Labour ‘not in the pockets of Israel,’ says Shadow Minister Wayne David
Shadow Middle East Minister and Caerphilly MP Wayne David has described as “ridiculous” the suggestion that he and other members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet are in the pockets of Israel because they have been on expenses-paid trips to the country and in some cases received donations from a pro-Israel lobbyist.
There has been criticism of Sir Keir Starmer and other senior Labour figures over their failure to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, leading to a spate of resignations from the party by predominantly Muslim councillors in England.
An investigation by the news website Declassified, which specialises in British foreign policy issues, has revealed that 13 of the 31 members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet have received donations from a prominent pro-Israel lobby group or individual funder.
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.
Labour Friends of Israel
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”.
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 stated 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.
By checking Parliamentary declarations of interest, Declassified found that since 2002 LFI has contributed more than £150,000 towards such activities. Between 2001 and 2009, LFI took more Labour MPs on trips abroad than any other lobby group.
Labour Friends of 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. His trip to Israel was in 2004.
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 Eecretary Steve Reed.
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.
Asked about the implied criticism of him in the Declassified article, Mr David said: “It is ridiculous. I am the Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for the Middle East. I consider myself to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. I’m strongly in favour of a two-state solution to the conflict.
“I’ve been to a number of Arab countries, most recently Saudi Arabia and Oman. That doesn’t make me pro-Saudi or pro-Oman, but it gives me a broader understanding of what is an extremely complex conflict.”
Mr David said the suggestion that Labour was biased towards Israel because of expenses-paid trips to the country funded by Labour Friends of Israel was “an incorrect perception”. He said: “This is a complex issue. As Keir Starmer said in his Chatham House speech, the conflict has many areas of grey.
“It’s gone on for many years and has been put for far too long in the ‘too difficult’ box. The conflict won’t be settled by war. There’s the need for negotiations and a concerted effort to reach a two-state solution, but that is going to require commitment and determination from all sides.
Asked why Labour’s policy was to support a succession of “humanitarian pauses” rather than calling for an outright ceasefire, Mr David said: “There are two reasons. Firstly it’s because humanitarian pauses have the greatest chance of being implemented. They’re backed by the US, the EU and the UK. They’re much more likely to succeed in the short term because achieving a comprehensive ceasefire agreement would entail complex negotiations.
“Secondly, if there was a ceasefire it would enable Hamas to regroup, acquire more weapons and prolong the conflict.
“I understand why there are calls for a ceasefire. We don’t like seeing people getting killed and it’s natural to want the fighting to stop. That’s why we need to work towards a long-term solution with justice for both sides.”
Asked to respond to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel will have “overall security responsibility” for Gaza after the war, Mr David said: “What happens after the war needs to be negotiated and agreed by a number of players. It’s important that Arab states are included in the discussions, as well as the EU and others.
From what I’ve seen, I don’t believe Israel has developed any strategic plan for after the conflict.”
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