Analysis: It’s not worth taking Dispatches seriously

By Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, November 19, 2009
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Peter Oborne is one of the UK’s best investigative journalists. What is striking about his Channel 4 programme Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, is how little he has found to reveal as the result of an inquiry lasting months.

He claims that donations to the Tory Party and its candidates, from all Conservative Friends of Israel members and their businesses, “add up to well over £10m over the past eight years”. According to the Electoral Commission, the pro-Conservative group with some 2,000 members donated barely £30,000 before the 2005 general election and nothing since then.

Oborne explains that the total of £10 million includes money given by independent individuals and companies but allegedly “facilitated” by CFI. Yet, neither Oborne, nor Channel 4, nor the production company responsible for the programme, is prepared to give a list of the alleged donors. According to Oborne, he has not even seen such a list, but relied instead on a “confidential source”.

The Conservative Party claims that the £10m “simply is not a figure we recognise at all”.

A further mystery is the fact — acknowledged by Oborne — that shortly before the broadcast, the programme makers lowered their figure of total CFI donations from £15 to £10 million. Had there been a solid factual basis for the total, the reason for such a large is hard to fathom.

Unless the programme-makers are able to offer factual evidence for the £10m donations claim, it is not worth taking seriously. Certainly, individual Jews have been prominent as fundraisers both for Labour and for the Tories — Lord Levy, Jon Mendelsohn, Lord Kalms, and Stanley Fink, for example. This does not mean that donors who are Jewish form part of a united pro-Israel movement.

Moreover, any consideration of lobbying on the Middle East conflict needs to examine pro-Arab money. Channel 4 has declined to answer whether it will be doing this.

The financial clout of oil and other anti-Israel interests is far greater than anything that Israel’s friends can muster. Top civil servants and diplomats can look forward to lucrative post-retirement contracts from banks and corporations with Middle Eastern connections. Universities are awash with money for professorships and other position funded by Arab governments and foundations and tied to influencing opinion on Middle Eastern politics and culture.

It is unnecessary and counterproductive to mount an all-guns-blazing attack on this programme such as that on the similar study by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer of the US Jewish lobby. That merely made them martyrs and guaranteed them a huge book contract.

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky is the country’s leading expert on political finance

Last updated: 10:23am, November 19 2009