Conservative Friends of Israel director Stuart Polak receives peerage


Amid the rumours and rows surrounding the announcement of the long-awaited dissolution honours list, one name was repeatedly highlighted as an inevitable inclusion.

Stuart Polak, the veteran Conservative Friends of Israel director, was handed a seat in the House of Lords when David Cameron finally revealed the names on the list today, months behind schedule.

He said it was "a once in a lifetime opportunity".

Elevation to the famous red benches marks the high point of Mr Polak’s 35 years campaigning for Israel and encouraging the leaders of Britain’s political right to back the country.

He will now step down as CFI director, but he leaves the group in a position of undeniable strength as the largest of parliament’s lobby groups.

Honoured alongside him was former parliamentary chairman of the group, James Arbuthnot, who retired as an MP in May after nearly 30 years in the Commons.

In a statement, Mr Polak said: "I have had the enormous privilege of leading CFI for some 26 years and over that time have had the honour to work with some wonderful people both here in the UK and in Israel.

"The aims and objectives of CFI are simple to understand, we support the Conservatives and support our democratic ally Israel. Something we proudly have tried to fulfil throughout the last 26 years.

"The Prime Minister has given me a once in a lifetime opportunity to enter the House of Lords which will enable me to continue to advocate for Israel."

He added that he was retiring from his CFI role next mongth, but would become honorary president of the organisation.

He said: "CFI has an amazingly talented young professional team and, together with the directors and the newly constituted Pprliamentary group led by the outstanding Sir Eric Pickles, the future is exciting and I look forward to continuing to play my part going forward."

As a young chazan, Liverpool-born Mr Polak sang at the city’s Childwall Hebrew Congregation on High Holy Days, before joining fellow teenagers on educational trips to Israel at the age of just 15.

After moving to London he began his career as a United Synagogue youth officer in Edgware, north London. He has gone on to have the ear of almost every senior Tory since Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.

Mr Polak was an astute networker even as an officer at the Board of Deputies in the 1980s, encouraging then Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph to help Jewish students on university campuses.

He left that role in 1989 — aged 28 — to take on the job at the CFI. At the time the JC predicted he was a “strong prospect for the upper reaches of communal leadership… a ready wit and unaffected style make him a popular figure”.

He offered his own take on his prospects, explaining in 1990: “I was brought up to put as much as possible back into the community. I’m as ambitious as the next man, but I’m motivated more by a sense of duty.”

A CBE in last year’s New Year’s Honours list hinted at what was to come for the 54-year-old. CFI’s annual lunch last December, at which Mr Cameron spoke, was attended by more than 700 people, including almost the entire parliamentary Conservative party and most of the cabinet.

CFI chairman Andrew Heller said: “We are delighted that our friend, colleague and long-term director of CFI, Stuart Polak CBE, has been elevated to the House of Lords.

“This notable achievement is the culmination of work done, over many years, in both strengthening and developing the Anglo-Israel relationship. It is also recognition of the significance and success of CFI as an organisation. We celebrate this richly deserved accomplishment."

Also joining the Lords will be former Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone.

She lost her Hornsey and Wood Green seat at May's general election and is elevated as one of former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's selections.

She had been the most senior Jewish politician in the coalition government.

Sir Alan Beith, former long-serving president of the Lib Dem Friends of Israel, was also elevated to the Lords.

Barking MP Margaret Hodge was also made a dame in the list.

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