Israel's champion, but poor friend

By Martin Bright, October 19, 2011

With the resignation of Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Israel has lost its most powerful champion in government. Michael Gove may be the most vocal and eloquent Zionist in the Cabinet, but as Education Secretary he has no diplomatic or strategic role.

Dr Fox has been personally humiliated by the Adam Werritty affair. But he has also caused considerable embarrassment to the financial backers of his Atlantic Bridge project, including Poju Zabludowicz, chairman of Israel advocacy organisation BICOM, , and its former vice-chairman, Michael Lewis.

The present government has worked hard to build up trust with Israel and the UK Jewish establishment. The change in the law on universal jurisdiction and the withdrawal from the antisemitic Durban III conference were seen as important gestures of support. The Conservative Friends of Israel lunch, at party conference in Manchester, was something of a love-in as a result.

In recent days this trust has been seriously undermined as the government scrabbles to protect its reputation by blaming shadowy financiers and lobbyists for its predicament. This unseemly back-covering exercise is unworthy of a government which has attempted to represent itself as sympathetic to the Jewish business community.

David Cameron himself has often cited it as an example of the entrepreneurialism it wishes to encourage and presented its charitable giving as emblematic of the "big society" values it intends to promote.

No surprise that the donors are furious with them

But while some senior Tories carried around the begging bowl for Werritty's organisations, others were prepared to dump on donors when the going got tough. This is dishonourable behaviour, and it is no surprise the donors involved are furious at the way their funding has been represented.

I do not know if Liam Fox's support for Israel was heartfelt or merely ideological. It certainly seems to have been yoked, via Adam Werritty and Atlantic Bridge, to a fierce hostility to Iran and an equally powerful alliance with the American neocon right. As it turns out, Liam Fox's poor judgment has made the financial backers of his friend's projects appear secretive and sinister.

Dr Fox may have been a champion of Israel but he has been a poor friend.

Last updated: 11:49am, October 19 2011