Peter Oborne revisits his obsession with the Israel lobby

Peter Oborne is known for his conspiracy-laden 2009 Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby’.

To those unfamiliar with his Channel 4 show, CST wrote of the programme that it’s “one hour of innuendo about pro-Israeli moneybags controlling the Conservative and Labour Parties; pro-Israeli  intimidation of British media; premeditated pro-Israeli abuse of antisemitism; and sinister music accompanying photos of pro-Israelis blurred across Israeli and British flags.”

David Cesarani, research professor in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and noted expert on the Holocaust and antisemitism related issues, wrote at the time that “Peter Oborne sets out to expose a secretive lobby of rich and powerful Jews who use money and strong-arm tactics to skew British foreign policy in favour of Israel, intimidate MPs, and stifle media criticism of Zionism.”

Oborne is also known for his full-throated defence of Jeremy Corbyn, columns he’s published at a site linked to Hamas, and having literally accused Israeli Jews of ‘poisoning Palestinian wells”.

More recently, journalist John Ware, producer of the the BBC Panorama programme about antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party, noted that Oborne was an ‘expert commentator’ for Al Jazeera’s ‘expose’ on the Israel lobby, a programme described in the Jewish Chronicle as “straightforward Jew-baiting dressed up as an investigation”.  Oborne, wrote Ware, seemed to give credence during the show to the Qatari mouthpiece’s suggestion that Labour Friends of Israel was being ‘run from Tel Aviv‘.

Oborne published an op-ed at the Independent on April 3, revisiting his obsession with the putative power of the Israel lobby (“It’s time to put Conservatives’ links with Israel under the spotlight”), and, unsurprisingly, his latest ‘expose’ of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) represents a continuation of his obsession with Jewish power.

It also comes up empty as an expose.

Among his ‘shocking’ revelations of the group’s undue influence is the fact that “During the Conservative leadership contest of summer 2022, the CFI hosted a leadership hustings”, that “Liz Truss [as candidate for Conservative Party leader] wrote a letter to the CFI pledging to consider following the example of Donald Trump and moving the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”.  

Truss’s premiership, of course, only lasted 50 days, and her party’s successor, Rishi Sunak, abandoned her pledge to consider relocating the embassy.

But, either way, it’s curious why anyone would find it alarming that a candidate for leadership of the Conservatives wrote a letter in an attempt to woo a key faction within the party.

Oborne also devotes a lot of space revisiting CFI’s criticism of Alan Duncan’s anti-Israel comments in a 2011 video, when he was a junior minister in charge of foreign aid at Department for International Development.  Oborne seems particularly incensed that CFI’s then director Stuart Polak was among those condemning Duncan.

Interestingly, however, on the very day Oborne’s op-ed was published, Duncan was roundly criticised after he went on LBC and hurled the dual loyalty charge at Lord Polak, who is Jewish, arguing that he should be removed from the House of Lords because “he is exercising the interests of another country.”  Duncan also alleged that CFI was “doing the bidding” of Benjamin Netanyahu and “bypassing all proper processes of government to exercise undue influence at the top of government“.

Tellingly, a variation of that same trope was included in the final paragraph of Oborne’s Indy op-ed, where he writes that “Conservative Friends of Israel has started to look much less like a friend of Israel and much more like the London outpost for Netanyahu’s far-right extremist Likud coalition”.

The libel that British Jews, including MPs and others (both Jewish and non-Jewish) who support Israel are, in some fashion, controlled by leaders in ‘Tel Aviv’, is an antisemitic narrative with a long and dangerous history, and it’s dispiriting that Indy editors decided promote one of that toxic trope’s leading voices.

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