December 05, 2007

The UK's Israel lobby?

I'm a bit late with this article from Yasmin Alibai-Brown in the Independent a couple of days ago and I've only got it now because I know someone who had a letter published in response to it. Yasmin Alibai Brown is one of the few Muslims with her own regular slot as a columnist in a UK paper. I find she usually tiptoes round the Palestine issue. Not this time she didn't. She questions the role of the Labour Friends of Israel, indeed the other parties' Friends of Israel as well. The question has arisen because some of its members have been involved in a scandal involving illegal donations of about £600,000 to the campaign funds of various high profile Labourites.
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.
I thought some turns of phrase there were quite clever, the "wrath of Moses" and the "shape-shifter" reference to David Abrahams's habit of using other people's names to distribute his largesse. Well one correspondent the next day wasn't impressed. He thought that "wrath of Moses" was an antisemitic expression but my former Arab Media Watch colleague, Dina Turner, was well impressed:
Sir: Thank you to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She is a brave woman. It is disturbing to think that our politicians are working for the benefit of a foreign country, and explains a lot about our Middle East policy.

This is clearly not just about the Labour Party, and should be the beginning of questions about the influence of foreign lobbying groups in the Conservative Party too. If we want to trust our politicians in future, we may have to accept that the only way forward is by public funding of political parties.

Dina Turner

Farnham, Surrey
I don't know about that. I think if the Israel lobby didn't exist, the foreign policy establishment would probably invent it but there is certainly something rotten about these Friends of Israel types. Whether Conservative, LibDem or Labour, they are all friends of Israel, a state with an ethno-religious structure only demanded by fascist organisations in Europe. The fact is that being a friend of a state based on colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing, and segregationist laws is incompatible with socialism and liberalism. Conservatism is a little nebulous a concept to define but most UK Conservatives would have difficulty defending Israel from a blow by blow description of its structure alone.

Even without these financial scandals, the very existence of these societies of "friends" should up for question, especially as they are more likely friends of each other than friends of the parties they take the first word of their labels from.

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