmann began the process of convincing Arthur James Balfour, a British Lord, that Palestine should be the Jewish national home and the “British Zionist movement began actively lobbying the British government.”[6] The British Palestine Committee in Manchester also “lobbied for the mandate and Jewish rights in Palestine.”[7]
Some groups like the influential Board of Deputies of British Jews and Anglo-Jewish Association were the “institutional stronghold of the anti-Zionist camp” and formed a lobby committee to oppose the efforts of Weizmann and his allies.[8] In 1917 Weizmann and a small group of Zionists "in a brilliant exercise of sustained persuasion, lobbying, and influence" persuaded the British government to create the “Balfour Declaration[9] which supported "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."[5] (Weizmann later became the first President of the State of Israel.)[9] However, leaders of Board of Deputies of British Jews and of the Anglo-Jewish Association (who at the time were non-Zionist) considered the Balfour Declaration a “veritable calamity” that would stamp "the Jews as strangers in their native lands."[5]
According to the author Ritchie Ovendale, Britain, which held the British Mandate of Palestine ratified by the League of Nations after World War I, abandoned its Zionist sympathies "which had been secured by the Zionist lobby” because of fears of coming war with Nazi Germany. In 1939 Britain limited Jewish immigration to Palestine, thereby becoming to Zionists "the principal enemy." In 1942 Zionists shifted their focus to influencing the United States through use of the "Zionist vote."[10]

[edit] Active groups

"Speak Up for Israel in Parliament" lobby day leaflet, 2009
Various contemporary organizations in the United Kingdom seek to influence British government policy towards Israel.

Party political groups

The major British political parties include "Friends of Israel" groups which support the State of Israel.
Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel was the first such group formed. Its first objective is "to maximise support for the State of Israel within the Liberal Democrats and Parliament."[11]
Founded in 1957 Labour Friends of Israel is a group within the Labour Party which in 2003 described itself as a “lobby group working within the Labour Party to promote the State of Israel."[12] On its present website it describes itself as seeking "to promote a strong bilateral relationship between Britain and Israel."[13] It organizes visits British politicians to visit Israel and meet with Israeli politicians and advocates on Israel's behalf among Labour Party members.[14] Both Labour Party Prime Ministers Tony Blair (1997–2007) and Gordon Brown (2007 - ) have been members of Labour Friends of Israel.[15][16]
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is affiliated with the Conservative Party and states on its website that it is “one of the fastest growing political lobby groups.” It lists its objectives as supporting Israel, promoting conservatism, fighting terrorism, combating antisemitism and peaceful co-existence in the Middle East.[17] Iain Dale and Brian Brivati in The Daily Telegraph have described it as “a highly effective lobby group,” writing that its Director, Stuart Polak, has “done more than most to promote Israel’s case to the right of British politics.”[18]

Registered Parliamentary Groups

All-Party Groups are defined by the House of Commons as "relatively informal" groups whose members include "backbench Members of the House of Commons and Lords" and sometimes ministers and non-parliamentarians. They are classified as subject or country groups.[19] Being cross-party, All-Party Groups are more talking-shops than lobbies trying to influence government policies. They are registered only "to control the extent to which groups use the House's facilities and status" [20]
The "All-Party Britain-Israel Parliamentary Group" is an All-Party Group [21] registered with the UK Parliament. Its stated purpose is "To create a better understanding of Israel, and to foster and promote links between Britain and Israel". The current chair is Lord Janner of Braunstone of the House of Lords. Administrative support for the group is provided by the Office of Lord Janner.


The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) seeks to present Israel’s case to journalists.[22] The Guardian has identified it as an influential Jewish lobby group.[23][24]
The London-based Jewish Chronicle reported that Brian Kerner, former chair of Joint Israel Appeal argued that there was "the need for a body able to orchestrate British Jewry’s political and public relations" after the year 2000 outbreak of the Second Intifada. The day after it began, fifty Jewish leaders met with the Israeli ambassador and “raised an initial £250,000 fund for pro-Israel lobbying and public relations.” BICOM was founded as a consequence. The article also noted that "a debate goes on in the community’s upper echelons over whether BICOM should remain a mainly-behind-the-scenes player focussing on media or a more upfront pro-Israel lobby similar to the American Aipac...”[25]
According to a 2002 article in The Guardian Bicom and the Board of Deputies of British Jews had "adopted aggressive media strategies to defend Israel and attack its critics in Britain." In 2002 leaders of the British Jewish community called in two high level American strategists "to conduct research into the extent of hostility to Israel in Britain with a view to the British Jewish community launching a big public relations drive." In particular, focus groups were "said to have found particular hostility among professional and academic groups."[26] The American paper The Forward reported that in 2005 Steve J. Rosen, then American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy director, led an ambitious and “semisecret” effort to start similar pro-Israel lobbying organizations in the United Kingdom due to rising antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment.[27] In early 2008, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a new, yet unnamed London-based organisation would examine whether Israel received fair media coverage, but that it would not compete with BICOM.[22]
In the autumn of 2008 a senior Israeli government official shared his opinions on competition between BICOM, which he said wants to maintain its primary role in the UK, and the US-based Israel Project. He stated that BICOM charged that the Israel Project doesn't understand how to work with British journalists and said "We don't want to get into this. We work with both organisations." The Israel Project denied there was competition and BICOM declined to comment saying "We don't respond to speculation."[28]

Christian Zionist groups

Christian Zionist groups in Britain continue the tradition of supporting Israel as part of the fulfillment of prophecy. Such groups often are criticized for their beliefs (per the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Zechariah) that only those Jews who convert to Christianity will be spared a fiery death when Jesus returns.[29][30] Christian Friends of Israel, UK explicitly rejects such a view in its “Foundation Principles.”[31] Other such groups include the Church's Ministry Among Jewish People (The Israel Trust of the Anglican Church), Bridges for Peace, Christian Zionists for Israel UK and International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, UK.

Debate on the nature and influence of Israel lobbying

New Statesman article in 2002

Cover of 'New Statesman', 14 January 2002
In early 2002, Dennis Sewell wrote an article called "A Kosher Conspiracy?" in the New Statesman magazine about the "Zionist lobby" in the United Kingdom, detailing lobbying in the United Kingdom by pro-Israel organizations. The article alleged that arms trader Shlomo Zabludowicz funded the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). It repeated allegations that under Conrad Black, then proprietor of the British publications The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, as well as the Israeli English-language newspaper the Jerusalem Post, "serious, critical reporting of Israel is no longer tolerated in the Telegraph Group," further alleging organised letter writing and "smear" campaigns against journalists who criticised Israel, including against The Times's foreign correspondent Sam Kiley, The Independent's columnist Deborah Orr and Middle Eastern correspondent Robert Fisk and The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg. It also described Black's wife Barbara Amiel as an "enthusiastic Zionist columnist". According to Sewell: "That there is a Zionist lobby and that it is rich, potent, and effective goes largely unquestioned on the left." However, he concluded "The truth is that the 'Zionist lobby' does exist, but is a clueless bunch."[32]
The cover of that issue of the magazine was entitled "A Kosher Conspiracy?: John Pilger and Dennis Sewell on Britain's pro-Israel lobby," and portraying a gold star of David sitting on top of a Union Flag, met with some protest. Mortimer Zuckerman and Bernard Harrison cited it as an example of "new antisemitism."[33] Emanuele Ottolenghi of St Antony's College, Oxford, told a British all-parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism that it evoked "classical anti-Jewish stereotypes" implying "wealth, "conspiracy" and "dishonesty" on the part of British Jews.[34] Peter Wilby, then editor of the New Statesman, subsequently apologised for the cover.[35]
Journalist Peter Oborne, in response, stated in his pamphlet that accompanied his Dispatches documentary on the influence of the Israel Lobby on British foreign policy, has stated that - "The very mild piece involved little investigation and, if anything, played down the influence of the groups."[36]

David Rich opinion

Writing about the publication of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in Haaretz in 2007, Dave Rich, Deputy Director of Communications at the Jewish charity Community Security Trust, contended: "The problem on this side of the Atlantic [i.e. in Europe] is that British politics lacks anything approaching the American system of openly declared political lobbies; a similar, AIPAC-style operation in Westminster would not just influence policy, it would also subvert fundamental democratic mechanisms." Rich concluded, "If there is a Jewish conspiracy, it is remarkably ineffective."[37]

Oxford Union Debate

In May 2007 the Oxford Union, a British private debating society, entertained the proposition: “This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel’s action.” The debate, moderated by British journalist Tim Sebastian, featured professor Norman Finkelstein, journalist Alexander Cockburn, former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and British journalist David Aaronovitch.[38] Aaronovitch held that the United Kingdom does not have the same kind of lobby as the United States[39] and that in Europe there was “no such movement to sow confusion or stifle debate” as in the United States. Two-thirds of students voted that the pro-Israel lobby stifles debate.[40][41]

Dispatches: Inside Britain's Israel Lobby

On November 16, 2009, the Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches aired the episode "Inside Britain's Israel Lobby"[42] which investigated " of the most powerful and influential political lobbies in Britain, which is working in support of the interests of the State of Israel."[43] Antony Lerman wrote in The Guardian that while critics of the film alleged it presented grossly irresponsible accusations, he believed the film makers main conclusion was that they had "found a worrying lack of transparency." He charged that several critics themselves had made irresponsible accusations against the film makers. He described three vignettes included in the program regarding Israel lobbyists' efforts to influence politicians and the media and one lobbyist's questionable financial interests in an illegal Israeli settlement.[44]

Opinions of critics

The British-based Muslim group Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK), insists there is a "British Israel Lobby", stating that "there are over 100 members of the Friends of Israel lobby in the Labour party alone. This gives them a very loud voice simply because they are active, each and everyone is giving and working for the good of their community.".[45] A September 2006 article on its web site describing the three groups' web sites comments "We would like to apologise to all the Warmongers, Anti-Ceasefire camp, pro-war camp, anti-Islam camp, anti-Muslim camp, Zionists, Israel Supporters, terrorists, extremists, fascists, right-wingers, Neo-Cons, Tony Blair, well pretty much everyone who doesn't believe in the existence of the British Israel Lobby for exposing you for hijacking our countries [sic] foreign policy, which promotes hatred/war/injustice and who can forget the rejection of the ceasefire in Lebanon... Even A Blind Person Knows The Existence of The Israel Lobby, but what is stopping you in seeing the existence of the Israel Lobby? Fear of being called An Anti-Semitic? If you think now is worse give it a few years when everything and anything on the issue of Israel & Zionism will be anti-Semitic."[46]
In December 2007 a group of British academics and physicians including professor Mona Baker, psychiatrist Derek Summerfield and David Sedden of British Committee for Universities of Palestine wrote a letter to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, an advisory non-departmental public body of the British government. In it they claimed that the "Israel Lobby" - and specifically Friends of Israel - has "embedded itself in the British political establishment and at the very heart of government. Its stated purpose is to promote Israel’s interests in our Parliament and sway British policy." They charged that British Members of Parliament are "eating out of the Israeli government’s hand". According to Committee Chair Charles Ramsden, "It is very unlikely that this will come up on the agenda, because we deal with issues involving individuals."[47]
On May 17, 2008 the Al Jazeera news network produced a documentary "Balfour to Blair" described as "a special 30 minute film, [which] investigates the promises made, the motivations of British policy in the Middle East at the time and the impact of the Zionist lobby on this policy" covering the period from the early 20th century to the present day.[48]
On the Palestine Chronicle web site, Australian investigative reporter Janine Roberts writes that the Zionist lobby or Israel lobby in Britain is in some way more successful than that in the United States. She asserts that after pop music mogul Michael Levy began fundraising for the Labour Party it became far more pro-Israel.[49] Labour Friends of Israel supporter Levy has been described by The Jerusalem Post as "undoubtedly the notional leader of British Jewry".[50] Levy ran Blair’s 1997 campaign for Prime Minister and after winning Blair made Levy a member of the House of Lords (which appointment later became part of the Cash for Honours political scandal) as well as “special envoy” to the Middle-East. Roberts writes that Brown is even more pro-Israel than Blair and has “ensured continued Jewish funding of ‘New Labour’” by appointing former Labour Friends of Israel director Jon Mendelsohn as his chief fundraiser for the next election. He also appointed former British ambassador to Israel, Simon McDonald, as his chief foreign policy adviser. He appointed several former chairs of Labour Friends of Israel to high positions: James Purnell as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport with oversight over the British Broadcasting Corporation and all British media; Jim Murphy as Minister of State for Europe with responsibility for the BBC World Service and the British Council; and Kim Howells as “Middle East Minister” (Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with oversight of Middle East affairs). Roberts writes that Labour Friends of Israel has a growing membership in the House of Commons and is seen as a ladder to success for aspiring politicians.[49]
Roberts writes that 80 percent of Conservative Members of Parliament also are Conservative Friends of Israel, including David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party. She states that the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel web site is more “stridently pro-Israel” than Labour, calling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank a “myth.” She also describes the Christian Friends of Israel (UK), which claims the British Empire disappeared because it became an enemy of the Jewish people when it tried “to stop the Holocaust survivors from reaching the Promised Land.” She holds that these pro-Israel lobbyists have encouraged Britain’s support for the Iraq war and for cutting off British and European financial aid to the Gaza Strip as long as the “elected Hamas government” is in power.[49]
British Member of Parliament George Galloway, an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, disagrees that the Israel lobby is powerful. In a 2005 interview about the war on Iraq, he stated "Israel works for America. Israel works for imperialism. It’s not that there’s a Zionist lobby acting as the tail that wags the dog. The dog always wags the tail. And Israel’s purpose, in its creation, was to keep the Arabs divided and weak and to be an advance guard for imperialist interests in the region..."[51] Nevertheless, in January 2009 when Galloway was not allowed to host his regular radio talk show after a scuffle at a rally protesting Israel's attack on Gaza, his supporters allegedly "bombarded" the station with telephone calls and emails "accusing the station of bowing to pressure from 'the Israel lobby'," the station spokesman denied being aware of such complaints.[52]
Anti-Zionist, accomplished writer and one of the most famous Jewish musicians in the world, Gilad Atzmon is a strong critic of Israeli influence in the United Kingdom.

Criticisms of the lobby


In a September 2001 column in The Observer about the September 11 attacks in the United States, Richard Ingrams noted “the reluctance throughout the media to contemplate the Israeli factor” and, commenting on Britain, cited “pressure from the Israeli lobby in this country that many, even normally outspoken journalists, are reluctant even to refer to such matters.” He also noted their reluctance to address issues he had mentioned in past columns related to Lord Levy, the Labour Party and to the “close business links with Israel” of press magnates Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black.[57] Earlier in August, Times journalist, Sam Kiley, resigned from the newspaper as he found his work was severely censored by senior executives due to the Zionist sympathies of Rupert Murdoch.[58]
In 2002 journalist John Pilger’s documentary “Palestine is Still the Issue” was shown on ITV. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, Conservative Friends of Israel and the Israeli Embassy expressed “outrage” and, according to Pilger, demanded a "pro-Israel" film. Pilger states the BBC would not have “dared to incur the wrath of one of the most influential lobbies in this country” by showing the film, citing comments written by Tim Llewellyn, the BBC's longtime Middle East correspondent, that the BBC continues to “duck” the issue. Pilger stated this was "one example of pressure exerted on British journalists from Zionists and the Israeli embassy."[59]
In a December 2007 column, after the 2007 Labour party donation scandal (“Donorgate”) broke, Assaf Uni of Haaretz wrote that there was concern in the Jewish community about “conspiracy theories regarding a ‘Jewish plot’ in the United Kingdom, and the role of the pro-Israel lobby there.” In late 2007 it was revealed that David Abrahams, who was deputy chair of Labour Friends of Israel until 2002, had made secret and illegal donations through junior employees of 600,000 pounds sterling (approximately $1.2 million) to the Labour Party. Abrahams, “a Jewish millionaire,” admitted in The Jewish Chronicle that he concealed his activity because "I didn't want Jewish money and the Labour Party being put together." The Telegraph ran a photograph of Abrahams with Israeli former ambassador to Britain, Zvi Heifetz, and “insinuated that Israel was the source of the illegal campaign contributions.” According to an article in Haaretz, several in the media have maintained there was a connection between money donated by Zionist Jews and the pro-Israel policy of British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told The Forward "Clearly there is a potential for it to turn against us."[14][15]
Writing about the scandal, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asked in The Independent about the roles of the Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel groups, given that former Labour Friends leader David Abrahams involvement. She questioned the role in Labour victories of John Mendelsohn, noting that Mendelsohn is “a passionate Zionist and infamous lobbyist, described by the Jewish Chronicle as ‘one of the best-connected power brokers’.” She stated her assumption that Labour Friends of Israel plays a part in shaping British foreign policies in the Middle East. She also questioned the donations and “back-room influence” of Labour Friends of India and Muslim Friends of Labour.[60]
In 2009 British investigative journalist Peter Oborne produced a documentary for Channel 4 Dispatches programme exposing the influence of the Israel Lobby within British politics[61] and alongside James Jones wrote a pamphlet investigating which groups make up the pro-Israel lobby, how they operate, and how they exert influence.[62]


David Rich, who denies there are UK “AIPAC-style” lobbies, criticised former Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Tam Dalyell who in 2003 stated that former prime minister and party leader Tony Blair was unduly influenced by a "cabal of Jewish advisers” in forming his Middle East policy towards Iraq, Syria and Iran.[37] Dalyell initially named several influential British advisors of Jewish heritage,[63] but later focused on Middle East envoy, Lord Levy and mostly Jewish advisors to US President George W. Bush. Eric Moonman, president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland and a former Labour MP, said he was seeking advice on whether there was a case for referral of Dalyell to the Commons’ commission for racial equality.[64][65]
The former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Baroness Jenny Tonge said in 2006: "The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party." An all-party group of Lords led by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said her "irresponsible and inappropriate" comments "evoked a classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theory."[66][67] Defending her comments, Tonge said that Walt and Mearsheimer's article "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" that appeared in the March 23, 2006 issue of The London Review of Books provided extensive research supporting her assertion that the "'Israel lobby' had a disproportionate voice in Anglo-American foreign policy."
Tonge was reprimanded by the Liberal Party leader Menzies Campbell, who commented "I defend absolutely your right to express your views on the Middle East, including legitimate criticism of the state of Israel. But I do not believe that the remarks you used fell within that category." He added that the remarks had "clear anti-Semitic connotation" Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, was quoted as saying: "If someone makes comments that are so at odds with what the party feels, and hopefully at odds with common decency, then one would hope that they are no longer made welcome in the party itself."

In 2006 Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the northwest of England wrote to a pro-Israel constituent that she "enjoyed wallowing in her own filth." In a later message to her he complained about Israel's "racist policies of apartheid" and stated “I shall tell them that I intend to speak out against this oppression at every opportunity, and I shall denounce the influence of the Jewish lobby that seems to have far too great a say over the political decision-making process in many countries.” As a consequence of the outcry raised by the attack on the constituent, Davies resigned soon after as leader of the Liberal Democrats group in the European Parliament.

Arabs and Muslims

In October 2007 all speakers withdrew in protest from another Oxford Union debate on the “One-state solution.” One of the speakers, Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian research fellow at the University of Exeter and vice-chair of CAABU (the Council for Arab-British Understanding), wrote on The Guardian's blog that "the newest and least attractive import from America, following on behind Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Friends, is the pro-Israel lobby.” She states the Oxford Union withdrew its invitation to speak to American Jewish scholar and Israel critic Norman Finkelstein, asserting it was “apparently intimidated by threats from various pro-Israel groups.”

Another speaker, Avi Shlaim, a Professor of International Relations at St Antony's College, Oxford, wrote that the rest of the original speakers withdrew “as a protest against the shabby treatment of our academic colleague and the violation of the principle of free speech at the Oxford Union.”

Karmi wrote later in 2007 that legal and other threats against Britons who sought to boycott Israeli universities and against the Royal Society of Medicine for inviting psychiatrist Dr. Derek Summerfield to a conference. She stated the threats succeeded because "Britain is different, naively innocent in the face of US-style assaults on its scholars and institutions. No wonder that those who have been attacked give in so quickly, nervous of something they do not understand."

In October 2007 Amjad Barham, head of the Council of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, wrote that the "Israel lobby in the UK" was behind the University and College Union (UCU)'s decision to cancel the UK speaking tour of some Palestinian academics. He asserted Palestinian academic unions could "detect the not-so-hidden hand of the lobby in this latest episode of stifling debate on issues pertaining to Israeli policies and the complicity of the Israeli academy in perpetuating them."

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