Middle East Eye / April 8, 2021
Alan Duncan has said that the Conservative Friends of Israel fiercely lobbied to prevent him becoming Middle East minister.
A former UK foreign office minister has accused pro-Israel lobbyists of “the most disgusting interference” in British public life, and of negatively influencing the country’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Alan Duncan, a former Conservative MP and government minister until 2019, wrote in his newly published memoir that the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) had been responsible for pushing the country to adopt disproportionately anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel policies.
Founded in 1974, the CFI is a parliamentary group and unaffiliated organisation that supports the ruling Conservative Party and advocates for pro-Israel policies.
Speaking to journalist Michael Crick about his diaries for the MailPlus website, Duncan said the CFI had injected a “Netanyahu-type view of Israeli politics into our foreign policy”, referring to Israel’s right-wing prime minister. He added that it had lobbied to prevent him becoming Middle East minister at the foreign office.
“A lot of things do not happen in foreign policy or in government for fear of offending them because that’s the way it’s put to them by the CFI,” he said.
“It’s a sort of buried scandal that has to stop… they will interfere at a high level in British politics in the interests of Israel on the back of donor power in the UK.”
He added that ultimately the influence of the CFI came at the expense of the Palestinians, emphasising that the group’s leadership would frame pro-Palestinian policies as potentially offending Jewish donors to the Conservative Party.
“Most of the Jewish donors would never want their donations to be used to influence in this way – I just think it’s a mess,” he said.
Duncan served as minister of state for Europe and the Americas between 2016 and 2019 under then Prime Minister Theresa May. Following her resignation and the ascension of Boris Johnson, he stepped down from his position and did not stand for re-election in the December 2019 parliamentary elections.
Known for his support for pro-Palestinian stances, such as his rejection of illegal Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories, Duncan has previously come under fire from pro-Israel circles.
In January 2017, opposition politicians in the UK called for an investigation into comments made by an Israeli embassy official who had talked of plotting to “take down” Duncan because of his public opposition to Israeli settlements.
Shai Masot, who would afterwards be removed from his position, was caught by an undercover reporter discussing with a British civil servant how to discredit Duncan. He would later apologise for his comments.
Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP and then-chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told Middle East Eye at the time that Britain could not have “Israel acting in the UK with the same impunity it enjoys in Palestine”.
“This is clearly interference in another country’s politics of the murkiest and most discreditable kind,” he said.
In the past, the CFI has claimed that 80 percent of Conservative MPs were members of the organisation. It has organised numerous trips to Israel for politicians.