Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Labour Friends of Israel

Who pulls the strings of Blair's Labour Party?

Spinwatch has some useful information:


Labour Friends of Israel

The Organization

According to Spinwatch, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) 'is seen as a stepping stone to ministerial ranks by Labour MPs.'

Spinwatch points out that Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) include Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Michael Levy, Sir Trevor Chinn and Sir Emmanuel Kaye[1]. These four are important donors to the Labour Party.

Spinwatch claims that LFI is 'consulted routinely by the Foreign Office and Downing Street on matters relating to the Middle East.' Tony Blair is known to consult its members over Middle East policy' [2].

The body also has Tory and Liberal Democrat sister organizations.

Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, is the life president of LFI, while David Mencer,a former volunteer for the Israeli Defence Force, is its current director.

Buying Influence

Spinwatch recounts that in the early 90s, Tony Blair met Michael Levy at a private meeting in Levy's house. [4] According to Andrew Porter of The Business, Levy expressed his willingness “to raise large sums of money for the party” which led to a “tacit understanding that Labour would never again, while Blair was leader, be anti-Israel”.[5] [6]

Thanks to Levy more of Labour's election funds came from private sources, rather than the trade unions, 'thereby weakening their say over policy'.[7]

Levy became Lord Levy and Blair's “special envoy” to the Middle-East. Blair was seen as taking a strong pro-Israel line.[8]

Levy has a business and a house in Israel. His son Daniel used to work for Yossi Beilin – the former Justice Minister of Israel.[9] Levy acted as a fundraiser for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Most UK ministers with responsibility for the Middle East are active members of LFI.[10]

Membership and Funding

Spinwatcg relates that LFI has 'staunch allies in the current Labour government in the shape of Blair, Brown and Straw'.

In 1997, prominent members of LFI contributed generously to Labour.

For example, Lord Sainsbury donated £1 million and Michael Levy raised 7 million pounds.[14] [15]

Trips to Israel

LFI sponsors trips of parliamentarians to Israel.

A Labour campaign advert in the Jewish Chronicle boasted:

Since 1997 a record 57 Labour MPs have visited Israel, mostly with Labour Friends of Israel, swelling the number of MPS willing to ensure balance on the Middle East in the House of Commons. More Labour MPs have visited Israel than from any other party.[17]

Spinwatch points out that there was no mention of the UK's multi-million pound military aid to Israel’s occupying forces.

Some of the MPs, who had their trips to Israel sponsored by LFI in recent years include:

Ivor Caplin,
Paul Clark,
Oona King,
Ashok Kumar,
Ivan Lewis,
Anne McGuire,
Rosemary McKenna,
Margaret Moran,
Jim Murphy,
Sandra Osborne,
Gareth Thomas,
Frank Roy,
Joan Ryan,
Angela Smith,
Graham Stringer,
Rudi Vis,
David Watts,
Gillian Merron,
Peter Pike,
Lorna Fitzsimons,
Louise Ellman,
Caroline Flint,
Linda Perham,
Douglas Alexander,
Fabian Hamilton,
Anthony Colman,
Dan Norris,
Andy Burnham,
David Cairns,
Tony Cunningham,
Eric Joyce,
Huw Irranca-Davies,
David Wayne,
Parmjit Dhanda,
Meg Munn,
Mike Gapes,
Stephen Twigg
and Andrew Dismore.[19]

Taming the Media

Spinwatch claims that LFI has used its influence 'to intimidate British media into adopting an openly pro-Israel position.'

A recent study by the Glasgow University Media Group revealed the systematic bias in BBC and ITV’s coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict which often reproduces the official Israeli narrative uncritically, whereas very little time or detail is devoted to the Palestinian side[20].

Some, who dared to criticize the Israeli position have faced bans, as Faisal Bodi, of BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight did.

According to Bodi, LFI members play a "crucial propaganda role, carrying the flag for Israel in parliament, and lobbying editors to toe the Israeli line".[21]

Tim Llewellyn, a Veteran Middle East correspondent for the BBC, has gone to the extent of calling BBC’s reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict downright “dishonest”. He has attributed it to the “unremitting and productive” efforts by “Israel's many influential and well organised friends”.[22]

According to Spinwatch, this still did not prevent LFI’s Andrew Dismore from expressing “concern” about the BBC for being “anti-Israeli and biased towards the Palestinians."[23] This charge could not have been more frivolous given that BBC has referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘capital’ – a view otherwise shared outside of Israel by two out of the world’s nearly two hundred countries.' [24]

Spinwatch asserts that 'a key association in LFI’s powerbase is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.'

And Spinwatch relates that Murdoch supports Blair's Labour Party.

Spinwatch reports that Blair's close friend Peter Mandelson has appeared at pro-Israel rallies with the far-right former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Mandelson also happens to be a close friend of Elisabeth Murdoch – Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, and given Murdoch’s own investments in Israel and his close friendship with Ariel Sharon, the orientation of Murdoch’s newspapers is predictably pro-Israel. Journalists have complained of extremely narrow editorial parameters favouring Israel, and having to adopt official Israeli formulations like “targeted killing”, “crossfire” and “closures”.[26]

More from Spinwatch:

Obstacles to Peace

One of LFI's (Labour Friends of Israel's) visiting members got a first-hand glimpse of IDF(Israeli army) tactics when he got shot at in Rafah even though he arrived in a clearly marked UN vehicle.[29]

The three British MPs, surrounded by 20 children got shot at in the presence of UN officials, which led to a demand for investigation by the MPs into the IDF’s “outrageous behaviour” bordering on “lunatic”.

One of the MPs, Crispin Blunt, concluded “If they are prepared to do this to people who come out of two clearly marked UN cars, what do they do when there is no one there?” He added “They are building up levels of hatred that will take decades, if not centuries, to erase."[30]

According to the journalist John Pilger:
Under Blair, British support for Israeli repression has accelerated. Last year alone, the government approved 91 arms export licences to Israel, in categories that included ammunition, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, combat vessels, military electronic and imaging equipment and armoured vehicles.[31]

While Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw – an active member of LFI – said there was "no evidence" that British arms and equipment had been used against the Palestinians, the Pilger article cited an Amnesty International report claiming abundant evidence that the Apache helicopters used to attack the Palestinians are kept flying with British components made by Smiths Industries. Merkava tanks are serviced with parts from Airtechnology Group; BAE provides parts for Israel’s F-16 fighter jets while converted British Centurion tanks are used as armoured personnel carriers. Land Rovers are an Israeli Army mainstay and British transponders are employed to coordinate helicopter attacks.[32]

Pilger provides further insight into how the Israeli occupation is kept liquid:
The Blair government has also backed the Israeli military-industrial complex by buying bullets, bombs, grenades and anti-tank missiles. The Metropolitan Police and the South Wales police buy Israeli ammunition. An Israeli combat aircraft training system was bought by the RAF. In 1999, a joint UK-Israeli high-technology investment fund was established to pump funds into joint research and development.[33]

The war on Iraq also received enthusiastic support from senior LFI members.

An LFI gathering was reassured by Blair that “a stable Iraq will be good news for Israel." Israel security needs were also cited as a rationale by the Neo-con dominated US administration in its decision to go to war. In an exclusive interview with Israel’s daily Yediot Aharonot Condoleezza Rice said “security of Israel is the key to security of the world.”[34] The economic dividends for Israel from this venture were not discussed as openly – except in Israel’s own press.[35]

This led Tam Dalyell, the longest serving member of the House of Commons, to comment on the undue influence of the 'Sharon-Likudnik' agenda pushed by advisers such as Michael Levy (and the US neocons)– on Blair’s decision to go to war.[36]

He commented on the Neo-conservative “Cabal”, particularly the “Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs combined with neo-Christian fundamentalists” urging America on towards a “Likudnik” policy of attacking Syria.[37]


LFI has often tried to discredit criticism of Israel by conflating it with ‘anti-Semitism’.

An alleged comment by the French ambassador to London, referring to Israel as that “shitty little country” immediately elicited a demand by LFI (in a letter from Chair Jim Murphy and president Gwyneth Dunwoody) for his sacking, and the charge of anti-Semitism by Barbara Amiel in the Daily Telegraph.

The Ambassador denied making the remark.[39]

During the elections for the seat of the Mayor of London, LFI compiled a dossier of the alleged “anti-Zionist bias” of the candidate Ken Livingstone.[42]The feud came to a head, with Livingstone’s comments to an invasive reporter, accusing him of acting like a ‘concentration camp guard’. Whereas LFI itself was more guarded in its statements, its pro-Israel allies in the press were far less inhibited as they cited various unnamed ‘critics’ and ‘protesters’ who found the comments ‘anti-Semitic’ as the reporter in question was Jewish.[43] Livingstone’s refusal to apologize and his subsequent publication of an op-ed openly critical of Israeli policies drew further ire from the lobby and its media surrogates.[44]

This tactic has been criticized, most notably, within the Jewish community. Rabbi David Goldberg has called the claims of a resurgent anti-Semitism “paranoid and exaggerated”, he added “it is far easier and safer to be a Jew than a Muslim, a black person or an east European asylum seeker”.[45]James Purnell of LFI believes, however, that “anti-Semitism is a virus that once again has started to infect [British] body politic” while Stephen Byers added that anti-Israeli criticism should not be used as "a cloak of respectability" for racist views. He went on to warn against dangers of the development of an "intellectual argument" bolstering anti- Semitic feeling.[46]


[1] Andrew Pierce, “Blair's chance to raise cash for Pounds 1m refund”,The Times, Nov 18, 1997[2] David Cracknell, “Byers plots a comeback with pro-Israel pressure group”,Sunday Times, August 4, 2002
[4] Peter McKay, “How Tony has let us all down”, Daily Mail, March 20, 2000[5] Andrew Porter, The Business, 30 June, 2002 [6] Michael White, “Downing St denies pressure to gag Robinson”, The Guardian, October 21, 1999[7] Paul Eastham, “Tories want answers over ‘Cash Passport to Downing Street’”, The Daily Mail, March 30, 1998; Iain MacWhirter, “Blair Gambles Party Cash”, The Scotsman, November 18, 1997 [8] Kevin Maguire and Ewen MacAskill , “Fundraiser's role as envoy under attack”, The Guardian, 1 October, 2001[9]John Pilger, “Blair's meeting with Arafat served to disguise his support for Sharon and the Zionist project”, New Statesman, 14 January, 2002 [10] Neil Sammonds, “British culpability and the shadow of Canary Wharf”, ZNet,April 10, 2002[11] “Friend of Israel;Londoner's Diary”,The Evening Standard, September 28, 2001[12] Marie Woolf, “Blair: Do not forget Israeli victims of terror attacks”, The Independent, October 2, 2002[13]“Fatalities”, B’Tselem [14] Pierce, op. cit.[15] Maguire and MacAskill, op. cit. [16] Charlotte Hall, “Separation of Church and state, a one-man act”, Ha’aretz, 22 October, 2004[17] Labor Campaign Advert, Jewish Chronicle, June 1, 2001 [18] Ibid.[19] Register of Members' Interests, The United Kingdom Parliament [20] Greg Philo, “What You Get in 20 Seconds”, The Guardian, 14 July, 2004; Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Bad News From Israel, (Pluto, 2004)[21] Faisal Bodi, “Why I was banned by the BBC”, The Guardian, 21 May, 2001 [22] Tim Llewellyn, “The Story TV Won’t Tell”, The Observer, 20 June, 2004[23] Tim Shipman, “BBC Reporter faces ‘Terror Links’ Inquiry”, Sunday Express, 19 December, 2004 [24] Jon Goddard, “BBC Slammed By Anti-Israel MPs”, Totally Jewish[25] Michael White, “Mandelson speaks up for Portillo”, The Guardian, December 20, 2000 [26] Sam Kiley, “The Middle-East’s war of words”, The Evening Standard, 25 September, 2001[27] Richard Ingrams, “Who will dare damn Israel?”, The Guardian, 16 September, 2001 [28] “Israel's friends make enemies”, The Times, Oct 4, 1990 [29] Crispin Blunt, “Shooting at MPs won't do any good”, The Guardian, 22 June, 2004 [30] Inigo Gilmore, “Israeli soldiers open fire on visiting British MPs”, Sunday Telegraph, 20 June, 2004.[31] Pilger, op. cit.[32] Sammonds, op. cit.[33] Pilger, op. cit.[34]Israel Key to World Security”, The Daily Times, May 22, 2003[35] Akiva Eldar, “Infrastructure Minister Paritzky dreams of Iraqi oil flowing to Haifa”, Haaretz; “Israeli firm awarded oil tender in Iraq firm”, Aljazeera, February 25, 2004 [36] Chris Marsden, “Labour extends antiwar witch-hunt to Tam Dalyell”, WSWS, May 22, 2003[37] Michael White, “Dalyell steps up attack on Levy”, The Guardian, May 6, 2003 [38] Rabbi David Goldberg, “Let's have a sense of proportion”, The Guardian, January 26, 2002[39] Ewen McAskill, “Israel seeks head of French envoy”, The Guardian, December 20, 2001; “'Anti-Semitic' French envoy under fire”, BBC News [40] Ibid.[41] Melanie Phillips, “Return of the old hatred”, The Observer, February 22, 2004 [42] Mark Inglefield, “Ken Livingstone; Diary”, The Times, November 19, 1999[43] Paul Eastham, “Red Ken's Nazi slur”, Daily Mail, February 12, 2005 [44] Ken Livingstone, “This is about Israel, not anti-semitism”, The Guardian, March 4, 2005[45] Goldberg, op. cit.[46] Marie Woolf, “Anti-Semitism is infecting British politics, MPs warn”, The Independent, April 21, 2004by Muhammad Idrees AhmadLast updated: March 20, 2005

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Labour and sleaze

Mark Curtis