Conservative Friends of Israel biggest group in parliament
This posting has 6 items:
1) Conservative Home A profile of the Conservative Party’s most populous grouping;
2) Independent: Arms race’ for visits over world’s most contentious conflict;
3) Huff Post: Which Side Of The Fence Do Tory, Labour And Liberal Democrats MPs Sit On?;
4) List: Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East;
5) List: Labour Friends of Israel;
6) Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine: About Us;
By Matthew Barrett, Conservative Home
October 26, 2012
Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party which contains perhaps the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in Parliament. It exists to promote understanding of and support for the State of Israel in the Conservative Party, and its membership reaches the highest echelons of power, including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In this profile, I examine its origins, membership, role, and activities.
Origins of the group
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) is the oldest group of Conservative MPs I have profiled so far: it was founded by Michael Fidler, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury and Radcliffe between 1970 and the October 1974 election. After losing his seat, he decided to focus on building a pro-Israel group within the Conservative Party – there had been a Labour Friends of Israel group since 1957 – so Fidler launched CFoI in 1974, and served as its National Director.
Sir Hugh Fraser served as the first Chairman of CFoI, from 1974. Sir Hugh was a Conservative MP of the old school: after a distinguished military intelligence career in the Second World War, he entered Parliament in 1945, and he missed out on being Father of the House to James Callaghan in 1983 by only a few days. Sir Hugh had an interest in oil and the Middle East and served a number of positions in the War and Colonial Offices, before entering Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Air in 1962. He might be best known to some readers as the outsider candidate who came third in the 1975 party leadership contest, behind Mrs Thatcher and Edward Heath, gaining only 16 votes.
By the mid-1980s, the enthusastic Fidler had recruited more than 150 Conservative MPs to the CFoI cause. Fidler served as the National Director of CFoI until 1989, the year of his death.
Membership of the group
Conservative Friends of Israel is highly influential. Unlike most groups of Tory MPs, it has a staff and activist base that exists outside of Parliament. In other words, its core staff – including Director Stuart Polak – is not composed of MPs. Ordinary people are able to sign up for membership – there are roughly 2,000 members. However, its Parliamentary Group is said to include 80% of all Conservative MPs. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Group is James Arbuthnot (pictured right), and James Clappison is the Vice Chairman. Officers include David Amess, David Burrowes, Robert Halfon, Priti Patel and Lee Scott, and Timothy Kirkhope MEP leads CFoI’s European group.
Other leading members of CFoI include Iain Duncan Smith, Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, and Malcolm Rifkind, but perhaps most importantly, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Alistair Burt, the Minister at the Foreign Office whose brief covers the Middle East, are members.
Role and key purposes of the group
As the name suggests, CFoI is primarily concerned with foreign policy, and Israel in particular. It would not, for example, meet regularly to discuss everyday domestic political issues like some groups, nor would it issue ideologically-focused policy papers, as, for example, the Free Enterprise Group does, and it wouldn’t be trying to protect a particular wing of conservatism, as Cornerstone or No Turning Back would.
CFoI exists to inform the Conservative Party about Israel, and vice versa. CFoI makes sure Israel’s case is fairly heard in Parliament, and keeps MPs up to date with Israeli affairs and issues. A key part of this is the regular trips CFoI makes to Israel with Conservative MPs and candidates. Conservatives meet with Palestinians, Israelis (and Israeli Arabs) in order to hear at first-hand what is happening, and gain a better understanding of the situation in Israel.
There were 30 such trips between 2006 and 2009 alone, and regular trips continue – MPs listed as going on such trips this parliament include Nigel Adams, Guto Bebb, Bob Blackman, Angie Bray, Graham Evans, Chris Kelly, Kwasi Kwarteng, Jessica Lee, Phillip Lee, Jack Lopresti, James Morris, Neil Parish, Andrew Percy, Chloe Smith, James Wharton, Heather Wheeler, Chris White, and Nadhim Zahawi.
As well as the aforementioned trips to Israel, CFoI also organises many events in Westminster and in Parliament. These events include regular meetings of interested MPs and Parliamentary Briefings, at which notable or knowledgeable figures speak – journalists, politicians, academics, and so on. The highlight of the CFoI’s events calender is the Annual Business Lunch, held towards the end of each year, at which Michael Howard, William Hague, George Osborne and David Cameron have spoken in recent years. In 2010 the speaker was the Prime Minister, last year the Chancellor, and it is set to be Mr Cameron again later this year. One source in Parliament said the annual lunches “are attended by the lion’s share of the Parliamentary Party. They are the Manchester United of affiliate party groups.”
At 2010’s lunch, Mr Cameron said:
“The friendship we celebrate today has thrived in the long years of Opposition and I know in government, it will deepen, because the ties between this party and Israel are unbreakable. And in me, you have a Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is indestructible.”
At 2006’s lunch, Mr Cameron said:
“I am proud not just to be a Conservative, but a Conservative friend of Israel; and I am proud of the key role CFI plays within our Party. Israel is a democracy, a strong and proud democracy, in a region that is, we hope, making its first steps in that direction.”
CFoI sends out weekly email briefings to members. Briefings contain international news relevant to the Middle East and Israel, Israeli political and domestic news, what Conservatives have said about Israel – any relevant speeches or statements made by David Cameron, William Hague, etc, what Conservative MPs and MEPS have said in Parliament, and so on.
As mentioned above in the membership section below, CFoI is not just a group of MPs, it also has members and activists, who support Conservative candidates in elections up and down the country, and organise campaigns to get the vote out for them, especially in target seats. In this year’s mayoral election, CFoI organised a “Boris Battle Bus” tour across north-west London, which saw hundreds of activists and supporters turn out for Boris Johnson.
By Oliver Wright, The Independent
November 22, 2012
Groups linked to both sides of the conflict have spent over £130,000 since the last UK general election on taking Parliamentarians to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Many of those MPs who accepted trips have gone on to make supportive speeches and statements in Parliament and the media backing the positions of the groups that have paid and organised their travel.
On the Israeli side, the biggest single donor, according to the register of MPs’ interests, is Conservative Friends of Israel, which has spent over £30,000 taking more than two dozen Tory backbenchers to Israel and the West Bank since the election on five separate trips.
Earlier this week, as the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians intensified, the organisation co-ordinated a public letter supporting the Israeli cause. “More than 1,000 rockets and mortars have been indiscriminately fired into civilian areas by Hamas and other terror organisations operating under its protection,” it read. “Israel has a sovereign duty to protect its citizens. Hamas needs to know that the British Government will not reward its terror tactics.”
It was signed by 17 Tory MPs – 10 of whom had been on pro-Israeli delegations to the region in since the 2010 General Election.
Other pro-Israeli groups who have paid for MPs to travel to the region include Labour Friends of Israel who have funded nine places for Labour backbenchers on trips and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel who have spent £5,400. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has spent over £10,000 on trips since 2010, the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange £11,000 and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre £5,000.
Earlier in the week, during a Parliamentary debate on the current conflict, at least 14 of the speakers on either side of the argument had travelled to the region.
Louise Ellman, the Labour chair of the Transport Select Committee, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier this year as part of the Australia Israel UK Leadership Dialogue. In the debate she said: “Does the fact that Hamas is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, that in 2005 Israel removed all its 9,000 settlers and soldiers from Gaza and that that was followed by Hamas firing thousands of rockets from civilian centres in Gaza targeted at Israeli citizens mean that Israel deserves full support in defending its citizens against this aggression?”
Richard Ottaway, the Conservative MP for Croydon South visited Israel in November 2011 as part of a Conservative Friends of Israel trip. He said: “Over the weekend, Israel was widely condemned for a military strike on an international media centre in Gaza in breach of the Geneva convention. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it was in fact a base for Islamic Jihad and that the only person who lost their life was its military commander?” Neither made mention of the trip in their interventions – although some other MPs did.
Both MPs told The Independent that the Commons Speaker had consistently upheld the principle that there are “certain proceedings” where a declaration of interest may not be practicable, for example “oral questions”
It is not only Israeli lobbying groups paying for MPs’ trips to the region. The Sir Joseph Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights and Peace building in the Middle East has spent over £30,000 paying for 26 MPs to visit the West Bank, Israel and Gaza since the election. But these visits were in fact organised by the Council for Advancing Arab British Relations, a pro-Palestinian outfit which admits it sees the conflict through an Arab perspective.
The Conservative Middle East Council, funded by a number of wealth Arab donors, has also spent over £16,000 taking nine MPs on visits.
A spokesman for the Council for Advancing Arab British Relations said: “More than anything these visits are about showing how people are struggling to survive under occupation.” But he added: “There is no point lecturing MPs. They have to come to their own conclusions.”
Overseas visits: The Rules
MPs are required to notify the House of the destination, date and purpose of their overseas travel when paid for by a third party and where the cost of the visit exceeds one per cent of an MPs annual salary.
The Code of Conduct states that they are also required to name the organisation, Government or company that funded the travel and the costs involved. Visits on behalf of or funded by Her Majesty’s Government are exempt from registration.
Any gift to the MP or any “material advantage” received from or on behalf of a company, organisation or person while overseas must be declared.
By Christopher York, The Huffington Post UK
November 20, 2012
Foreign Secretary William Hague will address the House of Commons today on the “terrible situation in Gaza”.
In recent days, Hague has blamed the latest round of violence on Hamas which “bears principal responsibility” – though he has also stated that Israel has a duty to “de-escalate the violence, to avoid civilian casualties, to observe international humanitarian law”.
Yesterday, on behalf of Conservative Friends of Israel, 17 Tory MPs wrote to the Daily Telegraph urging the Government to maintain its stance of not dealing with Hamas, which they blamed for escalating the violence in the region.
Separately, eight other Tory MPs have signed a petition supporting UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Fifty-six Labour MPs and 16 Lib Dem MPs have also signed the same pro-Palestine petition.
In fact, the State of Israel and the Palestinians are both well-represented by parliamentary groups in the halls of Westminster, which often sponsor MPs to take trips to the region. Hague himself, for example, has been a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel since he was 15.
But what do we actually know about these groups and their supporters in the Commons?
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI)
CFI was set up in 1974. The current chair is MP James Arbuthnot. As its website puts it: “With close to 2,000 activists as members – alongside 80% of Tory MPs – CFI is active at every level of the Party.”
When asked about which specific Tory MPs and peers were members of CFI, a spokeswoman told the Huffington Post UK: “Its much more grey than that. We don’t have a list of members its just based on who comes on trips speaks and speaks on issues.”
A Dispatches documentary in 2009, presented by Tory-supporting journalist Peter Oborne, claimed that at least half of the then-shadow cabinet were affiliated members of CFI.
As Prime Minister, David Cameron told the CFI: “My belief in Israel is unbreakable and commitment to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
Conservative Friends of Palestine?
Well….there aren’t any Conservative Friends of Palestine. The Tories do not have an equivalent group. The nearest they have is the Conservative Middle East Council which aims to help “parliamentarians to gain a unique, first-hand understanding of the Middle East.”
Again, the CMEC does not have official affiliates but, helpfully, “all Conservative MPs are considered members.”
A recent CMEC statement, signed by president Nicolas Soames MP, says it is “imperative that another Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza strip must be averted: such an action would surely lead to an even greater civilian death toll, a significant loss of international sympathy and support for Israel, and a prolonged and deepening conflict across the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Labour Friends of Israel (LFI)
Founded in 1957 to strengthen the bond between Labour and the Israeli Labor Party, LFI is a supporter of a two-state solution and strong bilateral relations between the British and Israeli governments. Tony Blair, now the Middle East ‘peace envoy, was one of its most high-profile members.
A spokesman told the Huffington Post UK: “We have a core group of officers in the House of Commons, which include our Chair: John Woodcock MP, and Vice Chairs: Michael Dugher MP, Louise Ellman MP, Michael McCann MP, Rachel Reeves MP and Jonathan Reynolds MP.
“LFI also has a large number of other supporters in the House of Commons, which include both shadow cabinet members and backbenchers, but we don’t list them as members.
“We also have a large number of supporters in the House of Lords, led by Baroness Ramsay.”
In the 2009 Dispatches documentary, LFI was accused of being “less unquestioning in its support of the Israeli government than CFI”. It is also believed to have paid for more MPs to take free trips to Israel than any other group – more than 60 between 2001 and 2009.
Labour Friends of Palestine (LFP)
LFP was only set up in 2009, during Israel’s previous bombardment of Gaza (“Operation Cast Lead”). At the 2012 Labour Party annual conference in Manchester, Ed Miliband was a guest of honour at the LFP’s gala dinner.
The current chair of LFP is Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk. More than 80 Labour MPs’ names are listed on the group’s site as “supporters” of the group – curiously, Miliband and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander don’t appear on the list.
A spokesman for the group told the HuffPost UK: “We are trying to raise awareness within the Labour movement – parliamentarians, members, trade unionists – about the reality of the situation in the Palestinian territories. We want to see action taken to implement the two-state solution… and that means blocking settlements and even looking at banning settlement goods from coming into EU markets.”
Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI)
The LDFI’s president is veteran Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith. At the time of writing, however, no-one at the LDFI was available to talk about membership numbers.
Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP)
No figures on membership numbers were available at the time of writing but the LDFP grouping has been no stranger to controversy. Lib Dem peer and LDFP member Jenny Tonge was summoned for talks with her leader in 2006 after claiming that the Lib-Dems were “probably in the grip of the pro-Israel lobby.”
Six years later, Tonge hit the headlines again after she was accused of calling for the dismantling of the State of Israel. LDFP defended her – but Tonge was forced to resign from the party.
Mike Wood MP Batley and Spen
By Planet infowars.com/The UK Political Friends of Israel and Wikipedia, Labour Friends of Israel
September 2, 2012
Director: Luciana Berger MP
Chair: Andrew Gwynne MP
Vice Chairs: Andrew Dismore MP, Louise Ellman MP and Glenis Willmott MEP.
Policy Council: Rt Hon Stephen Byers MP, Rt Hon Derek Foster MP, Rt Hon George Foulkes MSP, Jane Kennedy MP, Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP, Rt Hon Don Touhig MP and Denis MacShane MP. House of Lords Chair was Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.
David Abrahams – former Treasurer
Lord Archer of Sandwell
Sir Stuart Bell MP
Tony Blair former MP and Prime Minister
Lord Janner of Braunstone Q.C. Former MP for Leicester West, Former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews & Current Chair of the British Israel Parliamentary Group.
David Blunkett MP and former Home Secretary
Gordon Brown MP and former Prime Minister
Chris Bryant MP and former Minister for Europe
Stephen Byers former MP and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Wayne David MP
Derek Foster MP
Lord Foulkes MSP and former MP
Mike Gapes MP – former Vice Chair of LFI (2004)
Anthony Greenwood MP, first Chair of LFI (1957)
Fabian Hamilton MP
Joan Humble MP
Barbara Keeley MP
Jane Kennedy MP – Chair (2007)
Ivan Lewis MP, former Vice Chair of LFI
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
Denis MacShane (former MP, now resigned over his expenses)
Jonathan Mendelsohn – former Chair of LFI (2002)
Alun Michael MP, former Leader of the Welsh Labour Party
Andrew Miller MP
Jim Murphy MP – former Chair of LFI (2001), former Secretary of State for Scotland
Dan Norris former MP
Nick Palmer MP
James Purnell former Chair of LFI, MP and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
John Reid former MP and Home Secretary (2007)
Terry Rooney MP
Siôn Simon MP
Dari Taylor MP
Gary Titley MP
John Woodcock MP, Chair of LFI (2011)
Iain Wright MP, former Chair of LFI (2006)
Lord Young of Norwood Green
[There is no membership list. This is the group’s About Us statement]
The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine exist to fight for the rights of the Palestinian People through the medium of the Liberal Democrat Party. The party’s core values of liberalism, internationalism and support for the indivisibility of human rights and the rule of law make it the natural home in mainstream British politics for those determined to support the Palestinian call for justice and their entitlements under international law.
We currently support the ‘two state solution’: for an independent and viable Palestinian state, and security for both parties. We therefore call on Israel to renounce all claims to occupied land and to halt all illegal settlement building. If Israel is unwilling to do this, there will come a point at which ‘the one state solution’, under which Israel will need to offer all Palestinians citizenship in a single, secular State, will become the only possible way forward. This may be very soon.
We reject accusations of anti-Semitism against party members, organisations or other individuals within and outside the Liberal Democrat Party because they criticize Israeli government policies. We categorically reject all forms of violence against civilians (including the disproportionate use of force) no matter who the perpetrators and the victims may be. We oppose all forms of racism including anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.