Britain’s Labor Party has been trying to rebrand itself lately after a 13-year spell in government. During an annual conference last month, the most memorable remark by its leader Ed Miliband was “I am not Tony Blair.”
This commitment to change does not appear to have affected Labor’s stance on the Middle East. John Spellar, a shadow Foreign Office minister, has an especially close relationship with London’s pro-Israel lobby.
An inspection of Spellar’s declaration of interests shows that he travelled to the Herzliya security conference, one of the key events on the Israeli political calendar, in February. His airfare and accommodation (estimated total: £1,970 or $3,170) was paid for by David Menton, a director of the Britain Israel Research Center (BICOM). In its own words, that lobby outfit is “dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain.”
Thanks to a source who shall remain nameless, I also learned that Spellar’s researcher Linda Smith is a partner of BICOM staff member Luke Akehurst (a former spindoctor for the arms industry). Smith and Akehurst both serve as Labor members of Hackney Council, a local authority in London.
I emailed Smith earlier today, asking if her views on the Middle East differ from those of Akehurst but did not receive a reply. Spellar has also not responded to a request for comment.
Lobby at center of resignation scandal
This information about Spellar’s connection to BICOM appears all the more significant given the organization’s role in a controversy leading to the recent resignation of Liam Fox as Britain’s defense secretary. Fox, who belongs to the Conservative Party, was severely embarrassed over revelations that his close friend Adam Werritty was posing as his official adviser during foreign travels, when Werritty had been given no such job by the British government. The Guardian newspaper revealed that Werritty’s jet-set lifestyle was being bankrolled by three prosperous Zionists. They included Poju Zabludowicz, BICOM’s chairman. When Werritty attended the 2009 Herzilya conference, his expenses were covered by BICOM.
David Menton, the man who picked up the tab for Spellar’s trip to Israel earlier this year, is a business associate of Zabludowicz, a billionaire who owns a sizeable chunk of Las Vegas. Menton is a founder of Synova Capital, a private equity fund. According to Synova’s website, the fund’s “cornerstone investor” is the Tamares Group, which is led by Zabludowicz.
I was intrigued to read an article by Spellar, in which he bragged of Labor’s affinity with the poor. It is difficult to square that posture with his willingness to go on junkets funded by a wealthy supporter of Israel, a state that denies an entire people their most elementary rights.
●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 28 October 2011.