Who funds Labour Friends of Israel – and why won’t it say?

LFI is one of the largest lobbying forces in British politics, but refuses to disclose its sources of income. What is it hiding?

By JOHN McEVOY
24 January 2024

  • 37% of Labour MPs are associated with LFI, with an additional 37 Lords
  • The current and all seven recent shadow foreign secretaries have been members of LFI or financially supported by the pro-Israel lobby
  • LFI delegation recently met politician named in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel

Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) has described itself as “a Westminster based lobby group working within the British Labour Party to promote the State of Israel”.

The group does not disclose its funders, and has refused to respond to Declassified’s questions regarding its sources of income.

What is LFI hiding?

LFI currently counts 73 of Labour’s 197 MPs as parliamentary supporters or officers of the organisation, as well as 37 lords and 4 MSPs. You can view the list of names below.

Why is the group allowed to have such an association with elected officials without saying who funds it?

In particular, the extent to which it receives direct or indirect sponsorship or assistance from the Israeli government should be crystal clear.

Failure to be transparent raises the prospect of undue interference in British politics.

One former British minister, writing anonymously, has criticised LFI’s “opaque funding and underhand conduct” as a “national disgrace and humiliation” which “must be stamped out”.

Funding politicians

One of LFI’s main activities is taking Labour MPs on “fact finding” missions to Israel.

According to the Electoral Commission, LFI has spent over £150,000 on such trips since 2002. Over 60 of these delegations were reportedly organised in the past decade.

The trips are designed to cultivate support for Israel and build ties between key Labour figures and Israeli politicians and businesspeople.

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Earlier this month, LFI led a “solidarity mission” to Israel amid its ongoing genocide in Gaza, attended by Labour MPs Christian Wakeford and Margaret Hodge, its spokesperson in the House of Lords Ruth Anderson (formerly Smeeth), and former MP Louise Ellman.

The delegation met Israeli president Isaac Herzog, who has been named in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for his statement about Palestinians.

He said: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware [or] not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone”.

After pledging collective punishment against the Palestinians, Herzog met Israeli soldiers and signed a bomb with the words, “we trust you”.

The LFI delegations also often involve a strong security component.

In February 2023, LFI organised its largest delegation to Israel in over a decade, with a group of Labour MPs meeting Herzog and Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of Israel’s National Security Council.

After an LFI-funded trip to Israel in 2017, then shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry declared: “The briefings I received on the security situation, not just the domestic terror threat but the wider regional picture, just confirmed for me what a long way there is to go before Israeli citizens can feel safe in their homes and on their streets”.

Israeli embassy

LFI has worked discreetly with the Israeli embassy in London. According to a former minister in David Cameron’s government, “for years…LFI have worked with – even for – the Israeli embassy to promote Israeli policy” and undermine “the actions of ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights”.

In Al Jazeera’s 2017 documentary, The Lobby, LFI parliamentary officer and now director Michael Rubin acknowledged that: “We do work really closely together, it’s just publicly we just try to keep LFI as a separate identity to the embassy”.

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The documentary further showed former LFI chair and MP Joan Ryan discussing “more than one million pounds” in Israeli embassy funding in relation to a list of “names that [LFI] put into the embassy” – over six times the total value of LFI delegations listed on the Electoral Commission since 2002.

LFI subsequently denied that the one million pounds was for an LFI parliamentary delegation, but failed to adequately resolve concerns surrounding its relationship with the Israeli embassy and use of undisclosed funding within British politics.

Funders of LFI have reportedly included pro-Israel figures in the British business community such as Trevor Chinn, who has financed Keir Starmer and other Labour MPs.

Foreign affairs

Each year, LFI organises a banquet which serves as a public display of support for Israel and brings together leading pro-Israel and Labour figures.

At last year’s event, in November, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy spoke alongside LFI chair Steve McCabe MP and Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli ambassador in London who is now vociferously defending its war crimes in Gaza.

All seven of the past seven shadow foreign secretaries have been members of LFI or financially supported by the pro-Israel lobby.

LFI would hold “regular meetings with [then foreign secretary] David Miliband and his Foreign Office team to make the case for Israel”, it was reported in 2009.

Briefings

The group also briefs Labour MPs on key security and political issues relating to Israel, enjoying historically close access to ministers.

LFI’s briefing efforts have intensified amid Israel’s war on Gaza. The group has produced information packs for MPs and convened events with Israeli embassy figures.

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The organisation has opposed an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, arguing that “Israel is fighting Hamas, not the Palestinian people”.

LFI’s fundamental role appears to be insulating the Israeli government from criticism on the British left as it engages in widely unpopular policies.

Declassified emailed LFI twice asking it to reveal its funders, but did not receive a reply.

During the Great March of Return protests in Gaza in 2018, two Labour MPs reportedly asked for their names “to be removed from the list of [LFI’s] parliamentary patrons”.

Amid Israel’s near-total destruction of Gaza, however, it appears that LFI has not lost any of its parliamentary supporters.

According to former MP and LFI policy council member Denis MacShane, LFI members can expect to improve their career prospects, with the organisation “seen as a kind of stepping-stone to promotion” for young parliamentarians.

The names of LFI’s parliamentary officers and supporters in the House of Commons can be read here

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