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What is UK Lawyers for Israel’s relationship to the Israeli government?

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The group UK Lawyers for Israel is one of the quietest yet most influential Israel lobby actors currently operating in Britain.

Since 2011, it has closely monitored the Palestine solidarity movement and worked to repress it, often with significant impact.

The ‘lawfare’ organisation has especially targeted organisations promoting the Palestinian-initiated Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)  movement – from academics to students unions, architects to local councils – by lodging complaints with regulatory bodies and sending letters threatening legal action.

It has even obstructed the work of charities such as Medical Aid for Palestinians and War on Want, working in close collaboration with the US-based Lawfare Project to do so.

But where did UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) come from and who is behind it?

The UKLFI website describes the organisation as ‘a voluntary organisation of lawyers who support Israel using their legal skills’.

Companies House records that UKLFI was first registered in in October 2010, originally under the name ‘Action 4 Peace Limited’. In September 2016, UKLFI also registered as a charity which has a separate website but most of the same patrons.

These ‘eminent patrons’ include a host of pro-Israel British peers such as Lord Carlile, Baroness Deech, Lord Howard, Lord Pannick, Lady Cosgrove, Lord Trimble and Lord Young of Graffham.

The organisation’s registered address is that of Three Stone Chambers, where Jonathan Turner – UKLFI chief executive and one of its listed directors – works as a commercial barrister. Turner was previously head of the UK Zionist Federation’s legal division.

Other trustees include Harvey Rose and Alan Melkman, respectively a former chair and volunteer with the Zionist Federation; Adam Levin, also a registered trustee of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society; and Helene Pines Richman, a Conservative Party councillor in Barnet.

Cementing these right wing credentials, Mark Lewis – a UKLFI director until he moved to Israel late last year  – was also involved in the relaunch of Herut UK which espouses revisionist Zionist ideas like those of Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Most interestingly, UKLFI appears to have – at the very least – an informal working relationship with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

For example, in January 2017 the group hosted a talk by the former director general of the MFA. But this relationship has been apparent since its very early days. In January 2013, it gave a platform to Arthur Lenk of the MFA’s legal division. As far back as June 2012, UKLFI co-hosted a two-day seminar with the MFA and the Israeli Embassy in London.

In fact, UKLFI’s connection to the MFA may go back right to the start. Curiously, there is a page on the official MFA website dated May 2011 dedicated solely to announcing the creation of UKLFI.

The MFA page states that UKLFI was formed ‘following the Maale HaChamisha conference’. Besides clearly having taken place in Israel, the precise nature of this conference is not clear. Neither English nor Hebrew google searches reveal further information.

However, in 2012, Hebrew-language daily Israel Hayom reported that Israeli government officials were ‘training legal experts around the world to deal with the demands of delegitimization against Israel’. Might UKLFI have emerged from such an MFA-convened event, making it, effectively a civil society organisation established at the behest of a government?

The evidence suggests it is possible. The Israeli government’s involvement in so-called ‘lawfare’ is well established. In particular, there are numerous reports and examples of its role in anti-BDS efforts around the world.

In 2011, the MFA held a co-ordinating meeting with StandWithUs, an Israel lobby group funding a law suit filed against a Washington food co-operative boycotting Israeli goods.

Then in 2013, the Israeli Embassy in London acknowledged its involvement in an attempt by Israeli negotiator Moti Cristal to sue a British trade union and healthcare trust which withdrew a speaking invitation from him.

In 2017, Haaretz reported that the Israeli government had for some time been outsourcing counter-BDS work in Europe and North America to private law firms. The newspaper stated that ‘secrecy surround[s] the contracts’ and related this to the fact that ‘Israel does not want to be revealed as supporting such actions, to avoid the perception that it is interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.’

Israeli government representatives also have a track-record of astroturfing pro-Israel bodies in civil society, including in the UK. Filmed as part of Al Jazeera’s 2017 undercover documentary The Lobby, Israeli diplomat Shai Masot – who worked for the anti-BDS Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs in London – was recorded saying of such groups ‘it’s good to leave those organisations independent. But we help them, actually’.

Indeed, Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan hinted at this policy of instrumentalising ostensibly independent third party groups in 2016 when he said: ‘It’s not necessarily good that the government is at the front of this battle… it’s better that the response comes from civil society…They need to see where we can help them in the government.’

He was even more explicit in 2017, when he explained to the Knesset that much of the ministry’s anti-BDS work was ‘not of the ministry, but through bodies around the world who do not want to expose their connection with the state’.

Likely due in part to fear of these state-civil society connections being exposed, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs is highly secretive. Its director general Sima Vakini-Gil has declared: ‘A major part of what we do stays under the radar’.

Noticeably, Caroline Kendal, who joined UKLFI in August 2015 as its first and only employee (on a salary of between £40-50k, approximately $52-65k), describes her organisation’s modus operandi in remarkably similar terms: ‘As an organisation we won’t seek out publicity…We only want to be effective, and often it’s operating below the radar, and actually not publicly.’

Moreover, co-founder Jonathan Turner claims that UKFLI played a critical role in scuppering the 2011 flotilla of ships seeking to reach Gaza. The organisation, he asserts, advised Greek coastal police through ‘a top Greek lawyer…grounds on which the ships could be arrested’.

Also working to obstruct the flotilla was Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law firm whose extremely close ties to the Israeli state were revealed in a leaked US embassy cable which said it ‘took direction’ from Mossad and Israel’s National Security Council on which cases to pursue.

The 2011 flotilla incident is one in which Shurat HaDin is known to have collaborated closely with the Israeli government, as scholar Orde Kittrie has documented. It therefore seems very likely that during its work on the flotilla case, UKLFI co-ordinated with both Shurat HaDin and the Israeli government.

UKLFI also held a joint event in May 2016 with NGO Monitor which attacks human rights organisations in Israel just as UKFLI does in the UK.

Like Shurat HaDin, NGO Monitor is a body with close ties to the Israeli government. For example, as this investigative article by Israeli journalist Yossi Gurvitz points out, NGO Monitor’s director Gerald Steinberg previously worked as a ‘consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’.

Given all this, it seems reasonable to ask: is UKLFI merely a front?

Four of UKLFI’s leading figures – Caroline Kendal, Jonathan Turner, Julian Hunt and Adam Levin – were each contacted twice and asked a series of specific questions about the organisation.

These included a request to clarify what role, if any, the Israeli government had in the creation of UKLFI or the Maale HaChamisha conference through which it was founded; how closely UKLFI has worked with Israeli government since then, for instance on the 2011 flotilla case and hosting joint events in the UK; what UKLFI’s relationship is to Shurat HaDin; and who funds the organisation.

None responded.

Hilary Aked

Hilary Aked (@hilary_aked) is a London-based writer, researcher and activist whose first book, on the UK Israel lobby - based on their PhD thesis - will be published by Verso.

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10 Responses

  1. mikeo on March 12, 2019, 11:15 am

    You don’t hear about them much…

    I think they prefer to operate in “nightflower” mode ;-)

    This only got in the local paper because Jonathan Hoffmann (look him up, he’s quite a colorful character) has a big mouth

  2. Maximus Decimus Meridius on March 12, 2019, 11:48 am

    Asking about the funding of any group of which Jews might be members of is an ‘anti-semitic trope’ these days.

  3. annie on March 12, 2019, 4:36 pm

    Given all this, it seems reasonable to ask: is UKLFI merely a front?

    for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs? or Ministry of Strategic Affairs?

    if the UK is anything like the US i don’t see that it would matter much. the US doesn’t even do anything about mossad crawling all over our campuses and streets spying on our citizens. israel connives in w/congress via intermediaries, heck they even arranged for netanyahu to address congress against a sitting president. they can do whatever they want here. the invasiveness knows no bounds. you just get called anti semitic if you point it out. they don’t have to resister as foreign agents or anything.

    • Keith on March 12, 2019, 6:02 pm

      ANNIE- “the invasiveness knows no bounds.”

      How long before the background check for a US security clearance is outsourced to Mossad? Even back when Tom Hayden was running for California State office he needed Jewish Zionist approval.

      In other words, in this article Hayden was describing, in an unusually concrete way, how the state of Israel, through its state officials and their compliant American partners, was effectively managing—exercising veto power over Democratic Party candidates, at the very least—American elections down to the level of State Assembly. In any constituency “attuned to the question of Israel, even in local and state elections,” Hayden knew he “had to be certified ‘kosher,’ not once but over and over again.” (Jim Kavanagh)

  4. Misterioso on March 13, 2019, 10:18 am

    “Britain needs a full inquiry into the poison of Islamophobia inside the Conservative Party”
    By Peter Oborne, Middle East Eye, 5 March 2019

    “Something has gone hideously wrong with the modern Conservative Party and Theresa May is incapable of dealing with it.”

    “On Tuesday, the Tory party suspended 14 party members for allegedly making anti-Muslim comments on social media. This should come as no surprise.

    “It’s further shocking evidence that the Tory party has a very deep problem with Islamophobia. The party has been in denial about the problem for years.

    “But let’s try a mental experiment.”

    “Let’s imagine that a Conservative leader had abused parliamentary privilege and falsely accused an innocent rabbi of supporting terrorism from the floor of the Commons.

    “Let’s imagine that Tory MPs were in the habit of tweeting out virulent anti-Semitic propaganda – and with impunity. Let’s imagine that the leading Conservative strategist had reportedly advised not to focus attention on the votes of ‘fucking Jews.’

    “Let’s imagine that the Tory party fought the London mayor campaign on the basis of stirring up hostility to Jews. Let’s imagine that many Tory voters were virulently anti-semitic, and that one of the most famous Tory politicians – Boris Johnson – had publicly mocked certain Jews on the way that they dressed.

    “And then been cleared of wrongdoing after an internal party investigation. And that all but a small minority of Jewish voters had turned their back on the Tories.

    “And finally, let’s imagine that the Conservative party was in flat denial that anything was wrong.

    “And that senior party figures insisted that anti-semitism was not an issue inside the Conservative Party, with some going to the lengths of insisting that it could not exist because Jews did indeed present a threat to mainstream British society.

    “Decent people would say that the Conservative Party was barbaric, sick and that there was a deep, dark problem not just in the Conservative Party but also in British politics as a whole.

    “Mercifully that is not the case as far as anti-semitism is concerned.

    “Hostility to Islam”
    “But substitute the word Muslim for the word Jew, and it has become clear that something has indeed gone hideously wrong with the modern Conservative party.

    “Last week, a poll conducted by the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate found 49 percent of Tory voters felt that Islam was incompatible with the British way of life.

    “Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, has never apologised for his mayoral campaign, which I am proud to have exposed in Middle East Eye almost three years ago.

    “Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East, received no punishment after sharing anti-Muslim social media posts by the former leader of the English Defence League Tommy Robinson. Nadine Dorries is another Tory MP who has endorsed Robinson with no comebacks from the Tory Party.

    “And only today we learn that Peter Lamb, a Tory councillor who was suspended from the Tory Party after issuing a series of foul Islamophobic tweets, is standing as a council candidate for the Conservatives in the local elections in May.

    “To his credit Lamb now says he deeply regrets his words and has resigned from the party. But the fact that the Tory Party allowed him back speaks eloquently of the depth of institutional Islamophobia.

    “Meanwhile just 11 percent of Muslims voted for the Tories at the last election.

    “The media’s role”
    “No wonder that Sayeeda Warsi, the party’s most high-ranking Muslim politician, demanded a full independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

    “On Tuesday, in an interview with the BBC, Warsi said Islamophobia has become ‘institutional’ in the Conservative Party.

    “And how deeply depressing that she’s been ignored and shunned. Under pressure from critics, Tory MPs point to the presence of Sajid Javid, a Muslim, as home secretary.

    “This excuse is lame. Anti-semites down the ages have notoriously protested that ‘some of my best friends are Jewish.’ The fact that Ed Milliband was leader of the Labour Party from 2010 to 2015 is certainly not evidence that there is not an anti-Semitism problem in Labour.

    “How does the Conservative Party continue to behave like this? I have to point a finger at my own trade and state that the British media has a role here.

    “Our newspapers have been running a campaign against anti-semitism, and rightly so. Anti-semitism is noxious and should be confronted wherever it occurs. But with the exception of the Guardian, there has been very little in the mainstream media about Tory Islamophobia.

    “Chillingly, some argue that it does not exist at all. Others even want more. Here’s Rod Liddle in the Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine: ‘My own view is that there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory party.’ He continued: ‘Phobia implies these misgivings are irrational, when they are anything but.’

    “A full inquiry”
    “Imagine the reaction if Liddle had written that ‘there is not nearly enough anti-semitism within the Tory Party.’ There would have been national outrage – after peddling that kind of filth, Liddle would never have worked again in mainstream media. And rightly so.

    “There’s a very ugly double standard at work here. It’s a double standard that the Conservative Party refuses to address.

    “Tory leader Theresa May is clearly incapable of dealing with this problem. That is why Britain now needs a full independent inquiry into the poison of Islamophobia inside the Conservative Party.”

  5. Ossinev on March 13, 2019, 3:03 pm

    “That is why Britain now needs a full independent inquiry into the poison of Islamophobia inside the Conservative Party.”

    The question of institutionalised Islamaphobia in the Tory Party appears to have been strangled at birth.

    Perhaps as a result of specific instructions from ZioCentral to the MSM and their bought and bent gophers on both sides of the Parliamentary chamber(pot).Can`t have anything distracting from the JC and “institutionalised Anti – Semitism” in the Labour Party Master Plan.

    And perhaps because UK MP`s are currently in agonised torment over the issue of Brexit as in:
    Is it Anti – Semitic to be Pro – Brexit ?
    Is it Anti – Semitic to be Anti – Brexit ?
    Is it Anti – Semitic to be undecided over Brexit ?

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