Friends of Israel Initiative

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The Friends of Israel Initiative is a neoconservative Israel lobby group founded in 2010 by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar and a number of other right-wing public figures and former politicians mostly from Spain, Italy and the UK. It says it ‘aims to create a network linking private and public figures who agree with the idea of an Israel fully anchored in the West’. [1] In the UK the organisation is closely affiliated with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society.

Contents

Origins and launch

Friends of Israel was reportedly established by Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former adviser to Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. [2] According to its own account the Initiative was ‘formed from a group of high level personalities supported by a large network of influential opinion formers such as William Kristol, Dore Gold, Alan Mendoza, Joao Spada, Elliott Abrams, Allen Roth, Pablo Kleinman, Jeffrey Gedmin, Robin Shepherd, among many others.’ [3]

Its web domain friendsofisraelinitiative.org was created on 4 March 2010. It was officially launched in Paris on 31 May 2010 – the same day that Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters and shot dead nine activists on board. The launch meeting was addressed by Dore Gold. A statement was released to the press stating that it was being launched in response to an ‘unprecedented delegitimation campaign against Israel, driven by the enemies of the Jewish state and perversely assumed by numerous international authorities.’ [4]

The group was launched in the UK in Committee Room 14 of the House of Commons on Monday, 19 July 2010. The launch was hosted by the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel. It was attended by José María Aznar, Marcello Pera and Andrew Roberts. It was promoted as a 'parliamentary discussion on "The Friends of Israel Initiative & The Geopolitics of Western-Middle East Relations"'. [5]

Leadership

Friends of Israel's José María Aznar (right) with George Bush and Tony Blair.

The Initiative is led by the former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, a supporter of the Iraq War and President of News Corporation. Its other founding members are John Bolton, Former US Representative to the UN; Alejandro Toledo, Former President of Peru; David Trimble, Former First Minister of Northern Ireland; George Weigel, Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Marcello Pera, Italian philosopher and politician; Fiamma Nirenstein, Italian politician, journalist and author; Andrew Roberts, British historian and writer; Carlos Bustelo, Spanish Industry Minister from 1977 to 1980; and Roberto Agostinelli, Managing Director at Rhone Group. [6] On 17 September 2010 JTA announced that former Czech president and neoconservative ally Vaclav Havel has also joined the Initiative.[7]

Activities

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein met with members of the Initiative, including Aznar and Toledo in the Knesset in April 2014.[8]

Funding

The group’s source of funding is not disclosed but its funds probably come from its billionaire founder member Robert Agostinelli who has provided funds for the Presidential campaigns of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. [9] Agostinelli has described himself as ‘a committed classical liberal’ but he holds extreme right-wing views on economics and social issues. He claimed in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that the UK was ‘under attack from within’ by ‘Islamofascists who have been accommodated here for so long are home-grown and empowered in the belief that Britain is preordained to be a western caliphate.’ [10] Similarly in a letter to the neoconservative magazine Commentary, he referred to the ‘social chaos’ caused by ‘a growing wave of immigration, dominated by North African Muslim youths who have failed to integrate into mainstream society.’ [11]

He has praised right-wing politicians like Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy [12] but has been highly critical of some right-wing figures he regards as too liberal. He has called David Cameron and George Osborne ‘weak [and] illiberal in their values’ [13] and dismissed the former a ‘feeble nature[d]… pretend-Tory prime minister’. [14]

Agostinelli blames the post-2007 financial crisis not on financiers (like himself) but on ‘incompetent and costly government intrusion,’ reminiscent of when, ‘the Left ran roughshod over our liberties in the 1970s’. [15] He considers Barak Obama to be an agent of Marxists who have ‘finally stuck the raw edge of their poisoned sword into the heart of the glorious genie of capitalism and freedom.’ He has referred to Obama as a ‘soulless serpent from the deep’. [16] He has referred to the left generally as ‘a cancer that needs to be eradicated’. [17]

Resources

Tom Mills, 'Friends of Israel Initiative: The neoconservatives’ eastern front', PULSE, 19 July 2010

Notes

  1. PDF Copy of The Friends of Israel Initiative > Featured Events & Activities > José María Aznar Promotes the Friends of Israel initiative <http://www.friendsofisraelinitiative.org/event.php?c=31> created 14 July 2010.
  2. Paul Reynolds, ‘Israel hopes inquiry will turn spotlight on activists’, BBC News Online, 14 June 2010
  3. PDF Copy of The Friends of Israel Initiative > The Initiative <http://www.friendsofisraelinitiative.org/about-initiative.php> created 15 July 2010.
  4. Aznar, Trimble to launch new pro-Israel project’, The Jerusalem Post, 31 May 2010; p.5.
  5. Henry Jackson Society, HJS Event: The Friends of Israel Initiative [Accessed 22 July 2010]
  6. PDF Copy of The Friends of Israel Initiative > About > Founder Members <http://www.friendsofisraelinitiative.org/about-advisors.php> created 15 July 2010.
  7. Havel joins Israel-friendly initiative, JTA, 17 September 2010
  8. Lahav Harkov, Speaker Edelstein charges that PA ‘outrageously violated agreements’, Jerusalem Post, 2 April 2014, accessed 11 April 2014
  9. Tony Barrett, ‘Rhône Group should not expect a warm welcome at Anfield’, Times Online, 16 March 2010.
  10. Letters: Cameron Can't and Won't Save Britain’, Wall Street Journal, 26 May 2010.
  11. Robert F. Agostinelli, ‘Reader Letters’, Commentary, September 2007.
  12. Tony Barrett, ‘Rhône Group should not expect a warm welcome at Anfield’, Times Online, 16 March 2010.
  13. Letters: Cameron Can't and Won't Save Britain’, Wall Street Journal, 26 May 2010.
  14. Letters: Cameron's defense cuts weaken Britain’, The Washington Times, 6 July 2010.
  15. Letters: Cameron Can't and Won't Save Britain’, Wall Street Journal, 26 May 2010.
  16. Robert F. Agostinelli, ‘Letter: Behold the naked hand of socialism’, The Washington Times, 30 March 2010; p.2.
  17. Tony Barrett, ‘Rhône Group should not expect a warm welcome at Anfield’, Times Online, 16 March 2010.
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