UK pro-Israeli lobby group is top funder of free MP travels - reports
openDemocracy investigation reveals that 2 Israeli lobby groups have been the largest "doners" of free MP overseas travels in the last ten years.
According to an investigation carried out by openDemocracy, British MPs have taken over the past 10 years 155 free overseas trips funded by a pro-"Israel" Torry lobby group in the UK, marking an "unprecedented charm offensive to promote" the Israeli occupation in the British government.
The investigation report revealed that the lobby group 'Conservative Friends of Israel' (CFI) was the number one "donor" in funding trips for MPs compared to other lobby groups.
"The Records show the group fully or partially funded trips with an overall value of £367,000 since 2012," the investigation showed.
CFI funded trips for lawmakers to travel to occupied Palestine and was created “to ensure that Israel’s case is fairly represented in Parliament”.
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The lobby group was earlier labeled as “the most well-connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups”.
According to the report, dozens of meetings for the UK's Secretary of State for International Development in 2017 Priti Patel were arranged by CFI’s honorary president Lord Polak, including a meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
The report added that "It later emerged that Patel had failed to inform the prime minister about the trips, and was she forced to step down."
Three groups of MPs traveled to "Israel" in 2022 at the expense of CFI, "with 24 Conservative MPs declaring the visits in the registers of interests," according to the investigation.
CFI's website said that the delegations are an “integral part of CFI’s work” to let Conservative MPs “see the facts on the ground in the region”.
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However, Conservatives are not the only ones with an Israeli-affiliated lobby group paying for their trips to leverage influence.
Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) has paid, partially or fully, for 62 visits to "Israel" for labour MPs over the span of the last 10 years.
“CFI is a not-for-profit organisation that relies upon the generosity of its supporters. The organisation receives no funding from the state of Israel,” a spokesperson for the CFI told openDemocracy.
Foreign governments have funded, in full or partially, over a quarter of all British MP's travels, including countries with bad human rights records, the report added.
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In the past 10 years, the United Arab Emirates has paid a total of £251,000 in expenses for 63 trips for UK MPs, while the Saudi government funded 62 trips for £393,000 and the Bahraini government 57 trips at a cost of around £195,000.
According to the report, this transaction happened while Amnesty International accuses the UAE of “serious human rights violations”, and “arbitrary detention, cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees, suppression of freedom of expression, and violation of the right to privacy”.
MPs also took 60 trips that were fully or partially funded by branches of the Israeli government, including the country’s embassy in the UK.
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Institutions of the Israeli government, including its embassy in the United Kingdom, covered fully or partially 60 trips for British MPs, the report continues.
All-Party Parliamentary Groups
According to UK laws, lawmakers are allowed to take trips covered by any donor, which includes private companies, governments, individuals and lobby groups.
The report states that the MPs mostly take a trip as "part of a delegation organised by informal interest groups called All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)," which are described as a "back door for lobbyists."
APPGs received more than half of their budget this year from private firms, "including health and tobacco firms and big tech," the openDemocracy report adds, noting that, "out of more than 3,000 overseas trips taken by MPs since 2012, at least 658 were arranged in relation to APPGs."
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