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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The royal dress code can't cloak Prince Charles

Joan Smith
Ed Miliband  

Rochester by-election: A little respect goes a long way, Ed Miliband

John Rentoul
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin