THE PRO-ISRAEL LOBBY IN BRITAIN. By James Jones and
Author’s Note by Peter Oborne
Every year, in a central London hotel, a very grand lunch is thrown by the Conservative Friends of Israel. It is often addressed by the Conservative leader of the day. Many members of the shadow cabinet make it their business to be there along with a very large number of Tory peers and prospective candidates, while the Conservative MPs present amount to something close to a majority of the parliamentary party. It is a formidable turnout.
This year’s event took place in June, with the main speech by Tory leader David Cameron and shadow foreign secretary William Hague in attendance. The dominant event of the previous twelve months had been the Israeli invasion of Gaza at the start of the year. So I examined Cameron’s speech with curiosity to see how he would handle that recent catastrophe.
I was shocked to see that Cameron made no reference at all to the invasion of Gaza, the massive destruction it caused, or the 1,3701 deaths that had resulted. Indeed, Cameron went out of his way to praise Israel because it “strives to protect innocent life”
I found it impossible to reconcile the remarks made by the
young Conservative leader with the numerous reports of human rights abuses in Gaza. Afterwards I said as much to some Tory MPs. They looked at me as if I was distressingly naive, drawing my attention to the very large number of Tory donors in the audience.
But it cannot be forgotten that so many people died in Gaza at the start of this year. To allow this terrible subject to pass by without comment suggested a failure of common humanity and decency on the part of a man most people regard as the next prime minister.
To praise Israel at the same time for protecting human life showed not merely a fundamental failure of respect for the truth but also it gives the perception, rightly or wrongly, of support for the wretched events which took place in Gaza. That is not to condone or excuse the abhorrent actions of Hamas, but to overlook Israel’s culpability is undoubtedly partisan.
It is impossible to imagine any British political leader showing such equanimity and tolerance if British troops had committed even a fraction of the human rights abuses and war crimes of which Israel has been accused. So that weekend, in my weekly Daily Mail political column, I criticized Cameron’s speech to the CFI, drawing attention to his failure to mention Gaza and his speaking of Israeli respect for the sanctity of human life. Soon I received a letter from Stuart Polak, the longstanding CFI director: “Peter, the snapshot of our lunch concentrating on the businessmen and David’s alleged comments was really unhelpful.” The CFI political director, Robert Halfon, wrote saying that my letter was ‘astonishing’ and accusing me of making a ‘moral equivalence’ between Israel and Iran.
I wrote back to them citing a number of reports by international organizations such as Amnesty International highlighting breaches of codes by the Israeli army. I resolved then to ask the question: what led David Cameron to behave in the way he did at the CFI lunch at the Dorchester Hotel last June? What are the rules of British political behaviour which cause the Tory Party leader and his mass of MPs and parliamentary candidates to flock to the Friends of Israel lunch in the year of the Gaza invasion? And what are the rules of media discourse that ensure that such an event passes without notice?
On a personal note I should say that I have known both Stuart Polak and Robert Halfon for many years and always found them fair-minded and straightforward to deal with. Indeed in the summer of 2007 I went on a CFI trip to Israel led by Stuart Polak.
No pressure was put on me, at the time or later, to write anything in favour of Israel. The trip, which was paid for by the CFI, certainly enabled me to understand much better the Israeli point of view. But we were presented with a very full spectrum of Israeli intellectual and political life, ranging from disturbingly far right pro-settler MPs to liberal intellectuals consumed with doubt about the morality of the Zionist state. The trip was also balanced to a certain extent by a meeting with a leading Palestinian businessman and with the British consul in East Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, the job of a political journalist is to try and explain how politics works. Ten years ago I exposed, in an article for The Spectator headlined “The man who owns the Tory Party”, the fact that the controversial offshore financier Michael Ashcroft was personally responsible for the financial
survival of William Hague’s Conservatives. I asked how legitimate Michael Ashcroft’s contribution was, how much he spent, and did my best to investigate how he used his influence.
Now I want to ask a question that has never been seriously addressed in the mainstream press: is there a Pro-Israel lobby in
Britain, what does it do and what influence does it wield?
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
By James Jones and Peter Oborne
In 2007 two US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published a study of what they called the US Israel lobby, exploring in particular the connection between the domestic power of the lobby in the United States and US foreign policy.
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