Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Complaint filed over secret donors to "friends of Israel"

Last week I wrote about how Labor Friends of Israel (LFI) – a lobby group within Britain’s largest opposition party – appears to be breaking a law on political donations. I am happy to report that the UK’s Electoral Commission has now received a formal request to investigate the LFI and similar organizations affiliated to the country’s ruling coalition.

Jenny Tonge, a member of the House of Lords, has alerted the Commission to the lack of transparency over how Zionist support groups are funded.

Tonge’s letter draws attention to apparent omissions in the information that the “friends of Israel” groups within Labor and the senior government party, the Conservatives, have submitted to the Commission. Under legislation dating from 2001, all donations exceeding £7,500 ($11,600) to “member’s associations” within political parties have to be disclosed.

The LFI has reported spending nearly £77,000 on trips to the Middle East for members of Parliament between 2003 and 2009 and is known to have at least two full-time members of staff. The Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) have reported expenditure of more than £110,000 on travel since 2011, yet have indicated that they only received donations totalling £29,350 in that period.

Tonge wrote, “The Commission surely has an obligation to examine their finances, together with those of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, to ensure that they have not failed to declare any donations above the threshold, as it does seem remarkable to have this level of expenditure without significant donations from groups or individuals.”

Pounding the drumbeat of war

The LFI’s reticence over its funding is at odds with its determination to prove that it is shaping policy. Its 15 December newsletter gloated at how the first visit to Israel and the West Bank by Douglas Alexander, since his appointment as shadow foreign secretary in January this year, was hosted by the LFI.
During the visit Alexander met Israel’s chief spindoctor Mark Regev, a man who has perfected the art of looking suave while telling lies. Alexander showed just how amenable he was to Israeli propaganda by going to see a high school in southern Israel -- where, in his words “classrooms doubled up as bomb shelters.”

His itinerary did not include an excursion into the nearby Gaza Strip, where he could have inspected schools destroyed by the highly-equipped Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead three years ago. At least 353 Palestinian children were killed by Israel in that three-week offensive.

The same newsletter illustrates that LFI – like its beloved Regev – has a tenuous relationship with the truth. It brands Iran’s nuclear programme “illegal” and notes that the Labor hierarchy has pledged support for sanctions against the Tehran regime. Readers are not provided with any background details about how it was Israel, not Iran, that introduced nuclear weapons to the Middle East and how it is Israel, not Iran, that has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The newsletter proceeds to recommend an article by Alan Johnson from the Britain Israel Research Center (BICOM), who praised the British government’s determination “to end the diplomatic merry-go-round, to see Iran plain and to act, now and decisively, to confront it.”

If the “Friends of Israel” are pounding the drumbeat of war against Iran, then it is vital that they be closely monitored.

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 28 December 2011.

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