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Two-Fifths of Keir Starmer’s Cabinet Have Been Funded by Pro-Israel Lobbyists.



The Expose has previously reported that a powerful Westminster lobby group took money from an organisation with close ties to the State of Israel and that around 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), the largest funder of foreign trips for British politicians. However, it is not only the Tory government who have taken funds, as Keir Starmer’s cabinet has also been funded by pro-Israel lobbyists according to Declassified.


Two-Fifths of Keir Starmer’s Cabinet Have Been Funded by Pro-Israel Lobbyists


by John McEvoy for Declassified.


As Labour refuses to join calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, Declassified reveals the extent to which the shadow cabinet, including Starmer himself, has been financed by a pro-Israel lobby group and an individual funder.


Some 13 of the 31 members of Labour’s shadow cabinet have received donations from a prominent pro-Israel lobby group or individual funder, it can be revealed. 


The list of recipients includes party leader Keir Starmer, his deputy Angela Rayner, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, and even the former vice-chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, Lisa Nandy, who is now shadow international development minister.


These donations were provided by Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), a pro-Israel lobby group which takes MPs on “fact-finding” missions to the region, and Sir Trevor Chinn, a multi-millionaire business tycoon and long-time pro-Israel lobbyist.


More than half of Starmer’s shadow cabinet are listed as parliamentary supporters or officers of LFI.


The group was established in 1957 to “act as a bridge linking [Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s party] Mapai… with the Labour Movement in Great Britain”.


It has since described itself as “a Westminster-based lobby group working within the British Labour Party to promote the State of Israel”.


Labour Friends of Israel


LFI does not disclose its funders but was revealed during an undercover Al Jazeera documentary in 2017 to have close relations with the Israeli embassy in London.


The organisation’s parliamentary officer, for instance, admitted on camera that LFI and the Israeli embassy “work really closely together, but a lot of it is behind the scenes”.


One of LFI’s main activities is to fund Labour MPs to go on “fact-finding” missions to Israel. 

Declassified has found that since 2002, LFI has contributed over £150,000 towards such activities. Between 2001 and 2009, LFI took more Labour MPs on trips abroad than any other lobby group. 


“Eight members of Starmer’s shadow cabinet have received money from LFI to travel to Israel”


Eight members of Starmer’s shadow cabinet have received money from LFI to travel to Israel since being elected MPs. This includes David Lammy, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, shadow business, energy, and industrial strategy secretary Jonathan Reynolds, and shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry. 


A further recipient of travel funds is shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, who is currently a parliamentary vice-chair of LFI.


The value of the trips for the members of the shadow cabinet amounts to over £17,000, with additional expenses in Israel frequently covered by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


LFI has also donated to Wayne David, the shadow foreign minister for the Middle East and North Africa.


‘Essential strategic partner’


“We are proud of Labour’s record in government to strengthen the ties between Britain and Israel”, LFI’s website states. “We view Israel as an essential strategic partner in the Middle East”.


In July 2022, David Lammy made an unpublicised trip to Israel which was organised mainly by the Labour party but with the help of LFI, Declassified understands.


Lammy’s visit came after a number of human rights organisations, including Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch and B’tselem, had criticised Israel’s practice of apartheid against Palestinians.


Michael Rubin, LFI’s director, noted that Lammy’s “first visit to Israel as Shadow Foreign Secretary is an important moment in the restoration of Labour’s deep and historic ties of friendship with the Jewish state”.


Starmer has described LFI as ‘an invaluable source of energy and ideas for me and my team’


Keir Starmer has addressed a number of LFI events. In a keynote speech to its annual lunch in November 2021, he repeated the racist and colonial adage that Israel was founded by “social democrats who made the desert flower”.


Last month, Starmer addressed the LFI reception at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, describing the lobby group as “an invaluable source of energy and ideas for me and my team”.


As of 31 October, just four of the 79 MPs and MSPs listed as LFI supporters or officers have signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion which calls for “an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities”. 


It also calls for “the end of the total siege of Gaza” in order “to guarantee international humanitarian law is upheld and that civilians are protected”. No members of the shadow cabinet have signed the motion.


Pro-Israel lobbying


Sir Trevor Chinn is a British multi-millionaire who has spent decades working in the motor industry, chairing such organisations as the AA, the RAC, and Kwikfit.


Chinn is also a longstanding pro-Israel lobbyist. Since the 1980s, he has funded LFI and Conservative Friends of Israel and played a leading role in groups such as Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) and the Jewish Leadership Council.


The Guardian described BICOM in 2009 as “Britain’s most active pro-Israeli lobbying organisation – which flies journalists to Israel on fact-finding trips and organises access to senior government figures”. 


It added that the organisation had “received nearly £1.4m in two years from a billionaire donor whose father made a fortune manufacturing arms in Israel”, referring to Poju Zabludowicz, a London-based business tycoon.


Starmer received a £50,000 donation from Chinn during his campaign for the Labour leadership in 2020 – and failed to declare this until after he’d won the election.


Declassified has found that Chinn has donated to eight other members of the shadow cabinet, including Rayner, Lammy, Reeves, Streeting, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson, shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall, and shadow environment secretary Steve Reed.


Remarkably, Lisa Nandy, a former vice-chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, has also  accepted money from Chinn. 


The value of Chinn’s donations to Starmer and members of his shadow cabinet amounts to almost £200,000. In a speech to LFI’s annual lunch in 2022, Reeves thanked Chinn for “your friendship and your invaluable support to Keir and our party”.


Chinn is also one of the key bankrollers of Labour Together, recently described  in Politico as a “highly influential think tank quietly shaping the direction of the party”. Chinn has  furnished the group with over £360,000 over recent years.


Annexation


While Chinn supports a number of pro-Israel initiatives in Britain, he is not reflexively supportive of Israeli government policy. In 2020, he signed an open letter warning that Israel’s annexation of the West Bank “poses an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it”.


The letter continued that: “Annexation would be a shot in the arm for the BDS [Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment] movement and the delegitimisation of Israel. It will take calls for sanctions against Israel away from the fringes of the far-left and catapult them into the mainstream of the political discourse”.


Other forms of lobbying don’t make it onto the register of interests. As Electronic Intifada  revealed, Steve Reed recently met with Chinn and others to discuss Labour policy on the BDS movement.


“Steve will never accept attempts to exceptionalize and delegitimize Israel”, leaked minutes from the meeting noted. “Steve committed to discuss with the Whips and the Leader’s Office about legislation on BDS”.


Luke Akehurst, a member of Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee, is the director of We Believe in Israel, a pro-Zionist lobby group which has confirmed that it works “with a range of stakeholders including the Israeli embassy”.


Keir Starmer: Friend of Israel


It is difficult to measure the overall impact of these lobbying efforts on Labour’s current policy on Israel. 


LFI supports calls for a “humanitarian pause” in the bombing rather than a ceasefire, and frequently shares posts from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on Twitter.


The Labour Party’s current support for Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza and opposition to a ceasefire is also clearly guided by a reluctance to step out of line with US policy.


As Declassified recently reported, the Labour Party is seeking to foster the Atlantic relationship and has been signalling to Washington that the “brief period when Jeremy Corbyn’s party challenged the establishment consensus on foreign policy” is well and truly over.


However, the pro-Israel campaign remains one of the largest lobbying forces within British politics, and this clearly buys a certain degree of influence.


Since becoming leader of the Labour party, Starmer has been a loyal friend of Israel,  refusing to join leading human rights organisations in naming Israel as an apartheid state and abstaining on the BDS bill which prevents public bodies from boycotting Israel.


He even suggested Israel “has the right” to withhold power and water from Gaza, before  attempting to backtrack on this. In recent days, Starmer has reemphasised that he does “not believe” that a ceasefire in the Middle East is the “correct position”.



John McEvoy is an independent journalist who has written for International History Review, The Canary, Tribune Magazine, Jacobin and Brasil Wire.

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