The Israel lobby at work…

Alan Duncan on a 2012 visit to Gaza. Photo: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA

JVL Introduction

It is not antisemitic to point out that the well-known fact there is an Israel lobby hard at work in Britain.

But we seldom get an insight into how it operates.

The Al Jazeera Lobby series lifted the curtain just a little with its revelations about the involvement of the Israeli embassy in British politics.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry at the time described “remarks by embassy official Shai Masot, caught on camera, as a national security issue”, and Labour demanded an official inquiry.

Now Britain’s former deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan comes out all guns blazing, accusing the Israel lobby of “disgusting interference in our public life.”

While it would be folly to overstate the Lobby’s power these is no doubt, as the occasional leaks suggest, that there is a well-oiled and well-financed machine at work, in which blackening the character of people opposed to or merely critical of Israel’s expansionist policies is part of the daily routine.

Asa Winstanley summarises the new revelations – and returns to the story of Priti Patel’s many off-the-radar meetings with senior Israeli government. She was, says Duncan,”engaged offline with a foreign government over issues of policy… It is contemptible.”

We fully expect Duncan’s comments to be ignored, as were Thornberry’s before – by Labour as much as by the government.

This article was originally published by Electronic Intifada, Lobby Watch on Fri 9 Apr 2021. Read the original here.

“High-level” Israel lobby interference in British politics, says ex-minister

In a new book, Britain’s former deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan accuses the Israel lobby of “disgusting interference in our public life.”

Speaking to the Mail+ website this week Duncan said that lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel “interfere at a high level in British politics in the interest of Israel, on the back of donor power within the UK.”

He told journalist Michael Crick that this is “a sort of buried scandal that has to stop.”

Duncan’s new book In The Thick of It was serialized by the Daily Mail this week. The book comprises his diaries from his time in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Duncan writes that Conservative Friends of Israel successfully vetoed his appointment as Middle East minister in 2016. Then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told him that Conservative Friends of Israel were “going ballistic” at the prospect, Duncan writes.

“It is for no other reason than that I believe in the rights of Palestinians and it’s quite clear that they don’t,” he adds. “They just want to belittle and subjugate the Palestinians.”

Duncan was instead appointed as minister of state for foreign affairs – effectively deputy to the foreign secretary.

Duncan’s diary records that he was offered the role – which “they insist is the most serious portfolio” – because “everyone is very concerned that I might immediately resign and cause a massive stink about this outside interference” by the Israel lobby.

Fear of the lobby

In his interview with Crick, Duncan said Conservative Friends of Israel push “a sort of Netanyahu type view of Israeli politics into our foreign policy.”

“A lot of things do not happen in foreign policy, or a government, for fear of offending this lobby,” he added.

According to Duncan, Conservative Friends of Israel presents the issues it wants to lobby on as “too hot to handle” and as linked to donor money which comes into the Conservative Party.

Duncan was a member of Parliament for 27 years before stepping down ahead of the 2019 general election.

Conservative Friends of Israel has claimed in the past that 80 percent of Conservative MPs are members. Its funding sources are opaque, but are thought to be mostly wealthy pro-Israel businessmen in the UK.

In January 2017 an undercover series filmed by Al Jazeera revealed that Duncan had been on a hit list of British MPs that an Israeli embassy agent wanted to “take down.”

Israeli embassy spy Shai Masot and civil servant Maria Strizzolo were caught on undercover camera conspiring to engineer “a little scandal” for Duncan, who was the first openly gay Conservative MP.

Masot was thrown under the bus by the embassy and sent back to Tel Aviv. Strizzolo quit her government job.

Priti Patel

Later in 2017, then international development minister Priti Patel was forced to quit by Prime Minister Theresa May, after breaking government rules during a “holiday” to Israel.

Patel – who is now back in government as home secretary – held 12 undisclosed meetings with Israeli ministers and business leaders.

Her meetings included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. Patel had not declared the meetings to British officials or had them minuted in the normal fashion.

According to UK government rules, ministerial meetings discussing official business should be attended and recorded by civil servants – whose role is to serve the government in a nonpartisan fashion.

After initially lying about the affair, Patel later admitted her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness” expected of ministers.

In his diaries recounting his view of the 2017 incident, Duncan accuses “Priti Horrendous” of being “deceitful, morally corrupt” and “quite despicable.”

“She has engaged offline with a foreign government over issues of policy,” he writes. “It is contemptible.”

Patel’s meetings were arranged by Stuart Polak, a leading Conservative Friends of Israel lobbyist.

The BBC reported at the time that “some ministers and MPs accused Ms. Patel of trying to win favor with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors who could fund a potential future leadership campaign.”

In his book Duncan describes Polak as “the principal pro-Israel donor lobbyist in the UK.”

It is Polak that Duncan excoriates for vetoing his appointment to the Middle East desk, along with fellow lobbyist and Conservative politician Eric Pickles: “Clearly Pickles and Polak have been lobbying against me. This is the most disgusting interference in our public life.”

Comments (16)

  • Linda says:

    If these allegations of Israeli interference with the UK’s political process are correct, the UK’s government and ministers are being chosen entirely or in part by one or more foreign powers.

    Though it’ll be difficult to achieve, the only ways to stop such interference I feel are to break the links between donations and political parties. It should be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment to make hidden donations (eg donations presented as cheap loans or payments for goods and services).

    Parties should only be allowed to fund themselves through individual membership subscriptions, all subscription rates being standardised and set at levels affordable by almost everyone in the relevant categories (eg families with dependent children and pensioners).

    Would the Labour membership be ready to back a motion trying to introduce such a scheme, do you think? It would be unlikely to get past the current leadership – but I think it’s worth trying to do something about this. It almost seems like a 21st century re-casting of the “Rotten Boroughs” approach to politics.

  • Huw says:

    As Mira Bar Hillel reported in the Independent in 2018: “The late Conservative historian Robert Rhodes James described CFI as ‘the largest organisation in western Europe dedicated to the cause of the people of Israel’. … Stuart Polak … is possibly Westminster’s most effective operator.”

    Furthermore, she recalled, an earlier, very senior Tory MP, Michael Mates, had told Peter Oborne on the record that “the pro-Israel lobby in our body politic is the most powerful political lobby. There’s nothing to touch them. … Their lobbying is done very discretely, in very high places, which may be why it is so effective.”

  • Geoff Rouse says:

    I would restate my opinions on the extent of Israeli deceit but my previous comments were blocked for criticising them a little too heavily….,Shame that.

  • Those with long memories may recall that what Alan Duncan is saying, about interference of CFI in British and Tory politics and its use of funding by wealthy pro-Israeli businessmen was what Gerald Kaufman said in the autumn of 2015, shortly after the election of Corbyn.

    It was also the beginning of the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign Kaufman was excoriated, not least by the Campaign Against Antisemitism who penned no less than 36 articles including a disgusting article after his death

    ‘Sir Gerald Kaufman MP’s words have left a rotting stain on our institutions ‘
    https://antisemitism.org/sir-gerald-kaufman-mps-words-have-left-a-rotting-stain-on-our-institutions/

    The allegations of course were that ‘Jewish money’ was anti-Semitic. It wasn’t a phrase that I would have used but it wasn’t anti-Semitic. Those who were giving money via CFI to the Tory Party were Jewish. They were intent on influencing the policy on Israel.

    I did a search of the Jewish Chronicle archive and found 600 examples of the same phrase. The term ‘Jewish money’ is not unknown in the Jewish community. Kaufman was expressing a fact. The money belonged to Jews!

    Of course such a phrase, in another context, could have been anti-Semitic. It would be wrong to attribute Tory Party support for Israel to Jewish donors. If anything they are pushing at an open door but it no doubt influences policy at the margins.

    But the cries of ‘anti-Semitism’ are designed to stifle investigation of what the Zionist lobby gets up to in Britain.

  • Jack T says:

    “But we seldom get an insight into how it operates.”

    We had a perfect example of how it operates when we saw how viciously they attacked Jeremy Corbyn from both outside and inside the Labour Party. It was obvious from even before Jeremy became Leader that this was going to happen yet there was no plan put into place to counteract it. A monumental failure by John McDonnell and others.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Revealed: £1,000,000 Israeli Plot To Take Down Corbyn & Other MP’s

    https://newspunch.com/israel-put-up-a-1000000-bounty-for-insiders-to-undermine-uk-mps/

    And the following article includes the things Duncan said that made him somewhat unpopular with the Israeli state:

    “many settlers are state-sponsored militia, defying international law, driving out the rightful inhabitants from their land, and creating an illegal economy at the expense of those who have been cruelly displaced”.

    https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/peter-oborne-duncans-stand-settlements-makes-him-israeli-target

  • George Wilmers says:

    It is worth noting that when a bevy of fanatic pro-Israel lobbyists complained to Ofcom about the al-Jazeera series alleging antisemitism and misrepresentation, in an extraordinarily detailed examination of the evidence Ofcom rejected every single one of the complaints. This is one of the very few occasions in recent years when a UK civil authority has had both the courage and honesty to stand up to these rightwing bigots.
    The 60 page Ofcom report can be read from p20 on at

    https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0033/106989/issue-338-broadcast-on-demand-bulletin.pdf

    The 4-part al-Jazeera series, together with the even more disturbing 4-part US counterpart which was suppressed by al-Jazeera under US pressure, but then leaked, can be viewed at https://javelinmedia.org/the-lobby/

    Keir Starmer and his mafia will not exactly welcome this new development just at the moment when a poll shows that 70% of labour members agree with Corbyn that antisemitism in the labour party has been exaggerated,
    Will Starmer be accusing the Tory Alan Duncan of antisemitism? What will the professional “antisemite” hunters who exclusively target principled socialists have to say? Even the dimwitted Ian Austin seems to realise that the defamation campaign is failing when he comments in the Jewish Chronicle:

    “Expelling people responsible for overt anti-Jewish racism is one thing, but what will the new Labour leadership do to ensure members take a reasonable approach to Israel? ”

    and he lamely concludes

    “The party needs to work with the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel to educate members about anti-Jewish racism and teach them the truth about Israel and its relationship with the UK. ”

    https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/true-views-of-labour-membership-revealed-in-new-poll-1.513656

    My dear Lord Austin: we both know that the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel have nothing to say because they have no rational arguments; indeed they are terrified of any engagement in rational argument. Just take a look at the JLM website: as committed “labour” zionists with unlimited resources you would surely expect to see some deep analysis of the political situation in Israel/Palestine? What do you find? Nothing. Zilch. Their entire posturing depends on a campaign of defamation and conceptual conflation which collapses at once under dispassionate analysis. So, my dear Lordship, until you have established your very own “mainstream” totalitarian régime with harsh re-education camps for dissidents, your program of “education” about Israel is but a pipe dream, because once an ideology based on systematic mendacity begins to unravel in public consciousness it can never be restored.

  • Stephen Williams says:

    It’s not just UK government ministers being chosen, is it. Ask the Labour Party. Not that you’d get an answer.

  • Hazel says:

    I agree with Linda. Donation to political parties to buy influence is a scandal. It corrupts politicians and distorts policy. Labour was fully solvent under Corbyn from small contributions by members and larger ones from the Trade Unions. Those sources dried up with the shocking treatment of Corbyn by the current leadership. The party is now beholden to wealthy buyers of power, including people connected to the Israeli government, with consequent skewing of policies.

  • goldbach says:

    The Al Jazeera series is very revealing. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth watching because much of it is the product of hidden camera footage. There is a companion series called The Lobby USA that is well worth watching, too. They can both be found on YouTube.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    When critics of Israel refer to ‘the Israel lobby’ they are commonly accused of using an antisemitic trope about Jewish influence in international affairs. Another example of how accusations of anti-semitism are used to deflect attention from Israel’s human rights abuses and its insidious use of propaganda to deny them.

  • Lesley Lee says:

    I would be interested to know how much influence Israeli lobbyists have in the PLP

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    The reference to Eric Pickles is of particular interests. Pickles was the head of the British “delegation” to the IHRA.

  • Brian Joseph McAuley says:

    I am not of the same political persuasion as Alan Duncan but I admire his integrity in this matter.

  • bob cannell says:

    The vile Eric Pickles. He was a councillor with me in Bradford in the 80s. (Hi Eric, if you see this.) He underwent a transformation from being a well respected liberal conservative, speaking out on discrimination against asian people, to a hated, lying Thatcherite , allegedly being trained in his new style at a Young Conservatives summer camp.
    The change of heart propelled him into leadership of the council for two chaotic years during which he trashed services and the budget, built up a host of allegations of personal misbehaviour in office, and then when ousted, into a safe Tory seat in the south.
    Pickles has profited well from his subsequent path. He will basically do anything to benefit himself without regard to the cost to others.

  • James Dickins says:

    bob cannell 11th April 2021 at 17:28 “The vile Eric Pickles.”
    _________________________

    “Eric Pickles has been illegally discriminating against Gypsies and Travellers by using his ministerial powers to personally decide whether they should be allowed to settle on green belt land, the High Court has ruled.

    In a devastating judgement which lawyers said carried “enormous” implications and could lead to a flood of fresh claims against the Government, Mr Justice Gilbart said the Communities Secretary had “discriminated unlawfully against a racial group” by subjecting planning applications from Gypsies and Travellers to special scrunity”: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eric-pickles-illegally-discriminating-against-gypsies-and-travellers-high-court-rules-9993154.html
    _______________________________________

    In the same year, Mr. Pickles was appointed by the British government UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues:
    https://www.travellerstimes.org.uk/news/2018/04/joseph-g-jones-slams-eric-pickles-holocaust-envoy-role-because-he-discriminated

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