Around this time last year, parliamentary records show, the retired property developer and hugely generous Labour party donor, Sir David Garrard, had given a modest £60,000 towards the party’s election campaign for 2015. It came in addition to around half a million he had already given since 2003.
Fast forward to 16 June of this year, Garrard hosts a Labour Friends of Israel event, at which Labour leader Ed Miliband is the main speaker. The prime minister hopeful had, the year before, proclaimed that he was a Zionist. The lobbying group he addressed boasts dozens of Labour peers and MPs amongst its membership, including the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.
That same day, Garrard transferred a whopping £630,000 to the Labour party accounts, over ten times his donation from the previous year.
It was a near identical episode to David Cameron speaking in 2009, back when he too was hoping to take office as prime minister.
At a well-attended Conservative Friends of Israel annual fundraising lunch held in London, he again made no mention of the Palestinian lives that had been lost, this time as part of “Operation Cast Lead”. Not one mention. In that war, 1,370 Palestinians had died. At the time, a leading British journalist wrote: “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.”
No other foreign nation is as well represented in the campaign finances of British elections as Israel. In fact, no other nation comes close – and money linked to pro-Israel donors is a single interest influence akin to that of the trade unions (the largest democratic organisations in the country) or indeed the megabucks flowing in from City financiers.
And with that money, war crimes are being glossed over, rules bent, and our hard-won democracy warped by foreign interests.
The money is already pouring in.
In April, the Conservative Branch for Brigg & Goole, the constituency of Andrew Percy MP, received £6,000 from a notable pro-Israel supporter, Lord Stanley Fink. During the recent conflict, Percy attended an Israeli military briefing about the Iron Dome missile defence system – later glibly observing that “Israel acts as we would” in response to the mass civilian casualties being inflicted by the IDF.
Percy is, like 80 per cent of his colleagues, a member of Conservative Friends of Israel.
On the same day, £3,000 dropped into the bank account of the Conservative party in Harrow East. Their MP, Bob Blackman, also visited Israel during “Operation Protective Edge”. The money also came from Lord Fink.
And the pro-Israel peer pulled off a democracy-warping hat-trick that day – £3,000 for the Conservatives in Brighton & Kemptown, home to Conservative Friends of Israel linked Simon Kirby MP.
Over and above his backing of individual MPs, Lord Fink has also contributed over £60,000 to the Conservative Central Party accounts since July last year, and his total donations to the Conservatives over the years are now nearing £3 million.
Lord Fink is a staunch supporter of Israel – telling the Jewish Chronicle in 2009 that he shared similar views to Lord Michael Levy, Tony Blair’s aide who had close ties with Israeli political leaders. Levy’s son, Daniel, served as an assistant to the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and to Knesset member Yossi Beilin.
Elsewhere, Lord Fink has been a “loyal donor” to Just Journalism, a now defunct group organised by the pro-Israeli Westminster think tank the Henry Jackson Society. Just Journalism claimed to be correcting “media bias” against Israel but instead acted as a pro-Israel “flak” group aggressively criticising any British publication who queried Israel’s human rights record, including the Guardian and the London Review of Books. The group folded in 2011.
Lord Fink is also a member of the Jewish Leadership Council (more on their influence later).
In March, the Conservative Branch in Poplar & Limehouse received £3,000 from another pro-Israel funder – Sir Michael Hintze. Hintze was ranked by Forbes in 2014 as the 1,016th richest person in the world, with a net worth of approximately $1.8 billion.
The constituency he has plugged money into is a swing seat; a six per cent change would depose incumbent Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick (a member of both Labour Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Palestine).
The Conservatives have their own reasons for targeting the seat, using the youthful ex-banker and Tower Hamlets councillor Tim Archer. Suggestions have been made that the Respect party might run George Galloway, and he could split the Labour vote, opening the way for a Conservative win. George Galloway also happens to be the most outspoken critic of Israel in British politics.
British-Australian Hintze is not a man the Conservatives would want to annoy. Since July of last year, he has donated just over £1.5 million to the party (the figure is doubled if you look back to 2002).
Current Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP received nearly £40,000 in 2008 and 2009 directly from Hintze. Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Theresa May MP, David Davis MP and David Willets MP have also been subject to his financial largesse.
But the first politician Hintze backed in the Conservatives was Dr Liam Fox MP, with a £10,000 gift back in January 2007.
Fox then rose to become Secretary of State for Defence, before being disgraced when it was revealed he had allowed his close friend Adam Werrity access to the Ministry of Defence and to travel on official visits (despite not being a government employee).
Hintze was implicated because he had allowed Fox a desk in his London office as part of a £29,000 donation to Fox’s controversial charity – Atlantic Bridge – another pro-Israel lobbying organisation. Hintze served on its Executive Council.
Adam Werrity, who had been best man at Fox’s wedding in 2005, was later appointed UK Executive Director of Atlantic Bridge and played a key role in its operations.
In late 2011, “multiple sources” told the Independent on Sunday that Werrity had used contacts developed through Atlantic Bridge to arrange visits to Iran, meeting with opposition groups in both Washington and London, and had even been debriefed by MI6 about his travels.
The newspaper described the activities as “a freelance foreign policy” with Werrity seemingly “acting as a rogue operator”.
It was also revealed that Werrity was capable of arranging meetings “at the highest levels of the Israeli government”, and that Mossad had, bizarrely, believed Werrity to be Fox’s chief of staff.
The Guardian also raised the possibility that Werrity and Fox could have been operating a “shadow foreign policy,” using Atlantic Bridge as a cover organisation. The charity was investigated by the Charities Commission in 2011 and shut down.
Another patron of Atlantic Bridge, alongside Hintze, was Michael Lewis, ex-chairman of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
That lobbying group describes itself as a “British organisation dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain”. It was reported that Michael Lewis had paid for some of Werrity’s trips to Israel, charges he later denied.
Fox’s resignation was forced over the scandal – although true to Westminster form – no scandal is too much, in fact, he is already back, having politely refused a role as foreign secretary in July but now planning a new career as a backbencher.
Reviewing the Electoral Commission records for 2014, the pro-Israel donor Michael Lewis has popped up again. In March, he wrote another cheque for £10,000, to none other than Liam Fox.
In the past, Lewis has also backed William Hague – to the tune of £5,000. Hague later became foreign secretary.
According to Peter Oborne, now chief political commentator for the Telegraph, Michael Lewis’s baby BICOM is “Britain’s major pro-Israel lobby”.
In a searing expose for Channel 4 in 2009 and later a pamphlet calling for transparency from the Israel lobby, Oborne showed how BICOM was funded by a Finnish billionaire whose father made a fortune selling Israeli arms.
Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, who the Sunday Times ranked as the 57th richest individual in Britain with a net worth of over £1.5 billion, founded BICOM in 2001 and is its chairman.
Zabludowicz is also a member of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, a charity whose website claims it has three strands of work – “Supporting Israel”, “Connecting with Israel” and “Engaging with Israel”.
Since 2009, Zabludowicz has given approximately £125,000 to the Conservative party, either directly to party central, or to the party operating in Finchley and Golders Green, Harlow, Watford or Burton.
Zabludowicz is also a member of the Jewish Leadership Council – primarily concerned with philanthropic and educational matters within the British Jewish community, but who in June 2011 also met with the government to discuss the Middle East (BICOM attended the meeting too), and again in January 2012.
The Jewish Leadership Council, whose members also include pro-Israel Tory funders such as Lord Stanley Fink, and Tony Blair’s controversial man in Israel Lord Michael Levy, have taken it upon themselves to vigorously defend Israeli leaders from the principles of universal jurisdiction – which proves a great example of how influential the lobby is ,how intent the lobby is on insulating Israel from legal redress, and exactly why British voters should be wary of how much money the lobby is pumping into our elections.
In a celebratory post in 2011, on their own website, the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) explained that two years ago, they had “commissioned a legal opinion from Lord Pannick QC which recommended a change in the law. We wanted to protect universal jurisdiction itself, a vital innovation that grew out of the Holocaust, while preventing it from being abused.” (“Preventing it from being abused” roughly translates to “being applied to Israel”).
Following an arrest warrant being issued for Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, the group said: “We immediately sent our legal opinion to the government and opposition and worked with Conservative Friends of Israel, Labour Friends of Israel and Liberal Democratic Friends of Israel to begin generating support for this law change.”
“Within a few days, Gordon Brown had publicly promised to change the law as soon as possible,” the JLC bragged.
The Conservative party had already placed an advert in the Jewish Chronicle promising to change the law if they were elected. In 2011, the universal jurisdiction laws of the United Kingdom were changed, with arrest warrants now requiring the assent of the Attorney-General before they could be issued for alleged war criminals.
This was just as the pro-Israel lobby wanted. Rather than facing arrest when visiting the UK, Israeli politicians, generals and other war criminals can now feel assured that warrants would first have to pass through the Attorney-General, who is none other than Jeremy Wright MP, who is of course, another member of Conservative Friends of Israel.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.