The Israeli government, not Britain’s pro-Israel lobby, is engaged in an unprecedented push to capture the hearts and minds of the Conservative Party’s younger members. The evidence I present below is not a “Jewish conspiracy theory”, which David Cameron has in recent speeches rightly denigrated as dangerous and factually incorrect speculation. This story is collated mainly from public sources, including direct quotes from those involved with the project.
It should also be said that these arrangements are in many respects akin to the covert influence on British politics exerted by City financiers, soft drinks manufacturers, trade union officials or tobacco lobbyists. Like the corrupting influence of Saudi Arabia, China or Russia on British politics, and given the scale of what is described below, it is high time for the influence of Israel on Westminster politics to be discussed seriously.
Conservative Future is the youth wing of the ruling Conservative Party, and the largest youth political organisation in Britain. It boasts 15,000 members, all aged under thirty and many at university.
Following the visit of 15 Conservative Future members to Israel in June this year, organised by the lobbying group Conservative Friends of Israel, a second, much larger group trip has now been announced. Up to 300 young activists and parliamentary hopefuls are expected to be flown to Israel and courted by the state.
While not all members of Conservative Future will go on to become MPs, it is worth nothing that the number of delegates is almost equal to the number of seats that the Conservative Party currently holds in parliament. It is by far the biggest trip of its kind yet to be organised. The expansion has been agreed on because the June trip was reportedly oversubscribed; around 450 young Conservatives applied for just 15 places.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, the British embassy in Tel Aviv provided logistical support for the June trip. I have placed a request with the Foreign Office for more information on the nature of this and future support provided at British taxpayers’ expense.
The Director of Conservative Friends of Israel, Stuart Polak, said later, “We have a lot of work to do with the government and new MPs, but for the future, doing these trips with Conservative Future is an investment.”
A Conservative Future newsletter distributed to the group’s members in January describes how the organisation has now also opened a formal relationship with the Israeli embassy in London. In December, the embassy hosted a Christmas and Chanukah celebration for the group at which Ambassador Daniel Taub “and other senior members of the embassy” were in attendance.
To coincide with the launch of this new partnership, Conservative Future National Chairman Alexandra Paterson commented on the resignation of Baroness Warsi, who had at the time recently stood down from her cabinet post over British support for Israel’s offensive against Gaza in Summer 2014. Dramatically, Warsi was labelled as an “apologist for terrorists” (referring to Hamas) by Paterson, who added, “I bow to no one in my support for Israel, and hopefully tonight is the start of an ongoing relationship between Conservative Future and the [Israeli] Embassy.”
The Israeli government has been proactive north of the border too. In August, Conservative Future Scotland members attended a talk at which Deputy Israeli Ambassador to Britain Eitan Na’eh delivered the keynote speech. The talk was followed by a question and answer session and networking.
Among the 15 delegates on the June 2015 trip to Israel was young Harrow Councillor Ameet Jogia. He declared £2,000 of expenses covered by Conservative Friends of Israel to pay for the trip, the only donation he has received as a public official.
Though the full list of other attendees has not been confirmed, we know that Jogia was joined by another young Tory, Pranav Bahnot; the pair were photographed posing on either side of an Israeli soldier surveying the border with Syria, and are understood to have visited the West Bank. They did not visit Gaza. Jogia gave a brief interview to Asian Voice magazine afterwards, saying that the trip had given them “the opportunity to make up our own mind about various issues including BDS, media coverage and future solutions for the region.”
Michael Kusznir, National Chairman of Conservative Future Scotland, was also on the fifteen-strong trip. Afterwards, he penned a letter to the National Union of Students “raising concerns” regarding the vote to boycott Israeli goods in solidarity with the BDS movement. Conservative Future member Raza Anjum, who previously advised “a Shadow Home Secretary on issues relating to crime, policing, immigration, human rights and counter-terrorism” also went along. In an effusive article for Conservative Home, he too wrote about deterring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on his return to Britain.
Anjum argued that British-Israeli trade links are “important” and the BDS movement is “anti-Semitic.” He noted that he supported Cameron’s view that Israel must withdraw to its 1967 borders with “mutually agreed land swaps” and suggested that there was “a difference of opinion… between friends” on this issue. As the current chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, in 2011 Anjum said that he had received death threats from extremists for campaigning on behalf of minority Christian communities in the Middle East and South Asia.
The focus of Anjum and Kusznir on delegitimising the BDS movement chimes exactly with new strategies to promote pro-Israel policies higher up in the party. Shortly after the June 2015 trip, in which senior Conservative MPs also participated, the British government announced plans to prevent local councils from divesting pension funds from Israeli businesses.
In a speech to the Holocaust Education Trust, Justice Secretary and Tory strategist Michael Gove deployed his own brand of pro-Israel hyperbole: “We need to remind people that what began with a campaign against Jewish goods in the past ended with a campaign against Jewish lives.”
Having shored-up support for its anti-BDS campaign, influenced a number of rising stars in the Conservative Party, and cemented links between the Israeli embassy and Conservative Future — the largest youth political organisation in Britain, remember — the Israeli government has made an unprecedented push into the future of British politics. The strategy clearly dovetails with an overall push to call on international allies of Israel to disrupt the very effective, and entirely peaceful, BDS movement.
One can only imagine the public outrage if such an effort was planned and implemented not by Israel, but by Saudi Arabia, China or Russia. It is time that this relationship, which is perfectly legitimate, I must stress, was at least laid open to public scrutiny and accountability. The country has a right to know who is trying to influence our government.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.