The Israel lobby in the UK, often referred to as pro-Israel advocacy groups and organizations, plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and influencing government policy on matters related to Israel and Palestine. These advocacy groups work diligently to foster strong ties between the UK and Israel, advocating for policies that support Israel’s interests. Their influence extends into lobbying activities designed to sway the views of members of Parliament (MPs) and government officials, often involving the dissemination of information, hosting events, and promoting pro-Israel policies.
However, questions arise regarding the UK government’s stance on the conflict, especially in instances where the slaughter in Gaza occurred and arms sales to Israel continued. The answer to this perplexing issue can be traced back to the activities of two influential pro-Israel pressure groups in the UK.
In 2015, during a ceasefire in Gaza, Downing Street confirmed a review of arms sales to Israel after then-Prime Minister David Cameron expressed agreement with the United Nations’ condemnation of the shelling of schools, deeming it a “moral outrage.” The government promised to revoke some arms licenses if there were a substantial resumption of bombings. The ceasefire ended, yet the Israeli bombings persisted, resulting in hundreds more innocent victims, including over 560 dead children. Astonishingly, UK arms sales to Israel continued unabated.
The strength of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK cannot be underestimated. Although Jews make up a mere 0.5 percent of the UK’s population, their lobbying efforts remain potent. This lobby operates discreetly under the seemingly benign banners of “Conservative Friends of Israel” (CFI) and “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI), yet its influence is undeniable.
For instance, in June 2009, shortly after the Cast Lead operation in Gaza, which garnered international attention for the civilian casualties it inflicted, David Cameron addressed the grand annual lunch of the CFI at the Dorchester. What raised eyebrows was the absence of any reference to Gaza in his speech. Instead, he lavished praise on Israel for “striving to protect innocent life,” a statement that left many struggling to reconcile Cameron’s remarks with the well-documented human rights abuses in Gaza.
The Israel lobby has cultivated remarkable connections at the highest echelons of British politics and has not hesitated to employ them. Remarkably, a significant number of members of the shadow cabinet were part of the Conservative Friends of Israel before the 2010 general election. This apparent alignment of interests raises questions about the absence of significant criticism of Israel, even after the illegal and deadly invasion of Lebanon in 2004 or following reports of war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 Cast Lead operation in Gaza, where Israel admitted to using white phosphorus, a substance prohibited under international law.
In the complex landscape of political lobbying in the UK, the pro-Israel lobby stands as one of the most formidable players. Its influence is wielded discreetly and within high-level circles, contributing to its effectiveness in shaping policies and decisions. The controversies and questions surrounding this lobby underscore the need for transparency and scrutiny in the arena of international relations and lobbying efforts in the UK.