In what appears to be a fresh challenge to Israel’s UK supporters, a group of boycott campaigners has called on a Parliamentary committee to investigate the so-called “Israel lobby” which it claims has a powerful influence on the Government’s Middle East policy.
Their letter, to Charles Ramsden, the secretary of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, accuses British MPs of “eating out of the Israeli government’s hand” and claims “friends of Israel” have embedded themselves “in the British political establishment and at the very heart of government” to sway British policy.
It focuses on the Conservative Friends of Israel, questioning the loyalty to Britain of its director, Stuart Polak, if he were to become an MP, and points out that Middle East Minister Kim Howells is a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel.
Among the 11 signatories are well known pro-boycott figures still smarting from the defeat of attempts last year to impose an embargo on Israeli institutions. They include Mona Baker, the University of Manchester professor who fired two Israeli academics from the board of her journals because of their nationality; Derek Summerfield, who founded a group calling for a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association; and David Seddon, a board member of Bricup, the British Committee for Universities of Palestine.
Pro-Israeli sources said the call for an investigation was a “desperate attempt” to generate publicity for a revival of the boycott movement.
Stuart Polak, director of Conservative Friends of Israel, described it as extraordinary that a group of “virulently anti-Israel campaigners” wrote a letter that will never be investigated. CFI, he insisted, was “proud of what it does. We will continue educating members of Parliament, parliamentary candidates and others within the Conservative Party.”
Lorna Fitzsimons, chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, said that the letter “plays into the hands of the old stereotypes and should be seen as such”.
Communal bodies, including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, condemned the accusations in the letter as a “desperate attempt” to keep the boycott issue alive.
Academic David Hirsh, editor of the anti-boycott website Engage, said he might use the letter “when I teach a workshop on contemporary antisemitism”.
MPs condemned the attempt to bring the “Israel lobby” before the committee. James Arbuthnot, parliamentary chairman of CFI, said: “We present the case for Israel but we also inform people about the good and the bad sides of the conflict [with the Palestinians].” He said there was no evidence that any Conservative had been put into a powerful position with CFI’s help.
Labour MP and LFI vice chair Andrew Dismore said the call for an investigation was “nonsense”. LFI MPs stood up for their views “because we think that is our right to do so. But to talk about a Jewish lobby is completely bogus. Probably, if the committee refuses to look into the matter, they too will be accused of being part of a Jewish conspiracy.”
Committee secretary Charles Ramsden had bad news for the protesters: “It is very unlikely that this will come up on the agenda,” he said, “because we deal with issues involving individuals.”