The UK’s Israel Lobby – tonight. Peter Oborne speaks


by Sunny
16th November, 2009 at 10:53 pm    

This is an article by the Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne written in advance of his Dispatches documentary tonight on Channel 4. The link to the full pamphlet, which has extended links and material in the programme, is here.

—————–

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 report 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?

Here is the full pamphlet


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  1. pickles

    Blog post:: The UK's Israel Lobby – tonight. Peter Oborne speaks http://bit.ly/2EdVeT


  2. Nicholas Stewart

    #PickledPolitics The UK’s Israel Lobby – tonight. Peter Oborne speaks http://tinyurl.com/yfyrfxh Surprise – cameron is a coward




  1. Shamit — on 16th November, 2009 at 2:14 pm  

    here we go again.

    Cameron's speech is here:
    http://www.cfoi.co.uk/document/200961914361_Cam

    He was categorical about a two state solution and that settlements must stop and rightly he said there cannot be any equivalence between Israel and Palestine.

    In fact, Obama's speech to AIPAC was not much different – I did not see people jumping up and down about it.

    Sunny – with all due respects mate – this guy likes to make waves and sometimes without any credence – like unearthing the truth about Blair not watching Newcastle United or writing about how US is our biggest enemy.

    If this guy believes US is the biggest threat to civilisation — and now he wants to go after Cameron because he believes Cameron is coming to power. You attack the person who is popular – you get fame again. Kinda like Ian chappell writing about how Tendulkar should retire and then having to praise him.

    Cameron's policy on Israel is no different from Brown's and we all know that.

    but no according to Oborne – Cameron is shite -
    is he angry about him saying Israel cannot build settlements- or that Hamas is a terrorist organisation – he said both those things in his speech and not mentioning Gaza was prudent. Or is he angry about asking for a two state solution with security and development for all? Which part of the speech pisses him off most – I don't get it.

    If he is going to be PM – he needs to choose his words carefully and thats exactly what he did. And I would expect any British Prime Minister to do so. Whats the problem?

    So I disagree with Peter Oborne completely – he is taking a cheap shot at Cameron.

    As they say he is part of the reason why media is treated with such contempt by the public.

  2. A.C. — on 16th November, 2009 at 3:23 pm  

    So in this instance you accept the Daily Mail's view of society, Sunny?

    The mail can hold some views that you agree with, although you don't agree with them overall?

    Why is it so hard for you to understand the same thing about the BNP and immigration??

  3. Shatterface — on 16th November, 2009 at 3:25 pm  

    I gave it about 20 minutes but the 3-D glasses just made me cross-eyed.

    Did I miss much or was it all just about Jews running the world?

  4. Sunny H — on 16th November, 2009 at 3:33 pm  

    Shamit – there were plenty of people who weren't happy about Obama's speech. Did you miss that somehow? Would you like me to post some links?

    He was categorical about a two state solution and that settlements must stop and rightly he said there cannot be any equivalence between Israel and Palestine.

    Please read the above article carefully. He was talking about the death and destruction caused by Israel's invasion of Gaza.

    By the way – there can be equivalence between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps you mean Israel and Hamas.

  5. Sunny H — on 16th November, 2009 at 3:40 pm  

    . You attack the person who is popular – you get fame again.

    He's the political editor of the Daily Mail and a columnist for them, and highly respected. I think we can lay to bed this lame attack that he's doing it for the fame.

    In fact the Labour party did condemn Israel's attack on Gaza but the Tories as a party didn't. Usually you're quite good on foreign policy Shamit – why the hell are you making such elementary mistakes here?

  6. marvin — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:04 pm  

    LOL Shatterface. Very good. Yes, looks like it was about Jews running the world….

    I watched it for the first 15 minutes. Oborne, miraculously, seemed to be discovering what 'lobbying' meant. But it was all very sinister, for some reason. Lots of blue Stars of David everywhere, conspiratorial tones and figures like £10 MILLION flashed on screen

    It was an Oborne monologue. And hit all the right buttons for many, with phrases about “well funded” lobbyists in “high places”. BNP and MPACUK viewing figures must have hit the roof! … Glad you enjoyed it Sunny.

  7. Shamit — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:12 pm  

    Sunny

    Sorry the equivalence is about Israel and Hamas – sorry – my bad.

    The reason he did not mention Gaza was he did not want to inflame it any further. The Gaza situation was a human tragedy and it should not have happened. And if I was Cameron`s advisor I would have advised him to mention that the loss of life and the complete siege Gaza is under is unacceptable. But beyond that I don`t think any PM or potential PM should say anything that could jeopardise our standing with either party.

    So he stayed clear of it. But attacking him for that somehow does not sit right with me.

    *************************************************
    dont get me wrong – I thought what Israel did was overkill and unwarranted and they should have shown far more restraint in retaliation. And I thought going through with the relentless campaign was bad strategy – but I still blame Hamas for crying victory over blood they spilled. And that too of their own people.

    *******************************************************
    Maybe I got it wrong but do yu think its appropriate to try to portray the Tories as Israeli puppets because Cameron failed to mention Gaza. I don`t think so but I am open to changing my position but Oborne`s article does not persuade me.

    May be thats a better way of putting it.

  8. Shamit — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:16 pm  

    Sunny

    Completely off track – but I am a bit confused with this new comment stuff man. I meant to reply to both of your comments together but it did not work out that way and I can`t edit a comment after I post — is that just me or is it the way its supposed to be.

  9. Naadir Jeewa — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:17 pm  

    Oh boy. I'm staying out of this one.

  10. Sunny H — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:24 pm  

    Yeah, doesn't look like the comments system is working properly. It works for me, so I'm not sure why others are having problems.

    Maybe I got it wrong but do yu think its appropriate to try to portray the Tories as Israeli puppets because Cameron failed to mention Gaza. I don`t think so but I am open to changing my position but Oborne`s article does not persuade me.

    Not Israeli puppets – but definitely more sympathetic to that cause then human rights on behalf of the Palestinians. the right thing to do, as Obama did, was to condemn Israel for the attack and the loss of life. Not doing that gives the country a free reign to carry on with its foreign policy without any condemnation.

  11. Shamit — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:38 pm  

    the right thing to do, as Obama did, was to condemn Israel for the attack and the loss of life. Not doing that gives the country a free reign to carry on with its foreign policy without any condemnation. -

    I have no problems with that assertion. Actually, I agree fully with that statement of yours.

  12. Naadir Jeewa — on 16th November, 2009 at 4:50 pm  

    I'll just say that academic work on the effect of lobby groups on British politics is pretty slim.

  13. cjcjc — on 17th November, 2009 at 12:11 am  

    Sunny agrees with the Daily Mail and the “highly respected” Peter Oborne when and only when it feeds his prejudice.

    Simples.

  14. Haima — on 17th November, 2009 at 12:47 am  

    I didn't see the Dispatches programme, but did manage to read an article on Comment is Free yesterday about the programme.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/no

    Guess he's arguing that the pro-Israeli lobby is quite powerful and there's nothing wrong with it – provided we acknowledge that it is very effective in achieving it's objectives.

    In an open society, interest groups should be the norm etc.

    My thoughts about this is that the pro-Israeli lobby is effective, infectious and vibrant, and isn't confined to party political influence.

    Other interest groups might learn from it's organisational influence and reach.

    This is not tantamount to saying this lobby is in bed with powerful groups such as the Conservatives and therefore others are at a disadvantage . To my mind power is relative, and so is vulnerability and if this is the case, all groups should be able to learn from others, emulate, copy or whatever, within the frames of political organisation that is available in Britain. By the same token groups that were once vulnerable, and now may not be, might support others more exposed to the vagaries that come with different kinds inequalities. This was in my mind that great alliance between the Jewish left and black groups in the 1980s in Britain. Can we have some of this back, please! I think it still exists – but these voices often get drowned

  15. daverich — on 17th November, 2009 at 1:00 am  

    The thing is though, it's not true that the Tories didn't oppose Israel's actions in Gaza. Hague called for a ceasefire on the 29 December, two days into the fighting (http://conservativehome.blogs.com/torydiary/200…). He condemned the shelling of the UN headquarters (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/01/15-4) and after the fighting had stopped he called for potential war crimes to be investigated (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm2008…). So really, all Oborne had to show for all the money and influence he claims is brought to bear on the Tories is that Cameron did not mention any of this at the CFI lunch. Well bear sh*ts in woods etc.

    Similarly, his other grand claim of Israel lobby influence was that Cameron allegedly agreed not to describe the 2006 Lebanon war as “disproportionate” after 'the lobby' complained. All very good except that Cameron and Hague continued to use the word well after the event, and still insist they were right to do so! So that claim simply wasn't true at all.

    This was my problem with the programme: it was long on innuendo and hearsay but in terms of actual results of all this lobbying, they had little to show for 5 months of research.

    As a counterpoint, it's worth reading the speech that William Hague gave to the Conservative Middle East Council in July (http://www.caabu.org/pdf/Keynote-Speech-by-Rt-H…). You'll notice that he didn't call Hamas a terrorist group and did call for a complete freeze on settlements. Does that mean he has been nobbled by the pro-Arab lobby? Of course not.

  16. Random Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 1:43 am  

    Odd responses, because no one seems to be addressing the main question in the article: “is there a Pro-Israel lobby in Britain, what does it do and what influence does it wield?”

    Asking about the existence of a Pro-Israel lobby existing in the UK is laughable. Its obvious isn't it? Maybe no one wants to come out of it for fear of being slurred. Anyway, everyone knows the UK kowtows to the US in matters of foreign policy so it is a foregone conclusion that the UK government bods will bend over backwards to accomodate the wishes of the AIPAC-saturated US in terms of M.E. policy.

    And thats not even starting to look at the question of home-grown pro-Zionist lobby groups…

  17. Reza — on 17th November, 2009 at 2:06 am  

    Hamas were responsible for Gaza.

    They deliberately launched rocket attacks from civilian buildings. They knowingly sheltered behind civilians. And they calculatingly sacrificed civilians to foster sympathy and support for their cause.

    What was Israel supposed to do?

    What would any nation do in response to rocket attacks on it’s civilians?

    Israel made a huge effort to avoid civilian casualties. They leafleted Gaza, advising civilians to leave immediately any building from which a rocket was launched.

    They even telephoned civilians to tell them to get out before they launched their retaliation.

    What more could they have done? Ignored the rocket attacks.

    What some people here don’t realise is that Hamas et al are NOT interested in compromise. They want the destruction of the State of Israel. Whatever concession or compromise Israel offers will only take Hamas et al incrementally closer to their stated aim. They’ll eventfully resume their attacks.

    Sadly, that wicked and inhumane strategy works with simplistic and gullible people judging by some of the comments here.

  18. Random Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 3:34 am  

    Reza (or whoever/whatever you are), what a predictable [biased and bs-based] response.

    Still not answering the main question, eh? Stay on topic (if you can).

  19. The Common Humanist — on 17th November, 2009 at 3:49 am  

    This will be brief as its that kind of day. Anyways, I thought, beyond the 'Yes there is an Israel lobby and it is jolly powerful' bit, the key point was that one of the chaps who was a prominent CFI member, with a direct line to Cameron, was also a serious investor in business ventures in the Occupied West Bank and a vested interest in the status quo and avoiding any form of Palestinian Statehood anytime soon.

    That certainly was worth highlighting.

    (Obourne is one of the few Conservative journalists I have any time for BTW)

  20. British Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 4:25 am  

    Peter Oborne exposed the major subversion of Britain's democracy in the interests of a foreign country. The Israel lobby's opaqueness would be scandalous enough if it was somehow working in Britain's interests but it's not: it's working for someone else's.

    The fact that the Israel lobby can get away with buying our politicians and subverting the rules of governance (eg lobby head Lord Levy acting as “PM special envoy to the Middle East”, or CIF and LIF outside parliamentary procedures) and it's rarely raised by journalists gives an indication of it's power – as does the unwillingness of some many people to speak on the record to Oborne when invited.

    The case of Jonathan Dimbleby was particularly instructive: he criticises the decision of the BBC Trust regarding its investigation into Jeremy Bowen, and now he's up for investigation with the same BBC Trust. There's a rather bitter irony that Dimbleby wrote his article for the Index on Censorship.

  21. Reza — on 17th November, 2009 at 5:01 am  

    I wasn’t off topic.

    I was addressing Jones and Osborne’s comments in the link given:

    “I was shocked to see that Cameron made no reference at all to the invasion of Gaza, the massive destruction it caused, or the 1,370 deaths that had resulted. Indeed, Cameron went out of his way to praise Israel because it “strives to protect innocent life”…”

    Cameron was right to praise Israel for the reasons I gave below.

    Throughout history, countless nations have come into existence at the expense of one group or another. You can’t turn back history. But you can make the most of the situation. Something the ‘Palestinianist’ alliance of Islamists, far-lefties, Jew haters and gullible liberals can’t seem to get their heads around.

    Israel exists. It’s not going to stop existing. I’m glad it exists. And the Islamic world and Europe owe the Jews a homeland.

    It is right for influential and powerful people both here and throughout the world to defend that country’s right to exist.

  22. Random Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 5:12 am  

    I get it, you can regurgitate the standard jargon ad infinitum. And yet you are still not adressing the main topic of this post…

  23. cjcjc — on 17th November, 2009 at 5:27 am  

    What is the “main topic”?

    That Israel has (supposedly influential) defenders in the UK.
    Good.
    So it should.

    it's rarely raised by journalists gives an indication of it's power

    Bwahahahaha

  24. Shamit — on 17th November, 2009 at 5:34 am  

    Jonathan Dimbleby is not being investigated

    Peter Oborne has many times before played fast and loose with the truth and this time his attack was unwarranted as the Tories did say they thought Israel's reaction to Gaza was disproportionate.

    However, once again, Israel is an ally and a democracy and Cameron did call for stopping of settlements as well as called for a two state solution – he rightly does not see Israel and Hamas to be the same in his eyes and I agree with him. Further, should he become PM he does not want to lose the right to rebuke an ally in private and I thought his speech was on the mark. Should he have talked about the death toll in front of this audience – yes. But was he wrong not doing so. I don't think so.

    Hams and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations and must be treated as such. And Peter Oborne has lied about Blair numerous times and he would do again. He is the political editor of Daily Mail after all. What do you expect?

  25. Shamit — on 17th November, 2009 at 5:36 am  

    Jonathan Dimbleby is not being investigated

    Peter Oborne has many times before played fast and loose with the truth and this time his attack was unwarranted as the Tories did say they thought Israel's reaction to Gaza was disproportionate.

    However, once again, Israel is an ally and a democracy and Cameron did call for stopping of settlements as well as called for a two state solution – he rightly does not see Israel and Hamas to be the same in his eyes and I agree with him. Further, should he become PM he does not want to lose the right to rebuke an ally in private and I thought his speech was on the mark. Should he have talked about the death toll in front of this audience – yes. But was he wrong not doing so. I don't think so.

    Hams and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations and must be treated as such. And Peter Oborne has lied about Blair numerous times and he would do again. He is the political editor of Daily Mail after all. What do you expect?

  26. Random Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 5:57 am  

    “So it should”

    Nonsense.

  27. Random Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 6:03 am  

    To further elaborate, using the term “defenders” is an over-simplification of what a Lobby Group does. The worst kind of Lobby Group engages in intimidation, disinformation, propaganda, slurring, and monetary incentives (bribery) to achieve its goals. The question here is, what kind of activities are these “defenders” engaged in, if any.

    The Middle Eastern Foreign Policy issue is clear – the UK follows the US, who itself is heavily skewed in favour of Israel thanks to AIPAC etc. The question is, what activities take place on the domestic front (if any).

  28. cjcjc — on 17th November, 2009 at 6:07 am  

    Intimidation? Right.
    Yes – that's why Hague didn't follow the US over Gaza and did call for a ceasefire.
    OK.

  29. Random Guy — on 17th November, 2009 at 6:18 am  

    So much for reasoned discussion. Do you even know what the topic at hand is?

  30. Reza — on 17th November, 2009 at 7:32 am  

    What revelations!

    Some rich people finance politicians, some of them are Jews and some of those are pro-Israel. Whatever next?

    On top of this there is an organisation in the US called the ‘American Israel Public Affairs Committee’.

    One can only wonder their dark intent…

    But hold on a moment! Their website gives their ‘game’ away:

    “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.”

    The plot thinnens.

    Cue scary music and the Star of David superimposed over the Union Jack.

    And the tin-hat brigade are properly stirred-up.

    I’ve long understood that ‘Palestinianism’ is the preserve of Islamists, far-lefties, Jew haters and gullible types.

    As clearly, are stupid conspiracy theories.

  31. damon — on 17th November, 2009 at 1:55 pm  

    I don't see what's so controversial here. Israel has a well developed support network around the world who do battle for Israel's cause in any way they think might benefit it.

    It's often scurrilous and underhand and accuses legitimate criticism of Israel of being anti-semitic. It's like the editor of the Guardian said in the programme.

    You know what these people are defending.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIQZ1-RFq6A

  32. dave bones — on 17th November, 2009 at 2:17 pm  

    Good doco, and some of the comments here surprise me. I thought it was funny at the end when he says “I didn't find evidence of a conspiracy”. Tons of your elected representatives all over the house of commons taking money from the Israel lobby, but no conspiracy.

    I thought all of this was obvious. It is isn't it? I was surprised he made the doco. Will Channel 4 be banned from Israeli press conferences? Another thing that surprised me was that they showed the guys house in Bishop's Avenue. Surely the Police would object to that no? I am sure the neighbours would as well. I used to wonder who's house that was when we were on posh squatting manoevers up that way.

  33. Sunny H — on 17th November, 2009 at 2:44 pm  

    Sunny agrees with the Daily Mail and the “highly respected” Peter Oborne when and only when it feeds his prejudice.

    of course you'd NEVER do such a thing cjcjc. If Sunny agrees with someone then he should either agree with everything the person has said, ever, or not at all. Or the hawk-eyed cjcjc will catch him out! Man, nothing can get past you these days eh…

    (PS, I've praised Oborne here plenty of times. He's the sole DM columnist I have time for)

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  35. cjcjc — on 17th November, 2009 at 11:56 pm  

    No, never, ever, ever…!

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  37. Englishman — on 20th November, 2009 at 4:40 am  

    Dispatches investigates one of the most powerful and influential political lobbies in Britain, which is working in support of the interests of the State of Israel.

    Despite wielding great influence among the highest realms of British politics and media, little is known about the individuals and groups which collectively are known as the pro-Israel lobby.

    Political commentator Peter Oborne sets out to establish who they are, how they are funded, how they work and what influence they have, from the key groups to the wealthy individuals who help bankroll the lobbying.

    He investigates how accountable, transparent and open to scrutiny the lobby is, particularly in regard to its funding and financial support of MPs.

    The pro-Israel lobby aims to shape the debate about Britain’s relationship with Israel and future foreign policies relating to it.

    Oborne examines how the lobby operates from within parliament and the tactics it employs behind the scenes when engaging with print and broadcast media.

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