Who do you serve?
Four years ago, I highlighted the pernicious influence of the Israel lobby group Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) on the Labour Party. Today, as the Gaza crisis lays bare the humanitarian cost of unconditional Labour Party support for Israel, the need to combat this foreign sway is more urgent than ever.
After looking at the influence waged by Labour Friends of Israel I called for their proscription, expressing concerns about the group’s pervasive impact on the party. It is disheartening to note that today, this same influence persists, even as Gaza burns and the entire region remains engulfed in turmoil and suffering.
The ongoing atrocities in Gaza highlight again how outside influences warp British politics. As Israel commits what can only be described as war crimes and the creation of a humanitarian crisis why do our representatives seem more beholden to a foreign lobby than members or even voters? This pressing question remains unresolved four years on.
The blanket assertion that Israel has the right to self-defence loses its validity when such defensive actions lead to the deaths of over ten thousand innocent civilians due to indiscriminate missile strikes. The sole wrongdoing of the Palestinian people lies in their audacious act of being born in a region where the world unjustly perceives them as less than fully human.
Many people who seek peace and justice hope for a ceasefire as the only viable path forward. However, regardless of how many Labour councillors resign or members express their dissatisfaction, self-proclaimed Zionist Sir Keir Starmer and the influential Jewish lobby within the Labour Party consistently echo the narrative of their donors.
But let’s be fair. It is not just this particular lobby, but any group influenced by foreign governments, that should be prohibited, including Labour Friends of Palestine.
The fact is while members should be free to comment on geopolitics our Members of Parliament bear the vital responsibility of representing their constituents, free from the influence of the highest bidder or foreign interest groups.
Moreover, we place our trust in MPs to uphold moral principles. While arguments may be made for addressing Israel’s adversaries, no argument can justify the genocide of the Palestinian people.
In 2018, revelations emerged regarding the clandestine efforts of the Israel lobby to undermine politicians considered unfriendly to their cause. Despite these revelations, Labour Friends of Israel remains influential and unchecked. Some MPs continue to receive financial support from pro-Israel donors, raising questions about their independence.
The parallels with our current situation are deeply unsettling. Despite Israel’s actions, many leaders still echo its propaganda themes, often disregarding widespread public outrage. Those who dissent often face character assassination or disciplinary action, and factual information takes a back seat to the interests of lobbying groups.
In a democracy designed to serve the people, it should never be necessary to pose the question, “Who funds you?” Yet all too frequently, the answer lies not with voters, but with foreign entities through lobbying and special interest groups. This corrupting influence erodes the foundations of democracy, stifling discourse on vital issues like Palestine.
In a world where truth is suppressed and accountability remains elusive, humanitarian crises persist. We are left to ponder how different our response to Gaza might be if our leaders prioritised the welfare of all people over the influence of special interest groups and lobbies.
Four years ago, I penned this article that highlighted the influence of Labour Friends of Israel particularly on the Labour Party and lobbyists in general on government. This ongoing struggle continues to afflict our democracy today.
Labour Friends of Israel Must be Proscribed if the Labour Party is to Move on from Antisemitism
Today Jeremy Corbyn has made an absolute, concerning the Labour Party and condemning antisemitism, an absolute that many would argue has always been the Party position stating unequivocally that ‘Antisemitism has no place in our Party. Hatred towards Jewish people has no place in our society.’
Many members and supporters feel that this statement and powerful message will not be enough for some people and the organisations they represent. They believe that they will continually condemn and hold Jeremy Corbyn personally responsible for antisemitism within the Labour Party no matter how hard he fights to stamp it out.
Stamping antisemitism out is just a part of removing this cloud from the Labour Party. For the vast majority of Labour members and supporters, there must also be change within the PLP. There is a growing demand that all lobby groups be proscribed and MPs restricted from accepting personal donations from outside interests and lobbyists. If donations are to be received they should be to the Party and not individual MPs or their offices.
There is a growing unease from the membership in how lobby groups and personal donations to MPs are used and a hunting question of how they influence MPs and our politics.
Labour Friends of Israel
The most controversial of these Lobby groups is ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ (LFI) this group has been the focus of both documentary and online conspiracies relating to funding and even proposed ‘Take Down’ of British politicians with money of up to a million pounds offered for what could only be called sabotage of the Labour Party and other politicians within parliament that are seen as less than friendly to the state of Israel.
Conspiracies relating to the LFI will continue and grow while the group is allowed to function within Westminster there is no denying the facts or the truth behind the undercover film made by Al Jazeera.
The film prompted Emily Thornbury to ask for an enquiry by the government into: ‘Reports of Israeli embassy official discussing how to discredit government minister.
The Labour Party also called on the government to immediately launch an inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics” after the disclosure that an Israeli embassy official had plotted to “Takedown” UK MPs regarded as hostile.
The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, also said: “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”
The Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, apologised to one of the MPs on the “hit list”, foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan, describing the remarks as unacceptable. As a result, the Foreign Office said it regarded the matter as closed.
But Thornberry said: “It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. This is a national security issue.” As well as calling for an inquiry, she said the embassy official should be withdrawn.
Ironically Emily Thornbury is a member of Labour Friends of Israel.
Al Jazeera’s documentary The Lobby shone a spotlight on the activities of party political Friends of Israel groups.
Filmed undercover, the investigation showed just how closely organisations such as Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) work with the Israeli embassy.
The Labour Party are determined to stamp out anti-Semitism but to do so they also need to remove the toxic groups within the PLP that help foster the very conspiracies that feed into antisemitic bigotry and racism.
The Lobby exposed Alex Richardson who was also featured in Panorama’s highly edited hit piece by the BBC, “Is Labour Anti-Semitic? he was the same Alex Richardson who fabricated false anti-semitic claims and made false accusations of antisemitism against a Labour Party member.
The film “The Lobby” also focused on Joan Ryan who chairs LFI.
In February 2019, Joan Ryan resigned from the Labour Party to join the recently formed Independent Group but retained her position as chair of Labour Friends of Israel. For many, this alone is more than controversial it seems the group is outside of Party rules, rules that do not allow participation of suspended members within its functionalities never mind a member of a political opposition still acting as chair to a Labour Party group.
Joan Ryan’s Independent Group was funded by a multi-millionaire pro-Israel lobbyist Garrard has been for many years a major financial backer of Labour Friends of Israel, and was recently appointed to its board.
Before left-wing Palestine solidarity activist Jeremy Corbyn became Party leader in 2015, Garrard donated almost $2 million to Labour under former leaders Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. Garrard was so dismayed after Corbyn’s leadership election in September 2015, that he called in a loan of more than Garrard previously donated.
Chuka Umunna also appears to have turned to one of the Tories’ biggest donors to fund his office since leaving the Labour Party to lead The Independent Group of MPs.
According to the latest Register of MPs’ Interests, published this week, Umunna accepted a £10k donation from Jeremy Isaacs for “funding the salaries and expenses of staff in his office”.
It is understood this is the same Jeremy Isaacs who is a City banker who has given over £500,000 to the Tories since 2006 and has attended Conservative dinners with David Cameron and Theresa May thanks to his donations.
Banning the group Labour Friends of Israel is the only real perspective and a giant step in clearing the controversy surrounding the conspiracies within the Labour Party. It is unacceptable that the Labour Party allow this group to continue under the cloud of controversy it has nurtured over recent years.
But how have LFI and its Tory party equivalent Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) managed to evade critical scrutiny for so long before this? One of the answers is that these pro-Israel groups operate inside parliament in a very opaque way because of their legal status. This is a moment when all groups and funds from outside interests and special interest groups must be looked at and stopped.
It will be an impossible task for the Labour Party to remove allegations and conspiracies that can quickly escalate to antisemitism if they do not remove ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ a group entrenched in all that is wrong with modern politics relating to funding and political parties.
The Darkside of Lobbying?
Our parliamentary representatives should never leave us wondering, ‘Who do they work for? Who funds them?’
The resounding answer must always be ‘The people!
But what’s the problem with lobbying? In essence, it is an important part of a functioning democracy. The problem lies when it happens behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. It can lead politicians in office to steer away from good government. Their decisions can benefit those who fund them. The public interest comes second. Special interests, backed by money, may sway decision-making and undermine democracy.
Opaque lobbying practices backed up by extensive funds at the disposal of interest groups can lead to undue, unfair influence in policies – creating risks for political corruption and undermining public trust in decision-making institutions. We can attribute this factor, in part, to the crisis of confidence in politics we have seen unravel in the UK in recent years, resulting in apathy and low voter turnouts.
Lobbyists succeed by owning the terms of debate, steering conversations away from those they can’t win and on to those they can. If a public discussion on a company’s environmental impact is unwelcome, lobbyists will push instead to have a debate with politicians and the media on the hypothetical economic benefits of their ambitions.
Once this narrowly framed conversation becomes dominant, dissenting voices will appear marginal and irrelevant.
Everybody’s doing it, including lobbyists for fracking and nuclear power, public sector reform and bank regulation. It doesn’t matter if the new frame relies on fabrication.
With politicians beholden to corporate sponsors, the people come second. The crisis of confidence in UK politics partially stems from this opaque lobbying rotting democracy from within.
However, when a lobbyist like Peter Mandelson holds the ear of Labour leadership, doubts multiply over who is really setting party policy. Mandelson is at the helm of one of the world’s largest lobbying firms, with this a new dimension of lobbying emerges, where a prominent policy influencer wields substantial influence over any prospective policies in the Labour manifesto.
The constant lurking question “Who funds you?” exposes the spectacle of leaders representing elite patrons rather than voters. If lobbying defies scrutiny, it inherently corrupts governance. Only transparency and accountability can remedy this cancer at democracy’s core.
As of August 2018, around 80 MPs and 20 members of the House of Lords were supporters List
This article was updated from its original published on