Well, it would appear that the so-called "Israel lobby" isn't just a Washington phenomenon. On Monday, British television's Channel Four aired a one-hour exposé
revealing the pervasive influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the highest realms of British politics and media.
The documentary's producers were motivated by the belief that this powerful lobby had been inadequately studied
, even ignored, by Britain's mainstream press. And so they set out to explore the financial, political and journalistic means by which this group exerts its influence.
Among other things, they found that the two major party-affiliated pro-Israel lobbies -- Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel -- accounted for 13 percent of all funded trips abroad for members of Parliament and candidates. These trips to Israel exceeded those to any other country. In turn, many sensitive foreign affairs, defense and intelligence posts in the House of Commons are often held by MPs with connections to the lobbying groups. Of particular note for the upcoming general elections, the documentary reveals that at least half
of the "shadow cabinet" (opposition leadership) members are also members of Conservative Friends of Israel and have received substantial financial contributions -- though CFI disputes the figures given.
American readers will no doubt shrug their shoulders at this point and say, "Yeah, so what?" The pro-Israel lobby in the United States has long been a mainstay in the corridors of power. The president regularly meets
with Jewish leaders. A few years back, two American political scientists -- John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt -- caused quite a stir (to put it mildly) with their essay, then book
, alleging that the Israel lobby had a pervasive effect on American foreign policy, skewing it in directions that were both strategically and morally unjustifiable.
But this is Europe, and things work a bit differently here. Regardless of where you fall on the whole complicated Palestinian issue (for the record, my 8-year-old son blames the British), one of the first things you notice when moving to the U.K. is how much more weight is given to the Palestinian side of things. You see it on the news, you hear it on the radio. It's just in the air.
It's probably no accident that the Mearsheimer/Walt essay was first published in the London Review of Books
. No one in the United States wanted to touch it. Even Harvard University
disavowed any relationship to the initial working paper on which the report was based. My husband and I tried to hear the authors speak at the London School of Economics a few years back and we couldn't get in: it was SRO. Walt and Mearsheimer were like rock stars here. (Dorothy, we aren't in Kansas anymore.)
I also remember attending a dinner with some friends -- several of whom are Jewish -- about nine months ago, right after Israeli forces left Gaza. I casually observed that, from a journalistic perspective, I'd found it striking that the London Review of Books
had failed to include one single pro-Israel commentary in its contributors' response
to the conflict in Gaza. It just seemed weird -- if not short-sighted.
It took us nearly an hour to move on from that conversation. Interestingly, their view (more than one of them works or has worked for the BBC) was that the press here -- and the BBC in particular -- is "wildly pro-Israel." Huh? Are we listening to the same radio station?
The BBC took a lot of heat
earlier this year when it declined to air a charity appeal for the people of Gaza. Again, journalistically, I thought it was absolutely the right decision.
All of which is to say that the likely prospect of a Conservative government that's sympathetic to Israel really is big news here. And not something that's likely to be greeted with open arms.
I also find the timing of these developments interesting. The pro-Israel lobby in Britain appears to be cresting precisely when its longstanding American counterpart is undergoing a major shake-up. Earlier this year, a self-styled "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby called J Street
opened its doors in Washington, offering a deliberately less hawkish alterative to AIPAC
. Last month, J Street hosted its first conference
with a number of key Washington insiders, including National Security Adviser Jim Jones.
More interestingly still, the Channel Four story aired on exactly the same day that the Palestinians formally asked the EU
to recognize a fully independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.
It looks like everyone's going to have their work cut out for them. Follow Delia on Twitter.