Conservative Friends of Israel

From Powerbase
Jump to: navigation, search

Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is one of the most active lobby groups in Westminster; It claims that 80 per cent of all Conservative MPs are members,[1] though compared with other British lobbies the group has so far received little press coverage.[2] According to a 2009 documentary on Channel Four’s Dispatches program called Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby,[3] donations to the Conservative party "from all CFI members and their businesses add up to well over £10m over the last eight years". CFI has disputed the figure and called the film "deeply flawed".[4]

Origins and development

As support for Israel in the Labour Party waned during the ‘70s and ‘80s, support within the Conservative Party meanwhile began to grow. In the 1970s, the ascendant Tory right wing came increasingly to see Israel as a military and strategic asset for ‘the West’, whilst politics in Israel began to shift to the right. Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), which was founded in 1974, both reflected and strengthened this trend.

It was established by the right-wing religious Zionist and Conservative politician Michael Fidler, who was described by his biographer as having had extreme political views ‘reminiscent of the philosophy of Enoch Powell’.[5] Over 80 MPs joined the new group, including Margaret Thatcher, who was soon to become party leader, and within a year CFI had a larger membership than Labour Friends
 of Israel.[6]

By 1978 it was the largest political lobby in Parliament.[7] According to conservative journalist Peter Oborne, it is now ‘beyond doubt the best connected, and probably the best funded, of all Westminster lobbying groups'[8] and is said to include around 80 per cent of Tory MPs as members.[9] Like its Labour counterpart, Conservative Friends of Israel organises events in Parliament and free trips to Israel for Parliamentarians. It is also thought to organise financial patronage for prospective MPs from wealthy Zionists. [8] BICOM’s Public Affairs Manager, Stefan Kerner, is a former deputy director of Conservative Friends of Israel[10] and according to Peter Oborne there is ‘a huge amount of co-ordination’ between BICOM and Conservative Friends of Israel: ‘Many of BICOM’s key figures also play roles in the CFI: Trevor Pears, Michael Lewis and Poju Zabludowicz are driving forces behind both lobbies.'[8]

Since 1989 CFI has been headed by Stuart Polak, who also runs the lobbying firm, The Westminster Connection. Clients of this ‘political consultancy’ include the Israeli defence company, Elbit Systems, the British chair of which, retired General Richard Applegate, was secretly recorded in 2012 saying that Elbit had ‘piggy back[ed]’ on Conservative Friends of Israel to ‘gain access to particular decision makers’.[9]

Parliamentary donations

CFI operates as an "unincorporated association", which according to Peter Oborne means:

It is a collection of individuals who don’t need to open their books, it may be legal but it’s hardly transparent.[11]

Peter Oborne argues that there is a pattern of donations from CFI:

On studying donations to Conservative Constituency offices before the 2005 election a pattern emerges. A group of donors, all with strong connections to pro-Israel groups, (almost all are on the board of the CFI) made donations of between £2,000 and £5,000 either personally or through their companies to the constituency offices of certain Conservative candidates. The donors involved include Trevor Pears, a property magnate, who has sat on the BICOM board, used to sit on the CFI board, and has donated to David Cameron in the past; Lord Leonard Steinberg, vice- president of Conservative Friends of Israel and sponsor of Stuart Polak in parliament; Michael Lewis, a South African businessman and deputy chairman of BICOM who was formerly on the Board of CFI; three or four other prominent members of the CFI.
The method of donation – medium-sized sums to constituency offices often through companies rather than personal names – means that connections to the CFI or other pro-Israel group are by no means obvious. These donors may never have met the candidates, nor stepped foot, let alone actually live, in the constituency, but were happy to make donations. All candidates in these constituencies either won the seat or came close. Interestingly, in constituencies where the Conservative candidate stood little chance, the CFI made the £2,000 donation themselves.
The Tory MPs fighting parliamentary seats in 2005 whose campaigns were funded by these donors included Ed Vaizey, shadow minister for culture, media and sport; Greg Hands, shadow treasury minister; Michael Gove, shadow education secretary; Brooks Newmark, opposition foreign affairs whip; Shailesh Vara, shadow deputy leader of the Commons; Grant Shapps, shadow minister for housing; Adam Holloway MP.
Many of them then went on a CFI trip to Israel in 2006, although Michael Gove - whose polemic Celsius 7/7 comes free with CFI membership - has never been to Israel. Most have been supportive of Israel in speeches to parliament and none have been overtly critical. There is also a suggestion that some members of the CFI target MPs who are critical of Israel. For instance Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Regent’s Park and Kensington North, has been an outspoken critic. Her Conservative opponent Joanne Cash, who works for the think tank Policy Exchange, has received cheques cumulatively worth at least £20,000.[12]

Relations with David Cameron

According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle:

a small but influential group of Jewish Conservative officials and politicians were... key players in Mr Cameron’s campaign for the leadership. Among them was party treasurer Howard Leigh. Other senior figures around the leader include Oliver Letwin, head of policy [and] former shadow Home Secretary and shadow Chancellor. Although he is popular with Jewish Tories, Mr Cameron’s criticism of Israel’s actions in Lebanon sparked doubts – voiced particularly by Tory donor and former party treasurer Lord Kalms. However, Conservative Friends of Israel chair Richard Harrington stressed that the leader had given CFI “every possible access” and had met CFI officials several times.[13]

In July 2010, CFI took issue with Cameron, who during a visit to Turkey stressed that 'Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp'.[14]

David Cameron CFI Speech 2009

David Cameron was the main speaker at the Conservative Friends of Israel annual lunch on the 18 June 2009.[15] Cameron neglected to mention that six months prior to his speech, Israel began a 23-day bombardment of Gaza that led to the deaths of around 1,400 people including hundreds of children.[16] Not only did David Cameron neglect to mention the “operation cast lead” bombardment of Gaza but he described how “Israel strives to protect innocent life – Hamas target innocent life”.[17] The Conservative Party leader emphasised the need for the Palestinians to relinquish the use of violence arguing that:

“for the Palestinians themselves, their obligations are clear: Prove you are a reliable negotiating partner. Bring order to your own society. And renounce violence completely”.[18]

Lobbying activities

Flying Conservative parliamentary candidates to Israel

Data from 2006 to 2009 shows that the CFI flew over 30 Conservative parliamentary candidates to Israel on free trips,[19] sometimes with their wives where they were reportedly given access to "senior members of the Israeli political and security establishments"[2] as well as a meeting with a Palestinian businessman or politician.

CFI publicizes this activity in the "Delegations" section of their website and under the statement that it is CFI's aim "that delegates should return, not with all the answers but with more informed questions"[19] includes statements of appreciation from several MPs, and a prospective parliamentary candidate, Phillip Allot (Halifax), who says:

The visit has transformed my views about the conflict and I now understand why the security of Israel is so important. Anyone involved in politics should be sent on a compulsory trip to Israel before they are allowed to comment to the media, because there are so many uninformed statements made by politicians, that seem to be little more than works of fiction.[19]

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) also revealed in 2006 during a debate about Britain's Iran Policy that he had recently been flown to Israel by CFI.[20]

Meeting with American Jewish Committee

In 2006, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) reported on a meeting with the Conservative Friends of Israel in 'an effort to strengthen AJC’s ties to British Jewry'.

The AJC report states that:

'AJC President E Robert Goodkind led a leadership delegation to London to meet with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main community organizing body for British Jews, as well as with the Community Service Trust and the newly formed Jewish Leadership Council. The group also met with British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, longtime Jewish community leaders Lord Greville Janner and Sir Trevor Chinn, and with leadership from the Reform, Liberal and Conservative Masorti movements. In addition, the group held meetings with those Members of Parliament who initiated a serious parliamentary investigation of anti-Semitism, and with younger leaders of Conservative Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel. AJC Board members Stanley Bergman and Peter Rosenblatt joined Goodkind on the mission.[21]

Donations

According to Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby,[3] CFI board members made personal donations totaling tens of thousands of pounds to William Hague after he was appointed shadow foreign secretary.

Ian Black of the Guardian also notes that the film reveals £30,000 from CFI supporters went to the campaign funds of members of David Cameron's team who were first elected in 2005.[4]

Conservative Friends of Israel/BICOM Links

According to Peter Oborne:

Despite the Conservative Friends of Israel and BICOM not formally merging there is a huge amount of co-ordination. Many of BICOM’s key figures also play roles in the CFI: Trevor Pears, Michael Lewis and Poju Zabludowicz are driving forces behind both lobbies. David Cameron also accepted £20,000 from Trevor Pears in his leadership election.[22]

People

The CFI was created in 1974 and directed until 1989 by Michael Fidler. In 1989 the current director Stuart Polak took up the reins. The CFI is well networked across the Conservative Party. According to its own account:

'CFI works to promote its twin aims of supporting Israel and promoting Conservatism. With close to 2,000 activists as members – alongside 80% of Tory MPs – CFI is active at every level of the Party.'
'CFI organises numerous events in and around Westminster, takes Conservative parliamentarians and candidates on delegations to Israel, campaigns hard for Tory candidates in target seats, and works to ensure that Israel’s case is fairly represented in Parliament.'[23]

The table below compiles the officers and staff of the CFI from public records. Data from 2001-2014 are from the Internet Archive holdings of the CFI website and from Companies House. Data from prior to 2001 are from press accounts stretching back to 1981 and from archival sources.


Officers and staff of Conservative Friends of Israel (2001 - 2014)[24]
Name Status Years appointed
CFI Staff[25]
Sedef AkademirResearch and Events Officer2014
Joshua BurgResearch Assistant2007
Michael FidlerDirector1974-1989
James GurdParliamentary Officer
Parliamentary Manager
2011 - 2013
2014
Robert HalfonPolitcal Director2005 - 2008
Stefan KernerDeputy Director2003 - 2005[26]
Victoria KlukResearch Manager2005 - 2007
Stephanie LevenAssistant to Director
Projects Director
2003 - 2004
2005 - 2011
Tanya MurkesIsrael Liason2013 - 2014
Charlotte PolakMembership Secretary2002 - 2008
Stuart PolakDirector1989 - 2014
Leetal StarkProjects Assistant
Projects Manager
2011 - 2013
2014
Natalie TamamResearch Manager
Politcal Director
Deputy Director
2008 - 2010
2011 - 2012
2013 - 2014
Julie TamirSecretary2005 - 2010
Sasha WienAssistant to Director2001 - 2002
Directors of CFI[27]
Andrew HellerChairman2013 - 2014
Stephen MasseyTreasurer2013 - 2014
David MellerDirector2013 - 2014
Stuart PolakDirector2013 - 2014
Hilda WorthDeputy Chairman2013 - 2014
CFI Executive Board[28]
Lance AnisfeldChairman
Executive Board
2006
2007 - 2014
Andrew BrecherExecutive Board2013 - 2014
Lorraine da CostaExecutive Board2010 - 2014
Jonathan GoughChairman
Executive Board
2006
2007 - 2014
Richard HarringtonChairman2005 - 2008
Andrew HellerHon. Treasurer
Chairman
2005 - 2008
2010 - 2012
Alan HowardChairman
Executive Board
2006
2007 - 2008
Steven KayeExecutive Board2007 - 2010
Edward LeeExecutive Board2010 - 2014
Howard LeighHon. Treasurer
Executive Board
2005 - 2006
2007 - 2014
Stephen MasseyHon. Treasurer
Executive Board
2005 - 2006
2007 - 2012
David MellerHon. Treasurer
Executive Board
2005 - 2006
2007 - 2012
Jonathan MetlissHon. Treasurer
Executive Board
2005 - 2006
2007 - 2014
Gary MondExecutive Board2010 - 2014
Hilton NathansonExecutive Board2007 - 2008
Stephan ShakespeareExecutive Board2007 - 2008
Gillian ShephardChairman2001 - 2004
Barry WelckHon. Treasurer
Executive Board
2005 - 2006
2007 - 2010
Hilda WorthHon. Treasurer
Executive Board
2005 - 2006
2007 - 2010
Honorary Officers of CFI[29]
Stanley CohenHon. Secretary
Vice Chairman
2001 - 2006
2007 - 2014
Jeremy GalbraithVice Chairman2001 - 2008
Betty GellerVice Chairman2001 - 2012
Richard HarringtonTreasurer2003 - 2004
Michael HellerHon. Secretary
Vice Chairman
2001 - 2006
2007 - 2014
Peter LaneVice President2001 - 2008
Michael LathamVice President2001 - 2014
David MellerTreasurer and Deputy Chairman
Deputy Chairman
2001 - 2002
2003 - 2004
Jonathan MetlissHon. Secretary2003 - 2004
Timothy SainsburyPresident
Vice President
2001 - 2004
2005 - 2014
Charles SandersonVice President2001 - 2014
Gillian ShephardPresident2005 - 2014
Leonard SteinbergVice President2003 - 2008
John TaylorVice Chairman2001 - 2010
Peter ThomasVice President2001 - 2008
Parliamentary Group[30]
David Amess MPSecretary
Officer
2001 - 2010
2011 - 2014
James Arbuthnot MPChairman2005 - 2012
David Burrowes MPOfficer2011 - 2014
Alistair Burt MPOfficer2007 - 2011
John Butterfill MPVice Chairman2001 - 2010
James Clappison MPVice Chairman
Chairman
2001 - 2013
2014
Robert Halfon MPOfficer2011 - 2014
Nick Hawkins MPTreasurer2001 - 2006
Timothy Kirkhope MEPChairman of CFI Europe2006 - 2014
Priti Patel MPOfficer2011 - 2014
Lee Scott MPOfficer2007 - 2014
Gillian Shephard MPChairman2001 - 2004
Theresa Villiers MPOfficer2007 - 2010

Resources

Contact

Company number: 08114952

Notes

  1. Peter Oborne, Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, Channel 4 Dispatches, 16-November-2009, Viewed 02-January-2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 Peter Oborne and James Jones, "The pro-Israel lobby in Britain: full text", OpenDemocracy, 13 November 2009, accessed on 15 December 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 People's Geography, "Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby – Dispatches", People's Geography, 17 November 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ian Black, "Pro-Israel lobby group bankrolling Tories, film claims", Guardian, 16 November 2009, accessed on 19 December 2010
  5. Bill Williams, Michael Fidler (1916-1989): A study in leadership Stockport: R&D Graphics, 1997 p.315.
  6. Bill Williams, Michael Fidler (1916-1989): A study in leadership Stockport: R&D Graphics, 1997 p.347.
  7. American Jewish Yearbook, 1980 p.199.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Peter Oborne and James Jones, ‘The pro-Israel lobby in 
Britain: full text’, OpenDemocracy,
13 November 2009. http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-oborne-james-jones/pro-israel-lobby-in-britain-full-text

  9. 9.0 9.1 ‘Double role of a top Tory lobbyist’, Sunday Times, 21 October 2012.
  10. BICOM, About > Team, http://www.BICOM.org.uk/ about/team/
  11. Peter Oborne, Inside Britain's Israel Lobby, Channel 4 Dispatches, Aired 16-November-2009, Viewed 03-January-2010
  12. James Jones and Peter Oborne, The Pro Israel Lobby in Britain, Channel 4 pamphlet, 2009. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 22 November 2009.
  13. Bernard Josephs and Leon Symons, Special report: Team Cameron’s big Jewish backers, The Jewish Chronicle, 13 October 2006, p. 3
  14. Ian Black and Nicholas Watt, David Cameron draws fire over Gaza comments, The Guardian, 27 July 2010
  15. David Cameron, SPEECH BY CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER DAVID CAMERON TO THE CONSERVATIVE FRIENDS OF ISRAEL ANNUAL LUNCH HELD IN LONDON ON THURSDAY 18TH JUNE 2009, Conservative Friends of Israel, 18-June-2009, Accessed 02-January-2009
  16. Harriet Sherwood, Childhood in ruins, The Guardian, 17-December-2009, Accessed 02-January-2009
  17. David Cameron, SPEECH BY CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER DAVID CAMERON TO THE CONSERVATIVE FRIENDS OF ISRAEL ANNUAL LUNCH HELD IN LONDON ON THURSDAY 18TH JUNE 2009, Conservative Friends of Israel, 18-June-2009, Accessed 02-January-2009
  18. David Cameron, SPEECH BY CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER DAVID CAMERON TO THE CONSERVATIVE FRIENDS OF ISRAEL ANNUAL LUNCH HELD IN LONDON ON THURSDAY 18TH JUNE 2009, Conservative Friends of Israel, 18-June-2009, Accessed 02-January-2009
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 CFI, "Delegations", Conservative Friends of Israel, accessed on 17 December 2010
  20. BPCIF, "David Gauke MP: Iran has an appalling record of exporting terror", British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, 1 February 2006, accessed on 22 December 2010
  21. American Jewish Committee. London Jewish Community Greets AJC President Update 236, 20th December 2006. Accessed 21st August 2008
  22. Peter Oborne & James Jones, Inside Britain's Israel Lobby, 13-November-2009, Accessed 03-January-2009
  23. What We Do, CFI website. Last accessed on 23/08/2014.
  24. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Conservative Friends of Israel website, 2001-2014; Companies House (2012-14)
  25. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Conservative Friends of Israel website, 2001-2014
  26. According to his own account Kerner was Deputy director from February 2003 to May 2005.(Linked In Stefan Kerner. Accessed 25 August 2014.) Internet Archive records show that he was listed as such on the CFI website on 7 April 2005.(CFI [ About Us>People>CFI Staff]. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 7 April 2005 on 25 August 2014.) Previous records from the CFI site (February 2003 to 6 March 2005) do not list Kerner or a Deputy Director position.(Internet Archive Holdings of cfoi.co.uk. Accessed 25 August 2014).
  27. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Conservative Friends of Israel website, 2001-2014; Companies House 2012-2014. The CFI was an unincorporated association between 1974 and 2012. In 2012 it was registered as a company at Companies House in the UK.
  28. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Conservative Friends of Israel website, 2001-2014
  29. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Conservative Friends of Israel website, 2001-2014
  30. Data from Internet Archive holdings of the Conservative Friends of Israel website, 2001-2014