By Peter Oborne
8:39PM GMT 12 Dec 2012
It is impossible to understand the modern Conservative Party without a grasp of the scale and profundity of its links to the state of Israel. The connection dates back at least as far the historic meeting between the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Conservative prime minister A J Balfour in 1905, during which Weizmann convinced Balfour of the case for a Jewish national state.
The warmth forged 107 years ago is today sustained by the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). Some 80 per cent of all Tory MPs are members, including most Cabinet ministers. No other lobbying organisation – and certainly not one that acts in the interests of a foreign country – carries as much weight at Westminster. Every year, it takes a significant number of parliamentarians to Israel. Meanwhile, its sponsors play an important role in financing both the Tories nationally, and MPs at the local level.
There is no doubt that the CFI has exercised a powerful influence over policy. The Conservative politician and historian Robert Rhodes James, writing in the Jerusalem Post in 1995, called it “the largest organisation in Western Europe dedicated to the cause of the people of Israel”. Its power has not waned since. On Tuesday, it hosted approximately 100 Tory MPs, including six Cabinet ministers, and a further 40 peers, at a lunch in central London. The speaker was David Cameron, who pronounced himself a “passionate friend” of Israel, making clear (as he has done in the past) that nothing could break that friendship.
This speech can be seen as part of a pattern. The CFI can call almost at will upon the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer or Foreign Secretary. The Palestinians enjoy no such access. They would be lucky to get a single Conservative MP in the audience for their events, and perhaps some moribund peer to make an address. There is no such organisation as the Conservative Friends of Palestinians.
This lack of even-handedness reflects itself in policy. When William Hague denounced Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon as “disproportionate”, the CFI (as I revealed in a film on the pro-Israeli lobby for Channel 4’s Dispatches) complained in person to David Cameron. It obtained a promise that the word would never be used again – one that was kept when Israel bombarded Gaza last month, even though the number of Palestinian deaths vastly exceeded those on the Israeli side.