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 The Impact of the Israel Lobby on European Foreign Policy in Palestine

 By Dr. Daud Abdullah: Director, the Middle East Monitor, London.*

 This paper was presented by Dr. Daud Abdullah at the Conference on “The Eurpean Foreign Policy towards the Palestinian Issue” that was held by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut, on 3-4/11/2010

Historical Background

The strength of the Israel lobby and its political warfare operations is often associated with the United States. Until recently, very little research had been conducted into the lobby’s activities and influence on European policy. While Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917 marked the highpoint of Zionist influence the actual groundwork for collaboration was prepared decades earlier. Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempt to invade Palestine from Al-Arish, Egypt, in 1799 aroused deep British suspicion. During the campaign he called upon the Jews of Asia and Africa to rally under his banner in order to take Jerusalem. Although Napoleon failed to stimulate what would now be termed “Zionist” interest in his enterprise he laid foundations upon which Theodore Herzl and others built. The current impact of the Israel lobby on European foreign policy reflects the symbiotic nature of a relationship born out of political expediency and strategic interests. Not only did the Jewish and Zionist lobbyists exploit the European imperial rivalries, but they also linked support for the creation of Israel to the aspirations and strategic interests of the Europeans during the period 1914-2010.

Initially, Britain responded to the French moves with the installation of its first consulate in Jerusalem in 1838. Acting on the advice of his son-in-law Lord Shaftesbury, Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston appointed William Young, a well-known evangelical, as Vice-Consul with specific instructions to look after the Jews and their interests in Jerusalem. The first major intervention of the Jewish lobby in British policy-making towards Palestine was arguably in 1840 when Sir Moses Montefiore sought to persuade Palmerston to support the establishment of a State of Israel. Palmerston was attracted to the idea as such a state would form a counterweight to French influence.

Notwithstanding its diplomatic presence in Palestine, Britain was unable to make any significant overtures before the Zionists had themselves created a strong enough movement that was prepared to act in unison with British imperial interests in the region. Jews’ political and economic emancipation in Europe helped toward this end. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, it seemed the time had come for the Zionists to realize the fulfilment of their dream. Turkey’s entry into the war alongside Germany in August 1914 had far-reaching consequences for Palestine. It gave the Zionists a welcome opportunity to reopen negotiations with the British government for a “national home” in Palestine. They emphasized Palestine’s strategic position and the importance of having inhabitants there who were willing to help protect Britain’s regional interests and the vital sea routes to India. Herzl articulated this at the launch of his movement when he said, “We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”


After the collapse of the Herbert Asquith government and the appointment of David Lloyd George as Prime Minister in December 1916, British policy toward the Zionists changed dramatically. The government opened official talks with the Zionists who were assisted by CP Scott, editor of The Manchester Guardian. Scott playing the role of facilitator introduced Chaim Weizmann to his close friend Lloyd George. During the negotiations with the British government, Lucien Wolf, secretary of the Conjoint Committee (the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association), wrote in a submission to the Foreign Office in October 1916:

In the event of Palestine coming within the sphere of influence of Great Britain or France at the close of the war the government of those powers will not fail to take account of the historic interest that country possesses for the Jewish community. The Jewish population will be secured in the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, equal political rights, with the rest of the population, reasonable facilities for immigration and colonization and such municipal privileges in the towns and colonies inhabited by them as may be shown necessary. [2]   The general trajectory of Zionist lobbying during this period veered conspicuously toward what would later be described as a form of “humanitarian intervention”. During the First World War the US Supreme Court Judge, Louis Brandais, and Chaim Weizmann emerged as the foremost lobbyists for Jewish/Zionist interests in the US and UK respectively. In the summer of 1917, Mark Sykes, a confidante of the Zionists and Member of Parliament who was seconded by the Intelligence Department of the War Office to the Turkish front when the war broke out, ordered Weizmann to draft a declaration that would certify the juridical claim of the Jewish people to Palestine.
A number of concerned parties wrote six different drafts before an agreement was made on the final text. The fifth draft was prepared by the prominent Conservative member in the War Cabinet, Lord Milner, and Leopold Amery, an assistant secretary in the Cabinet. It was cabled to Brandais for amendment and submission to President Wilson for his approval. The final draft approved by Wilson was a compromise of sorts. Instead of stating explicitly the real Zionist intent of founding a Jewish state in Palestine, it concealed this in the diplomatic term “national home”. Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary who appended his name to the document, later confirmed that the real intent was to eventually establish a Jewish state in Palestine.[3]

The lobby returns to Europe

After successfully swaying policy-making in Washington in a pro-Israel direction since the second half of the 20th century, Israel’s American lobby has more recently turned its attention to Europe. There are already signs of considerable progress in their favour. One of the organizations spearheading the charge is the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute, which was set up by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The latter is one of the 60 or so organizations in the US that make up “the Lobby” and has been often described as “the foreign policy wing of the Israel Lobby”[4].  The Transatlantic Institute began its work in Brussels in 2004 and has since then been holding weekly meetings with senior representatives of EU states.[5]  Jeff Blankfort, a prominent American Jewish critic of the Israel lobby wrote in 2006, “Over the past year the EU has moved away from relative support for the Palestinians to adopting one position after another reflecting Israeli demands.” [6]

In 2005 the AJC successfully lobbied the EU’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (renamed in March 2007 the Fundamental Rights Agency   FRA) to adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism in consultation with it and its fellow traveller the Anti-Defamation League. They convinced the EU that certain criticisms of Israel can be regarded as a form of anti-Semitism. Although the FRA is only an advisory body of the EU, its adoption of this definition has been a worrying development as it appeared to exploit the same weapon used by pro-Israelis in their political warfare against their critics. In a very obvious attempt to discredit their opponents, they claim that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”. The charge of anti-Semitism, Mearsheimer and Walt observe, is one of the Lobby’s “most powerful weapons”. They deploy it against those who criticize Israel’s actions and even those who point out that there is an Israel lobby. [7]

In this context, Luisa Morgantini, a former vice-president of the European Parliament, said that while all forms of racism and anti-Semitism must be opposed it was clear that pro-Israel groups exploit the history of Jewish suffering in Europe to dissuade modern-day politicians from taking robust action against Israeli oppression in Palestine. “They are using the holocaust as blackmail,” she said. “It is time for us to stop this blackmail.” [8]

Apart from the Transatlantic Institute other pro-Israel lobby groups have opened new offices in Brussels during the last decade. They include the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith and the European Friends of Israel (EFI). The latter was formed in 2006 as a cross-party alliance of members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Michael Gahler, a German Christian Democrat MEP who describes himself as pro-Israel, claims that such lobby groups have “always been very influential” in Europe. [9]

Israel’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza two years later illustrated the extent to which European officials are prepared to go to accommodate its aggression. In the first instance, Tony Blair – the then British Prime Minister   blocked the EU from formally calling for a ceasefire because he wanted Israel to be given enough time to finish the job against the Lebanese resistance. Not surprisingly, the best the British government could do at the time was issue a statement of “regret” for the killing of hundreds of innocent Lebanese civilians. More recently, Israel’s attack on the Turkish aid ship, Mavi Marmara, on 31 May 2010 in international waters has, like its war on Gaza, unleashed a wave of public criticism across Europe. Henry Siegman, a visiting professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Programme at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, wrote in the Financial Times (24/2/2010) that Israel’s defiance of the international community and its disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people were costing it its legitimacy. It was against this backdrop that the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was recruited to launch on 31st May 2010 (ironically the same day as the attack on the aid flotilla) the “Friends of Israel” initiative, a media-led charm offensive intended to address the dramatic change of circumstances facing Israel.

With specific reference to the EU, it is noteworthy that it did urge a halt to the Israel aggression on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. However, by describing that attack as “disproportionate” EU representatives implicitly adopted the Israeli version of events which claimed that the war was a response to Hamas rockets on the southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Sderot. Tony Blair implied this in a recent speech to a conference in Herzilya; while referring to Gaza he said, “Here the televisual images are so shocking that they tend to overwhelm debate about how or why conflict began.” [10]

Far from merely reacting to what Hamas had done, as suggested, Israel had actually created the conditions that provoked Hamas into a confrontation. In the six months prior to the hostilities Hamas had observed a ceasefire with Israel brokered by Egypt in June 2008. However, that changed on 4th November 2010 when Israeli troops raided Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. The timing of the Israeli attack was not without significance. It coincided with the American elections when the world was preoccupied with the prospect of America electing its first black president. In the end, the Israeli attack went unnoticed internationally.

Worse than its complicity in giving oxygen to Israeli falsehoods, the EU has failed to hold Israel to account for its war crimes. When the UN General Assembly voted on the report submitted by Judge Richard Goldstone into the conduct of the Israeli war on Gaza in November 2009, 22 of the EU’s 27 countries refused to endorse it. The four-member inquiry led by Goldstone found there was no “justifiable military objective” behind 10 of the 11 incidents it examined, in which civilians had been targeted by Israel. Most EU governments sought to evade the legal and political consequences of the report.

Despite an intensive lobbying campaign mounted by European Jewish groups, the European Parliament eventually endorsed the Goldstone report in March 2010. The parliamentary move gives the EU an unprecedented role in assessing the progress of Israel’s war crimes probe, which in principle could lead to prosecutions at The Hague. In a 335-to-287 vote, MEPs backed a joint resolution calling on the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and the bloc’s member states to “publicly demand the implementation of [the report’s] recommendations and accountability for all violations of international law, including alleged war crimes”. Given the almost absolute control of the member states in shaping the EU’s foreign policy it remains very unlikely that this resolution will bring about a change.

Since the war on Gaza, calls for the prosecution of suspected Israeli war criminals have multiplied throughout the EU. In the UK, Foreign Secretary William Hague was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle (JC) on 28th May 2010 as saying that his government “is committed to changing the law on universal jurisdiction”. The proposed changes have been a direct response to the lobbying efforts of pro-Israeli organizations who stepped up their pressure on the British authorities after a warrant was issued for the arrest of Israel’s former Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, in December 2009. A change in the law was just one of the promises made to the Jewish community in a full-page Conservative Party advert in the JC during the 2010 British general election campaign. The issue of Britain’s obligations to uphold the principle of universal jurisdiction has sharply divided public opinion as well as the legal and political establishments with many expressing fears that Britain would become a safe haven for suspected war criminals like Livni and other leading Israelis.

Significantly, Israel has not always waited for its Lobby to act, choosing instead to intervene directly. This was demonstrated on 14th December 2006 when an Israeli television station (Channel 10) broadcast vivid footage that appeared to show the then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during his first official visit to Rome, prodding Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on what to say during their joint press conference. “It is important that you emphasize the three principles of the Quartet — that they are not negotiated (sic). They are the basis for everything… Please say this?” Olmert asked his obliging counterpart. As expected, Prodi did deliver words to that effect. Further, he endorsed Israel’s vision of remaining a Jewish state   a code for ruling out the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and villages.[11]

The EU-Israel Association Agreement

If the influence of the Israel lobby was manifested in the policies of the individual countries, it was even more apparent in the collective policies of the EU. In principle the operative document guiding the relations between the two parties is the EU-Israel Association Agreement which was signed in Brussels on 20th November 1995. It was later ratified by the 15 Member States parliaments, the European Parliament and the Knesset, and came into force on 1st June, 2000. The main features of the EU-Israel Association Agreement include provisions on regular political dialogue, on freedom of establishment and liberalization of services, the free movement of capital and competition rules, the strengthening of economic cooperation and cooperation on social matters. More specifically, Article 2 states that the relationship between the EU and Israel shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guide their internal and international policy as an essential element of the Agreement.

Despite the Zionist state’s manifestly poor human rights record, in June 2008 the EU undertook to upgrade its relations with Israel, a move which demonstrated, if nothing else, how pervasive the influence of the lobby had become within the EU. The announcement by the EU-Israel Association Council   the body, headed by foreign ministers, which conducts the bilateral relations between Israel and European Union member states   was made at a meeting in Luxembourg, attended by Israel’s then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, and EU foreign ministers. Widely seen as an EU reward to Israel for its serial breach of human rights and humanitarian conventions, the announcement promised to usher in a new era in Israeli-European relations.

In the aftermath of the war on Gaza in 2009 the EU suspended plans to upgrade bilateral relations with Israel. The proposed upgrade aimed to turn Israel into a “privileged” partner enjoying special political, diplomatic and trade links with the EU. In the circumstances, however, Israeli officials were confident that such measures were intended only to absorb public anger before a return to the status quo ante. Thus, in total disregard of the atrocities and violations committed by the Occupying Power, in November last year, the EU entered into an agricultural trade agreement with Israel making it possible for 80% of Israel’s fresh produce and 95% of its processed foods to be exported to the EU free of customs duties.

By March 2010 there were fresh reports of renewed efforts to upgrade the relations. Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, wrote to the EU’s Cathy Ashton: “If the EU’s international standing is to be preserved, the Union can no longer continue to exude a double standard when it comes to the state of Israel. This double standard is not only in violation of the Union’s own obligations; by its inaction the EU also becomes complicit in Israel’s policy of disregard for fundamental human rights and its violations of international law.” [12]

For several years prior to the Gaza war there were persistent calls across Europe for the suspension of the Association Agreement. In fact, in October 2003 a survey conducted by the European Commission revealed that 60% of Europeans saw Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. Reacting to the poll, Israel’s Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Nathan Sharansky, said the poll showed that “behind the ‘political’ criticism of Israel lies nothing but anti-Semitism.” In the US, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre condemned the European Commission and demanded that the EU no longer be represented in the Quartet mediation between Israel and Palestine. Following a meeting with top officials of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York in November 2003 the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, was obliged to issue the following statement:

I am very concerned at the results of this survey. They point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand. To the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical. In the Europe born in reaction to the horrors of war and the Shoah, there is no place for anti-Semitism and it cannot be tolerated. [13]

Since 2003 Israel has launched two major wars, against Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008-09. Its attack on the international aid flotilla in May 2010 was found by a UN panel of human rights experts to be “clearly unlawful”; it “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”. Although these actions caused huge damage to Israel’s international image, it still enjoys extremely cordial and profitable links with the EU. That reality was underscored by Javier Solana, shortly before he stepped down as the EU’s foreign policy chief at a conference convened by Israel’s President Shimon Peres under the title: Facing Tomorrow (Jerusalem, 20-22 October 2009). Solana said, “There is no country outside the European continent that has this type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union.” He added, “Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions. It’s a member of all the [EU’s] programmes; it participates in all the programmes.” [14]

More revealingly, Solana pointed out that while not being a candidate for admission, Israel has closer ties to the European Union than even those countries which are poised for membership. Such grovelling attitudes by senior European officials were always translated into policy, making it possible for Israel to become the main external participant in the Union’s “framework programme” for scientific research and for Israeli arms companies to become eligible for EU funding. Israeli officials predict that their participation in the programme, which came into operation in 2007, will be worth €500 million by the time it concludes in 2013.[15]  Prominent among the main beneficiaries of these grants is Motorola Israel, which is taking part in an EU-financed surveillance project, known as iDetect4All. Bizarrely, Motorola has installed a radar system in 47 Israeli settlements in the West Bank over the past five years. The system is expected to detect intruders into the settlements.[16] Another prominent recipient of EU grants is Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the manufacturer of aircraft used in military campaigns against Palestinian civilians.

In Britain, one of the leading companies supplying equipment to Israel, often via the US, is BAE Systems. In 2002 Britain delivered “head-up displays” manufactured by BAE Systems to Lockheed Martin who in turn installed them in F-16 fighter-bombers destined for Israel. Apache helicopters used against Palestinians, says David Cronin, contain parts made by SPS Aerostructures in Nottinghamshire, Smiths Industries in Cheltenham, Page Aerospace in Middlesex and Meggit Avionics in Hampshire. Despite the indiscriminate use of this military largesse against civilians in the Occupied Territories the EU has taken no action to stop the trade. In fact, during the first three months of 2008, Britain gave licences for £20m worth of weapons for Israel, which Robert Fisk notes was just in time for the onslaught on Gaza. [17]

While economic and strategic considerations have underpinned EU policies in Palestine it is strikingly clear that ideological factors also play a role. Since September 2009, the European Parliament’s official delegation to the Knesset has been headed by the Dutch politician Bastiaan Belder, a member of the Political Reformed Party (known by its Dutch acronym SGP). The party views the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the fulfilment of a Biblical prophecy. One of its key documents on foreign affairs states, “Therefore, we are committed to a secure existence for Israel in the territory that God has assigned to the Jewish people. The Jews are the ‘beloved of the father’s will’, to which the Lord assigned their country, as is written in the Old Testament.”18 For all it’s worth, Belder’s brand of aggressive Christian Zionism cannot be divorced from his country’s recent history where 70% of Dutch Jews were killed during the Nazi holocaust. Henri Veldhuis, a Calvinist theologian and a Palestine solidarity campaigner points out that since then there has been “quite a lot of enthusiasm [in the Netherlands] about the small State of Israel.” [18]

Many others who act on behalf of Israel in Europe have advanced similar Biblical arguments to justify their actions, claiming that Europe is Judeo-Christian and that Israel cannot be abandoned. This was evident in an article written by Jose Maria Aznar shortly after he launched the Friends of Israel initiative on 31st May 2010. The organisation was reportedly established by Dore Gold, an American-born Israeli who heads the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs and was formerly an adviser to Ariel Sharon and the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Aznar wrote in The Times newspaper, “Israel is our first line of defence in a turbulent region that is constantly at risk of descending into chaos; a region vital to our energy security owing to our overdependence on Middle Eastern oil; a region that forms the front line in the fight against extremism. If Israel goes down, we all go down.” [19]

The EU and Jerusalem

One of the clearest examples of the influence of the lobby on EU policy was demonstrated in November 2009 when the Union released a draft policy document authored by the Swedish government, which held the presidency at the time, proposing recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Article 1 read, “The European Union calls for the urgent resumption of negotiations that will lead, within an agreed time-frame, to a two-state solution with an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, comprising of the West Bank and Gaza and with East Jerusalem as its capital…” The document also emphasised that the EU Council “has never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem” and called “on the Israeli government to cease all discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”  [20]

Since 1967 most European countries have supported the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. They have regarded East Jerusalem consistently as occupied territory in line with international law, and not the “unified capital” claimed by Israel. The draft Swedish document, however, drew a harsh response from Israelis and its lobby in Europe. A statement by Israel’s foreign ministry accused Sweden of leading a process which it claimed “harms the European Union’s ability to take part as a significant mediator in the political process between Israel and the Palestinians”.[21]  One week after the proposal was announced the EU foreign ministers dropped the earlier reference stating explicitly that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state and called instead for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state as part of a negotiated peace.

Reflection of national policy

On the whole, the policies adopted by the EU are in many respects a microcosm of the national policies of member states towards Palestine. That Britain has been a strong defender of Israel in the EU is largely an extension of its domestic politics where the Israel lobby has dominated the major parties and policy-making for generations. Writing in the New Statesman in January 2002, the British author Dennis Sewell observed, “That there is a Zionist lobby and that it is rich, potent and effective goes largely unquestioned on the left.” He argued that wealthy businessmen working in concert with the Israeli embassy in London coerced newspaper editors and proprietors regularly to ensure that the pro-Palestinian position is marginalised both in news reporting and on the comment pages.[22] The same influence has been exercised on the two main political parties, Labour and Conservative.

While the Labour Party was a long tradition of having sympathetic views toward the Palestinians the New Labour government of Tony Blair departed from this orientation decisively. One of Tony Blair’s first acts after becoming an MP in 1983 was to join Labour Friends of Israel (LFI). Each of the three main political parties, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have ‘Friends of Israel’ groups. For many career politicians, membership is a seen as a gateway to success. In the case of Tony Blair his success was even more assured after he developed a close personal relationship with a certain Michael Abraham Levy, whom he met in 1994 at a dinner party hosted by Gideon Meir, the number two diplomat at the Israeli embassy. Levy, a former chairman of the Jewish Care Community Foundation, a member of the World Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust, offered to raise large sums of money for the Labour Party. Andrew Porter of Business magazine said this led to a “tacit understanding that Labour would never again, while Blair was leader, be anti-Israel.” [23]

Levy’s involvement in the Labour Party fund-raising drive saw a remarkable shift toward private funding instead of the traditional source, namely the trade unions, thus weakening their say over policy. [24] Shortly after Labour came to power in 1997 Levy was ennobled and appointed as Blair’s Middle East envoy in 2000. Bearing in mind that Levy had business interests in Israel, that he was also a fund raiser for Ehud Barak and that his son worked for Yossi Beilin – the former Justice Minister of Israel   it was no wonder that Britain thereafter pursued a policy that was enormously pro-Israeli. The apparent conflict of interest made it impossible for the Blair government to negotiate impartially between the Palestinians and Israelis.

With regard to the Conservative Party, its support for the Zionist cause can be traced back to 1905 and the famous meeting between the then Conservative Prime Minister Arthur J Balfour and the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann. It is believed that during the meeting Weizmann convinced Balfour of the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine. Around the same time, Weizmann also converted the future Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to the cause. [25]

Today, the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is undoubtedly the best connected, and probably the best funded, of all Westminster lobbying groups. It is estimated that at least eighty percent of Conservative MPs are members. As a matter of course the party leader and senior member, particularly the foreign secretary, are often expected to appear at CFI events. [26]

Apart from their funding of candidates the CFI organizes regular trips to Israel for British politicians and members of parliament. More than 30 such trips were organized between 2006 and 2009. From the lobby’s point of view none of the funds spent on such visits are expended without strings. At best, recipients are expected to give unreserved support to Israel; at worst, they should remain silent or neutral. Thus, when William Hague, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticised Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006 describing it as ‘disproportionate’ he was threatened by Lord Harold Kalms, a leading Tory donor and member of the CFI, with the withdrawal of funding. The British political analyst Peter Oborne recalled that he was informed by Tory sources that Stuart Polak, Director of Conservative Friends of Israel, secured subsequently an undertaking from party leader David Cameron never to use the word “disproportionate” withreference to Israel again. [27]

Outside of the party structures, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), is arguably Britain’s foremost pro-Israel lobby. Founded in 2001 as an equivalent to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), BICOM is bankrolled by its Chairman Poju Zabludowicz, a Finnish billionaire and former arms dealer. He is also a major donor to the Conservative Party. According to Electoral Commission records, he has donated £70,000 to the Conservative Party, including £15,000 to David Cameron for his campaign to become party leader. Other prominent members of BICOM, including Michael Lewis and Trevor Pears, are also members of the CFI; the three together form the mainstay of the Israel lobby in Britain.  [28]

On 4 January 2009, at the height of the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, Rajeev Syal published an article entitled, “How the pro-Israel lobby in Britain benefits from a generous London tycoon” in the Observer. In Britain, Zabludowicz is regarded as “non-dom” (non-domiciled), meaning he does not pay taxes in the UK. The Times online (2007) quoted a spokesperson for Cameron as saying: “There is no secret about the fact that Zabludowicz is a non-dom, but he has given through his UK limited companies. It is completely above board.” One such company is the Tamares private investment group, which is based in London, New York, Lichtenstein and Tel Aviv.

Since the mid-1980s Zabludowicz has been a close friend of Benyamin Netanyahu; so close that Zabludowicz allowed Netanyahu to use his villa in Caesarea for a family vacation during his first term as Prime Minister. When the Israeli Prime Minister last visited Britain Zabludowicz organized a meeting for him with the editors of some of the leading British newspapers. [29]

From the interview it is clear that Zabludowicz is not a run of the mill financier. In Britain, he enjoys a de facto ambassadorial status. According to Sami Peretz, his interviewer, “Zabludowicz is the ambassador who finances and personally deals with advancing the status of Israel, but on the other hand he has sharp criticism about the information services provided by Israel.” He is “well-connected to [British] politics, and in recent months he has been one of the businessmen and contributors with very close relations with David Cameron, the Conservative candidate for Prime Minister, who, according to surveys, is viewed as certain to be elected. The evening of the day he is being interviewed, he asks to finish by 18:00 because, at 19:00 he is participating in a meeting of a select few with Cameron.” [30]


Pro-Israel lobbying activities in Europe preceded the creation of Israel itself. The Jewish and Israel lobbies have exerted considerable and consistent influence over European policies and strategies over the course of the entire post-World War I period and arguably over the entire course of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. Without the unlimited support of western governments, particularly that of Britain, the enterprise to colonise Palestine could never have succeeded. The first Zionist Congress convened in Basle in August 1897 recognised the importance of European support and specifically entrusted Theodore Herzl with the task of finding a colonial power to sponsor the project.

For a combination of economic, strategic and even ideological reasons British officials responded favourably to the Zionists. Not only did Britain provide political and diplomatic support but it also intervened militarily at critical junctures in history at the behest of the Zionists. During the mandatory period Britain deployed massive force to crush the 1936-39 Arab revolt and in 1956 joined with France and Israel in the Tripartite Aggression against Egypt. Six decades on, western support remains indispensable for the Zionist project.

While the US remains the main protector and patron of the project the role of the EU is, increasingly, becoming important for a number of reasons. Europe being the largest trading bloc with Israel it is now demanding a greater political role in the region that is commensurate with its economic involvement. As the EU intensifies its efforts to forge a common foreign policy, within the International Quartet the Israel lobby has stepped up its political warfare in Brussels and other European capitals. This change of policy has come after decades of Israeli efforts to drive a wedge between Europe and the US (particularly Britain because of its “special relationship” with America). In the decades after World War II Israeli officials believed that as long as Britain remained influential in the US, Israel could not possibly have a special relationship with the US.

Across Europe the lobbying efforts to influence British policy in this area were pursued through finance and investment interests, as well as through the major political parties; the latter focused across the entire political spectrum from the extreme left to the right-wing of the Conservative Party. At all times attempts are made to link Israel to the strategies of Europe to the extent of harnessing them for Israel’s own grand strategic purposes; hence the obsession today of European countries with Iran’s so-called “nuclear threat”, a capability that remains to be proven.

It is noteworthy that it was the French who laid the foundations for Israel’s own nuclear programme. Francis Perrin, the French high commissioner for atomic energy, visited Israel in 1949 and by 1953 the two countries had signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. The Israelis were given access to data that proved useful in their pursuit of nuclear weapons. On some occasions Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, called the Dimona nuclear installation a “textile plant” and at other times a “pumping station”. This point notwithstanding, in 1961 Allen Dulles, the Director of the CIA, wrote in a memo that “…Ben Gurion, without the knowledge of his Cabinet gave the order sometime in 1956 to begin construction of a second nuclear, plutonium-producing reactor which would permit, if necessary, the manufacture of an atomic bomb. Yet, as late as 1963 Shimon Peres, then deputy Defence Minister still insisted that the purpose of the plant was to turn the Negev desert into a ‘garden.’’ [31]

In 1981, the United Nations Security Council passed UNSC Resolution No. 487 asking Israel to put its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguard. In 1995 and 2000 the Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) stressed the significance of Israel’s accession to the NPT and of putting all its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguard. Despite efforts by Arab countries to put additional pressure on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the Israel lobby has convinced US and European officials that the Zionist state’s nuclear weapons arsenal is “a special case” because of its “unique security concerns”.

With regard to the impact of the lobby on British policy, Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador in Tehran and consul in Jerusalem, explained, “But there is a pro-Israel lobby and it’s active in trying to define the debate in order to limit the options that British politicians can choose to options that would be acceptable to that lobby.” [32]

Altogether, the political impact of the lobby’s influence has been manifested in the patterns of voting at the UN. Between 1972 and 1997 Britain and France voted the same way as China and the Soviet Union/Russia, and the opposite way to the US, on almost 80% of Middle East resolutions in the Security Council. The Labour government elected in 1997 changed Britain’s approach subtly. Since 2003, France has continued to vote the same way as China and Russia, but the UK has abstained on every Middle East resolution which the US has vetoed. This suggests a growing reluctance to be seen to be contradicting US and, by extension, Israeli policy. [33] If nothing else, it can be safely said that the Lobby has realized Theodore Herzl’s dream in Palestine when he said, “We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia…” [34]

* Dr. Daud Abdullah: Director, the Middle East Monitor, London.

[1] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (American Zionist Emergency Council, New York: 1946), p.96.
[2] A. Tibawi, Anglo-Arab Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1914-1921 (London:1977) p. 197 Citing Telegrams No.633 to Lord Bertie (Paris) and No. 574 to Sir George Buchanan (Petrograd), both dated 11th March 1916. F.O. 371/2817.
[3] R. Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary, 1917-1956 (London:1960), pp.103-05.
 [4] D. Cronin, “Pro-Israel lobbies target Europe”, The Electronic Intifada, 3 February 2010. See also M. Ó Cathail, “Israel’s European Lobby”, Dissident Voice, October 28th, 2009.
 [5] Ibid.
 [6] J. Blankfort, “The Influence of Israel and its American Lobby over US Middle East Policy”, a paper presented at a conference organized by the Islamic Human Rights Commission Conference, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, July 2, 2006.
 [7] J. Mearsheimer & S. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, (Penguin Books, London:2007), p.188.
 [8] Cronin, op.cit.
 [9] Ibid.
 [10] The Jewish Chronicle, 27th August 2010.
 [11] D. Cronin, “Europe’s Alliance with Israel”, P U L S E, 4th March 2010.
 [12] D. Cronin, “EU boosts Israel ties, ignores illegal settlements”, Inter Press Service, 24th March 2010.
 [13] The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “European Commission President Praised for Strong Statement Against Anti-Semitism”, 3rd November 2003, click here
 [14] Cronin, “Europe’s Alliance with Israel”, op.cit.
 [15] Ibid.
 [16] Ibid.
 [17] R. Fisk, “Israel has crept into the EU without anyone noticing”, The Independent, 1st August 2010.
 [18] 18 D. Cronin, “Israel finds allies in Europe’s Christian fundamentalists”, The Electronic Intifada, 28 April 2010.
 [19] Ibid.
 [20] J. Aznar, “Support Israel: if it goes down, we all go down”, The Times, 17th June 2010.
 [21] Haaretz, 1st December 2009.
 [22] The Independent, 2nd December 2009.
 [23] D. Sewell, “A kosher conspiracy?” New Statesman, 14th January 2002.
[24] J. Roberts, “The Influence of Israel in Westminster”, The Palestine Chronicle, 24th May 2008, click here
[25] Ibid.
[26] P. Oborne & J. Jones, The pro-Israel lobby in Britain, Open Democracy, 13th November 2009, p. 10, click here
[27] Ibid., p.8
[28] Ibid., p.11.
[29] Z. Abdullah, “An analysis of the Tory foreign policy framework toward the Middle East”, The Middle East Monitor, Briefing Paper, April 2010, p.6. click here   See his interview with Sami Peretz of the Israeli newspaper, The Marker, 12th February 2010.
[30] Ibid.
[31]A. & L. Cockburn, Dangerous liaison (Mackays of Chatham Plc, London: 1992), pp.86-7.
[32] Oborne, op.cit., p.22.
[33]Ibid., p.21.
[34] Herzl, op.cit., p.96.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 6/1/2011