Israeli firm conspiracy: It’s probably not murky at all

It was inevitable really. The Sunday Times investigation into “generals for hire” has uncovered an alleged conspiracy involving an Israeli defence firm, a lobbying company and British supporters of the Zionist state. A report in the Sunday Times this weekend raised questions about the dual role of Stuart Polak, the director of Conservative Friends of Israel, who also works for The Westminster Connection (TWC), a political consultancy.

TWC counts among its clients the Israeli defence electronics company Elbit. Last week, retired Lieutenant-General Richard Applegate, the UK chairman of Elbit, was revealed to have boasted on tape that his company had used CFI as cover to lobby for an increase in investment in helicopter safety, a key Elbit specialism.

It all sounds very murky, doesn’t it? Let’s look at CFI’s robust response. It said it had always transparently campaigned to bolster UK-Israel bilateral relations. CFI takes no donations for its delegations to Israel from the companies it visits, and no Israeli company is a donor to CFI. And CFI does not outsource its lobbying or advocacy work.

Of course, the real question, asked by the Sunday Times, is whether any Israeli company outsources its lobbying to CFI. I put this question directly to the organisation and it came back with a resounding denial.

So is the story murky from the other end? Is there an antisemitic subtext here? Although the J-word is never used, there is a reference to CFI not being able to provide a full response on the Sabbath. A classic elision of an Israeli conspiracy with a Jewish conspiracy, perhaps?

Again, I would urge caution. Not every investigation into a pro-Israel organisation is driven by sinister motives. If an indiscreet former general boasts that he can “piggyback” on CFI for his clients, it is perfectly legitimate to ask whether this is the case or not. Journalists should not be embarrassed about asking difficult questions about organisations that lobby for improved bilateral relations with foreign governments, even when that country is Israel.

There is sometimes a “heads down” instinct in the Jewish community when questions of lobbying and access to government are raised. This is understandable. But sometimes it merely feeds the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists. Some of the wilder claims concerning ex-Defence Secretary Liam Fox and links to Israel could have been scotched at birth if prominent Tory donors had made clear, public statements at the time.

Perhaps it will turn out that CFI has been acting treacherously on behalf of a foreign power or that the Sunday Times is harbouring a nest of antisemites. I somehow doubt it.

Last updated: 7:45pm, October 25 2012