Today
Mon 6 December 2021

Nafeez Ahmed with exclusive new information on the lobbying connections of the only two ministers to have met in private with the Israeli Prime Minister

Documents seen by Byline Times reveal that the only two senior ministers in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, Michael Gove and Priti Patel, who have met in private with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are connected to a Conservative lobby group with direct ties to charities which provide welfare support to solders in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) during military operations, including an organisation funded by Israel’s Ministry of Defence.

On 20 April 2021, as violence was breaking out across East Jerusalem and the West Bank, UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was meeting with Netanyahu in what the Jewish Chronicle observed “could go down in history… [as] the last senior foreign politician to visit him while he is still in office.” Despite no publicity about Gove’s trip from the British side, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that Gove’s meeting with Netanyahu was to discuss Israel’s COVID-19 response, as well as to upgrade the bilateral free trade agreement between Israel and the UK.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is the only other senior Cabinet minister to have met Netanyahu, which occurred in 2017 as international development secretary while she was on a personal trip to Israel. She was sacked later that year by Prime Minister Theresa May for these undisclosed meetings.

Both Gove and Patel are linked to the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), an influential London think-tank which has played a key role in shaping Boris Johnson’s foreign policies – and whose US directors are involved in charities that support IDF soldiers on active duty in the Occupied Territories. 


Occupation and War Crimes

Some 248 Palestinians were killed in the last outbreak of violence including 66 children, with 1,900 people wounded and 72,000 people displaced as a result of Israeli airstrikes which deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure; 13 Israeli civilians were killed due to Hamas rocket-fire deliberately aimed at Israeli cities, including 2 children, with at least 200 injured. 

As Human Rights Watch has observed, while Hamas’ actions amount to war crimes, so do Israel’s, noting the International Criminal Court’s ongoing investigation into “Israeli authorities implicated in the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” 

According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, in the latest offensive the IDF “bombed dozens of structures, including apartments, offices, government facilities and businesses, as well as civilian infrastructure such as roads” in violation of international humanitarian law “which constitutes a war crime.” IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman admitted that IDF actions in Gaza are “as far from pinpoint accuracy as you can get. They’re making Gaza city shake.” He also admitted that the IDF was deliberately attacking Hamas assets in Gaza “even at the cost of harming uninvolved individuals, from whose crowded, populated neighborhoods Hamas and Islamic Jihad have chosen to launch rockets” – a parallel logic to that used by Hamas to justify firing rockets into Israel.


The Henry Jackson Society

In May 2021, HJS executive director Dr Alan Mendoza justified Israel’s violence in Gaza on LBC News as legitimate self-defence, making no mention of Israel’s occupation and systematic discrimination against Palestinians.

Until 2016, Priti Patel was a member of HJS’ Political Council, and in 2014 HJS sponsored her to fly to Washington DC to attend a conference organised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Michael Gove – who most recently met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in April – was a signatory to the HJS’ founding ‘statement of principles’, and went on to become a director of HJS from January to June 2017. In March that year, Gove was also sponsored by HJS for a Washington trip during which he attended an AIPAC conference. 

Corporate records relating to the US-based non-profit vehicle used by HJS to raise ‘dark money’ funding – Henry Jackson Society Inc. – reveal that during the involvement of Gove and Patel, two of HJS’ US directors have been involved in charities with close ties to the Israeli military. 

In November 2020, Byline Times revealed that between 2015 and 2018, HJS’ US-based non-profit vehicle operated under the directorship of Joshua Swidler and Liad Meidar, both of whom are Republican Party donors. Swidler is also a Conservative Party donor and his late wife Alisa Swidler was a member of the Conservative Party Leaders Group who had given a total of £336,686 to the party. Between 2016 and 2018, the HJS raised $1.7 million through its American vehicle. On 1 March 2021, HJS filed a document with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in which Swidler was no longer identified as a director. 

Byline Times can now exclusively reveal that both former HJS director Swidler and current HJS director Meidar are simultaneously directors of a number of charities which support Israeli soldiers. 


Ties to Charity Funded by Israel’s Ministry of Defence

Since 2016, Swidler has been a director of UK Friends Of The Association For The Wellbeing Of Israel’s Soldiers, the UK division of AWIS, a charity which “actively raise funds for the wide range of projects and facilities that enhance the wellbeing of Israel’s soldiers.” AWIS was established in 1942 by David Ben-Gurion, the main founder of Israel and the country’s first prime minister. 

AWIS has provided support to IDF soldiers on the field during military operations in Gaza, including in Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In 2012, for instance, “AWIS was deployed alongside IDF soldiers with the goal of providing for the welfare of the soldiers in the field,” according to Israel National News. “Through close cooperation with the Manpower Directorate, southern region AWIS staff managed to raise hundreds of thousands of shekels and provided 30 thousand packages of clothing and personal items to IDF soldiers.”

“The public doesn’t always know what we do,” said former AWIS chairman Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani at the time. “But our presence inside the IDF is absolute. We are there at every turn.”

The website of AWIS’ UK division confirms that all the charity’s “expenses and fundraising activities – including administrative and general expenses – are funded” by Israel’s Ministry of Defence.


Netanyahu’s Propaganda 

Alongside Swidler on the board of AWIS’ UK division is Colonel Richard Kemp, who joined the charity as a director in 2018. 

During the hostilities in May 2021, Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted out a video by the right-wing YouTube propaganda channel Praeger University, featuring Colonel Kemp defending IDF military operations in Gaza. Like Mendoza, Kemp described Israeli actions in Gaza – described as war crimes by B’Tselem – as legitimate self-defence.

Netanyahu’s tweet received over 3,300 retweets and over 11,300 likes.

Kemp has also repeatedly shared and promoted anti-Muslim misinformation published by alt-right platforms such as the Gatestone Institute, which has promoted the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, and the antisemitic Breitbart News.


Israeli Military Charity

Active HJS director Liad Meidar sits on the board of his family foundation along with his father Moshe Meidar, the Meidar Family Charitable Trust. Corporate filings with the IRS reveal that apart from donating $15,000 to the Henry Jackson Society in 2013, the Trust is a major donor of a number of initiatives closely aligned with the Israeli government and military, including AIPAC (which received $75,000 from the Trust that year) and Friends of the Israel Defence Forces (FIDF) which has received at least $250,000 from the Trust since 2015. 

FIDF is the sole non-military charity officially authorised to represent the Israeli military in the US, and was previously part of AWIS until it broke away in 2014. Like AWIS, it has also provided support to IDF soldiers in the field during major military operations in Gaza. During Operation Protective Edge, for instance, FIDF “provided millions of dollars in emergency humanitarian aid” to IDF soldiers operating in Gaza, in the form of “tens of thousands of toiletry and undergarment kits, as well as snack packets… mobile showers, plus thousands of hydration bags, portable chargers and other items requested by soldiers in the field.”

In September 2020, Brigadier-General Rhassan Elian, the IDF’s head of Civil Administration, praised FIDF’s contributions as “much more than financial assistance – they are a conscious contribution to help IDF soldiers and officers. The very fact that they support the Israel Defence Forces is the greatest contribution.”

Gove and Patel were involved with HJS during its US directors’ active involvement in these IDF supporting charities.

HJS is a registered charity in the UK. Its ability to influence the ruling Conservative Party under Boris Johnson’s leadership along with its ties to Republican Party and Conservative Party donors, as well as to charities funded by the Israeli government and supportive of the Israeli military, raises questions about its compliance with Charity Commission regulations. These require charities to ensure political independence, and that the charity is not being used as a vehicle for the personal or political views of its directors or trustees.

When Byline Times approached the Henry Jackson Society for comment about these issues they replied by saying our claims were “false and defamatory”, reserving the right to take legal action against Byline Times if we published them. They replied after publication. “The Henry Jackson Society has complied with its charitable obligations at all times and any suggestion to the contrary is nothing more than scurrilous speculation,” a spokesperson said.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We are currently assessing the information provided to determine our next steps. We cannot comment further at this time.”

This article was updated to include a further response from the HJS.

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