Pro-Israel lobbying in the UK: Cheap to play

The shrewd genius of the British pro-Israel lobby is using micro-donations to back local candidates.

It seems no Conservative wants the spectre of Israel's alleged war crimes raised, at least not in their name, writes Sloan [Getty]

Last November, the British Foreign Office published an article entitled Ukraine’s road to reform: one year on from EuroMaidan.

It was attributed to the minister for Europe, Conservative MP David Lidington.

Exactly one year after the creation of South Sudan, the then foreign secretary, Conservative MP William Hague, issued a similar reflection.

International development secretary and Conservative MP, Justine Greening followed suit 18 months after the Ebola crisis outbreak, and Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, fulfilled his yearly duties over the Islamic State, remarking one year on since the Mount Sinjar crisis.

Silence over Israel

Yet, one major world event from 2014 has not been recognised – its 12 month anniversary coming and going with no formal announcement from any Conservative minister assigned to the UK Foreign Office.

That event was Operation Protective Edge – an Israeli de facto massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians.

It seems no Conservative wants the spectre of Israel’s alleged war crimes raised, at least not in their name.

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In place of honouring the dead, the government instead announced they would be lifting the remaining restrictions on arms exports to Israel, following a review of Israel’s alleged war crimes last summer.

This silence is a product of a Conservative Party, which routinely accepts money from pro-Israel donors.

The Conservative Friends of Israel’s (CFI) – an advocacy group supporting Israel and UK conservatism – “annual business lunch”, which took place in December 2014, provides a compelling case study.

According to CFI’s website, six hundred supportive businesspeople were in attendance.

While we can’t know the exact contribution of the attendees – since neither CFI nor the Conservative Party will publish their names – electoral commission records do reveal what senior members of CFI donated to their parliamentary colleagues.

Sir Michael Heller, the property magnate who hosted the business lunch, has given $165,000 to the Conservative Party since their election in 2010.

The most generous CFI-linked donations came from telecommunications entrepreneur and CFI member, Charles Wigoder, and retail and bio-tech kingpin Michael Lewis, a former CFI Board member – who each gave a further $400,000.

Taken together, donations from CFI members covered five percent of the Conservative Party’s campaign expenses at the last election.

With this money comes access to the Conservative Party at the very highest levels.

Big impact with small money

A wine spattered guest list I acquired earlier this year revealed that 13 serving cabinet ministers were in attendance at CFI’s business lunch, alongside nearly 150 MPs.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub gave the keynote speeches.

The amounts on the list almost seem silly in comparison to the billions required to run national campaigns in the United States – but amazingly, even more minuscule donations can still yield results.

In the run-up to their successful 2010 election, for example, over 30 Conservative parliamentary candidates were taken on special “fact-finding” trips organised by the CFI.

Flights, hotels and other expenses to visit Israel cost as little as $2,500 per candidate, several of these individuals later received donations ranging between $3,000 and $8,000 from CFI donors.

All candidates either won or came close to winning their seats.

The extraordinary purchasing power of such tiny donations derives from UK electoral regulations, in which individual parliamentary candidates are permitted to spend a maximum of $48,000 on their own campaigns.

The pro-Israel lobby is also fortunate, as several of its wealthiest are also members of an equally dominant force in Conservative politics - the hedge fund lobby.


So, when Lord Stanley Fink, a prominent British pro-Israel donor and City financier, dropped $9,500 into the bank account of MP Andrew Percy ahead of the most recent elections, what would have been a mere rounding error in American political finance was 20 percent of Percy’s allowed spending in the UK.

Percy later penned a piece for The Daily Express defending Israel’s record during Operation Protective Edge, and is frequently quoted in the UK media for espousing a vigorously pro-Israel stance.

In May 2015, he issued a statement calling for the UK government to end aid to the Palestinian Authority, alongside James Morris and Guto Bebb, both Conservative MPs who have also been taken on CFI-funded trips to Israel.

Percy was also part of a team of activists and parliamentarians who successfully pressured the National Union of Teachers to withdraw educational materials from British schools that correctly describe the Palestinian struggle as “occupation and resistance”.

Moreover, Fink also provided a $4,500 cash donation to Bob Blackman MP, who had already given a speech to the House of Commons in 2010, entitled “Supporting Israel“, and was recently appointed to a senior role within CFI’s parliamentary wing.

Blackman attended a CFI-organised trip to Israel last month, after which CFI’s parliamentary chairman, Eric Pickles, also in attendance, issued a concluding remark: “Israel can rest assured it has an eternal friend in the Conservative Party.”

It is not just outspoken advocacy for Israel, both in parliament itself and via parliamentarians speaking to the media. Tangible policy outcomes are available.

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Fink, for example, is a member of the Jewish Leadership Council, which in 2011 successfully lobbied the government to assure alleged Israeli war criminals that there would be no risk of arrest when they visited the UK.

In 2011, the former Conservative defence secretary, Liam Fox, was dramatically accused of running a “freelance” foreign policy, in which he cultivated Iranian opposition groups and met privately with Mossad agents.

In return for a foreign policy in line with Israeli interests, prominent pro-Israel donor Sir Michael Hintze had backed Fox with just $15,500.

After a formal inquiry Fox was sacked, but returned to politics shortly afterwards.

Overlapping interests

The pro-Israel lobby is also fortunate, as several of its wealthiest are also members of an equally dominant force in Conservative politics – the hedge fund lobby.

The lobby has donated $31m to the Conservatives in the last five years. Two notable pro-Israel donors, Stanley Fink and Michael Hintze are also hedge-funders.

Together they have donated over $9m.

Fink, in particular, is hugely influential in how the hedge fund lobby spends their money – his nickname in the industry being, simply, “The Godfather“.


The hedge funds were rewarded.

In 2013, the Conservatives saved hedge funds around $220m by scrapping a stamp duty reserve tax, they litigated against EU curbs on short-selling, and successfully opposed increased European regulation on the financial sector.

The shrewd genius of the British pro-Israel lobby is using micro-donations to back local candidates or invest in future stars – for just a few thousand dollars a pop.

They then invest into party headquarters with corresponding mega-donations. And by circumstance, their membership overlaps significantly within a powerful financial lobby.

Taken together, the pro-Israel lobby are experiencing Westminster at its most malleable: cheap to play, easy to win.

Alastair Sloan is a London-based journalist. He focuses on injustice and human rights in the UK and international affairs, including human rights, the arms trade, censorship, political unrest and dictatorships.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.