Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The shadowy role of Labour Friends of Israel

Such lobbyists and their back-room influence should make us very uneasy

Share

Pardon me for asking. Perhaps I shouldn't. For an easy life, some things, you learn, are best left unsaid. Nervous, am I? You bet. But these questions will not stand aside or lie down. They have been bothering me since the Labour party donor row broke last week. They are raised here in good faith. I have no wish to bring the wrath of Moses upon me and I can already hear the accusations of anti-Semitism because I dare to raise the question: Can someone explain what exactly is the role of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) in our political life? And its twin, the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) too. In an open democracy, we are entitled to make such queries indeed, it is a duty.

David Abrahams, the strange shape-shifter at the centre of the funding furore, was once Mr Big in LFI; so is John Mendelsohn, the smart fundraiser picked by Gordon Brown to garner "election resources" to finance the next Labour win. Lord Levy is also a key member of LFI. We witnessed the tortuous police investigation into the peer's affairs during the cash for honours investigations, but not once was there any scrutiny of Levy's connection to LFI and how that might have led to the offer of his prestigious position as the Middle East envoy, handed to him by his tennis partner, Tony Blair.

I rang some of my Jewish friends who support LFI and are well acquainted with Abrahams and Mendelsohn. Two have known both professionally for some time and others have personal relationships with these men. I felt their unease as we talked about this latest unsavoury New Labour scandal. Some of these contacts confirm that Abrahams and Mendelsohn fell out at a dramatic LFI meeting when Abrahams wanted the group to make contact with a particular Palestinian organisation and Mendelsohn vehemently disagreed. OK. Internal strife among campaigners is part of the deal, and Palestine, as we know, divides Jewish opinion the whole world over. Such things happen all the time when communal champions gather. It happens within Palestinian forums too. But LFI is not only an activist network. It enviably attracts the support of top parliamentarians, almost all prime ministers for a start. Its fringe meetings are packed because, on the platform, they can guarantee the biggest names from the political parties.

Founded in 1957, it then had a lot of politicians on side, says one of my contacts. After the 1967 war, support for Israel became more problematic and LFI had to become more strategic and focused to keep MPs on side.

Mendelsohn is a passionate Zionist and infamous lobbyist, described by the Jewish Chronicle as "one of the best-connected power brokers". So we can assume LFI plays a part in shaping our foreign policies in the Middle East the most inflammable tinderbox in the world today. And that is neither right nor fair. The LFI take, by definition, has to be partisan. It exists to present the official Israeli view; it cannot be nuanced or considerate to "the enemy". I would venture to suggest that Tony Blair's abject performance during the last Israeli assault on Lebanon was partly the result of the special relationship he had with LFI.

The current scandal and its links to LFI only encourages fascist and Islamicist propagators of the idea of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Look on the crazed websites today and you see how they feed on this crisis and rejoice. LFI is the most successful of many interest groups which have been allowed to exert undue pressure on policies.

There is Labour Friends of India, more courted and favoured than ever before. When the Hindu fundamentalist BJP was in power, this group ensured the support of British MPs who should have known better. The Muslim Friends of Labour has donated large amounts of money in Glasgow, I imagine for some reciprocal advantage. Such lobbyists and their considerable back-room influence, how they can manipulate politicians and the media, and the secrecy of the conversations they have with the powerful, should make us very uneasy. There are no records we may look at, no transparency. As far as I know, no civil servants take notes. Yet decisions they can drive through do affect the future of the whole world.

Whatever the outcome of the various investigations into the unlawful proxy donations, and who did what when with Abrahams' 600,000, the issue of insider lobbying by interest groups is as serious, possibly more so, and must not be ignored. It is astonishing that we have allowed it to spread through the corridors of power and infuse the air that breathed there. This corruption has no whiff, no colour. It is deadly and must now be stopped at source.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
 

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game