Pro-Israel lobby group, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), is the biggest donor of free overseas trips for UK lawmakers to the Apartheid State, an investigation by Open Democracy has revealed. In total 155 trips were funded by CFI over the past decade for trips that have been described as “a charm offensive” to promote Israel in Westminster. Labour’s equivalent group, the Labour Friends of Israel, has funded 62 trips to Israel for MPs in the last decade, either in whole or in part.
Since 2012, CFI, which is said to claim support from 80 per cent of Tory MPs, has fully or partially funded trips with an overall value of some $451,248, making it the largest spender of all lobby groups. The all-expense paid trip to Israel is part of a £8 million ($9.8 million) splurge from a range of donors to fly MPs abroad. This often includes wining and dining with foreign diplomats and dignitaries. The investigation found that overall, 713 current or former MPs have accepted more than 3,100 all-expenses-paid trips.
The figure includes trips funded by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, but it is CFI that is credited as being the most frequent donor. Described as “the most well-connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups”, the pro-Israel lobby group claims that its goal is to ensure that Israel’s case is fairly represented in parliament.
However, critics see CFI as causing more harm than good on British democracy, especially since 2017 when former Foreign Secretary Priti Patel was exposed holding undisclosed meetings in Israel which were organised by the pro-Israeli lobby group. Patel apologised and was subsequently forced to step down after misleading the public about her secret unauthorised meeting with Israeli officials.
Enraged Tory MPs called for Lord Polak, honorary president of CFI and the person thought to be behind Patel’s Israel trip, to be sacked. Referring to Israel’s influence on British democracy, senior members of the party said that “the entire apparatus has turned a blind eye to a corrupt relationship that allows a country to buy access.”
More recently, in 2021, an investigation by Declassified found that 33 per cent of UK cabinet members were funded by pro-Israel groups including the CFI. The pro-Israel lobby group not only funded former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his many trips to Israel, but it is said to have also organised a “battle bus” to take him on a tour of north London as part of his London mayoral election campaign.
The close alliance between the Tory Party and CFI has come at a cost, say critics like Peter Oborne. Writing in the Middle East Eye, the former chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph said that Johnson had abandoned traditional Conservative values by offering “unconditional support” to the state of Israel, which has been cultivated by CFI through its intense lobbying.
Underlining the unconditional support for Israel, this week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he will oppose a United Nations vote to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Speaking at an CFI event Sunak said that he will “oppose any actions which stand to harm the peace process and the two-state solution, and that will include the upcoming vote at the UN General Assembly relating to the ICJ where I can confirm that the United Kingdom will join with our allies in voting against this divisive action.”
Sunak also took aim at the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. He called it a “pernicious” movement and repeated his promise to pass legislation banning it in the UK.