Top U.K. official was buying influence, honours, and key government positions in return for generous donations from his lobby group, the Labour Friends of Israel.
Susannah Tarbush Al-Hayat - 31/03/07//
The "cash for honours" scandal has taken an ugly turn with allegations from some leading British Jews that a central figure in the scandal, the Labour Party's chief fundraiser Lord Michael Levy, is being targeted because he is a prominent Jew - in other words, that Lord Levy is suffering anti-semitism. But some other Jews strongly reject suggestions that anti-semitism is involved.
In addition to his fundraising role, the unelected Levy is also Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal envoy to the Middle East. He has been arrested twice in the year-long police investigations into whether there was an attempt to "sell" honours in return for secret loans to the Labour Party, and whether some of Blair's staff in Downing Street have tried to cover this up, thereby perverting the course of justice.
Four businessmen who loaned Labour more than £5 million for the 2005 election campaign were nominated for peerages (ie membership of the House of Lords). In all, Labour secretly raised £14 million in secret loans from 12 rich businessmen. Blair himself has been interviewed twice by police, but is thought unlikely to face charges himself.
Matters have grown particularly serious for Lord Levy following the leaking of a document from Blair's director of government relations Ruth Turner, addressed to Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell. In the document Turner complains that Lord Levy had asked her to "lie" for him in the police investigations. Like Lord Levy, Turner has been arrested twice during the police investigations. According to the Sunday Times, Lord Levy asked Blair's senior staff in Downing Street to lie to police by saying he had no involvement in the honours system.
Lord Levy issued a statement through his lawyers vehemently denying he has done anything wrong and saying that media reports "which are said to be based on leaked material under consideration by the police are partial, contradictory, confused and inaccurate." It is known that Lord Levy feels betrayed by the Labour Party and by those who are leaking negative material about him.
Lord Levy's rabbi, Yitzchak Schochet, told Channel 4 news: "I know the Jewish community is becoming increasingly more sensitive that there's one Jew seemingly being hung out to dry here." Schochet, who is rabbi at the north London synagogue Lord Levy attends, told the Daily Telegraph that "anti-semitic forces" are out to "get" Levy.
The editor of the weekly Jewish Chronicle newspaper, David Rowan, compares Levy to the fictional financier Augustus Melmotte in the novel "The Way We Live Now" by the 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope. Melmotte funds politics and rises high within the political establishment and high society, but after his downfall he is ostracised and cast aside by his former friends and poisons himself. But Rowan points out that unlike Lord Levy, Melmotte was a swindler.
Rowan told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that the readers of the Jewish Chronicle are concerned that media coverage of Lord Levy seems to "glorify" in aspects of the case that are Jewish. "A reader yesterday wanted to know why some of the newspapers, the Daily Mail in particular, had to inform us that his middle name is Abraham, his parents were devout Jews, and that he first met the prime minister at a party thrown by the Israel Embassy, when we hear nothing about Ruth Turner or Jonathan Powell's middle names or their religious affiliation."
The readers of the Jewish Chronicle are also concerned that for those inside Downing Street, in whose interest it is to distance themselves from Lord Levy, it is all very convenient to play into this "traditional narrative of the Jewish moneyman who comes in from outside and makes a convenient scapegoat." There is "a very convenient, neat little pattern to push Lord Levy into".
Rowan mentioned in this respect Sir Eric Miller, the property developer who helped run the office of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and who "committed suicide one day of atonement" and Joseph Kagan, the industrialist who manufactured the Gannex raincoats Wilson wore, and was made a Lord by Wilson. (At the time of his suicide in 1977 Miller was under police investigation for corruption, while Lord Kagan was sent to prison for 10 months in 1980 for stealing from his own companies).
The Guardian newspaper columnist Jonathan Freedland has written that many in Britain's Jewish community have long detected "old fashioned prejudice" in the media descriptions of Lord Levy as a "flamboyant, north London businessman".
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the community's main representative body, has also sought to defend Lord Levy. The board's chief executive, Jon Benjamin, issued a press release saying that the media should "exercise extreme caution in order to make sure that anti-Semitic stereotypes do not creep into characterisation of Jewish public figures, especially where money is concerned." Journalists should show "the same care in portraying prominent Jews" as they do in covering public figures from other minorities.
But certain other prominent Jews, including some who repeatedly warn of a rise in anti-Semitism in Britain, are highly critical of claims that Lord Levy is being subjected to anti-Semitism. A former president of the Board of Deputies, Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, attacked the board's press release. He told the Jewish Chronicle: "There was no need to issue any such statement because there is no Jewish issue here whatsoever. Why did they send one out?"
The columnist, broadcaster and author Melanie Phillips, who is one of the most vocal British supporters of Israel, wrote in her online diary: "It is to be hoped that this weekend the congregants of Mill Hill synagogue in London will sit on their rabbi Yitzhak Schochet, and wind several yards of tape around the area between his nose and his chin." She added that to say Lord Levy is "the victim of 'anti-semitism' when he is at the centre of an ongoing police investigation in which he has been arrested and bailed is simply outrageous. There is not a shred of evidence to support such an allegation. If Lord Levy is in trouble, this has nothing to do with his ethnic identity."
Phillips warned that the implication that the Jewish community is "circling the wagons" to protect one of their own who is under investigation by the police is "simply appalling. It could also not be more damaging. Have these people really no brain at all? Don't they understand the harm they have done?"
She added: "At a time when there is not only an upsurge of real anti-Jewish prejudice, but the odious claim is made that any Jew who draws attention to it is crying wolf in an attempt to manipulate the agenda to their advantage, for the community to be seen to be doing just that over Lord Levy makes a bad situation even more difficult and leaves British Jews even more exposed than ever."
The columnist and comment editor of the Times newspaper, Daniel Finkelstein, wrote that Rabbi Schochet was making "a terrible error. If you start hinting at anti-Semitism whenever a Jew is in trouble you undermine the very idea. You make people wary of real claims, ones justified by the evidence." Finkelstein asked whether Lord Levy is in the spotlight because he is a Jew, "hung out to dry" because he is the only Jew involved, and whether anti-semitism is the position he finds himself in. Finkelstein answered "no no no no no no no" (seven times in all), adding: "There's enough genuine anti-Semitism about. And it is difficult enough to make people take it seriously."
The commentator Stephen Pollard wrote on his blog: "I screamed 'shut up' when I heard the rabbi. Yes, there have been some traces of anti-Semitism in some of the coverage." However, the basis of the affair is alleged corruption and alleged interference with the investigation into that corruption.
Pollard adds: "It happens that one of the people arrested is Jewish. If the Rabbi thinks Lord Levy would not have been arrested if he was an Anglican, or was only arrested because he is Jewish, then he is living in a parallel universe." He warned that when people throw the label anti-Semitic around without any basis "in fact they play into the hands of those real anti-Semites."
Certainly the alleged growth of anti-semitism in Britain is currently a highly sensitive issue. It is not uncommon for critics of Israeli policies to be accused of anti-semitism. Last September a group of prominent MPs presented to Blair at a meeting at Downing Street the report on their 10-month inquiry into anti-semitism in Britain. The report noted an increase in physical and verbal abuse against Jews in Britain, and alleged that "rage" over Israeli policies had sometimes "provided a pretext" for anti-semitism. It condemned moves by academics and others to boycott links with Israel.
It is often said that the British, for example the "chattering classes" at dinner parties, indulge in a particular form of anti-semitism which is difficult to prove and takes the form of "a nudge and a wink".
The then longest-serving Labour MP in the House of Commons Tam Dalyell caused outrage in May 2003 with his statement in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine that Blair is "unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers" including Lord Levy, Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw (the latter two do not consider themselves Jewish although they have some Jewish ancestry). Dalyell denied he was anti-semitic, but his statement is often cited as an example of anti-semitism in Britain.
Much of the media, including the BBC, has taken the allegations of anti-semitism against Lord Levy seriously and have reported and investigated them. BBC Radio Four's Today programme interviewed at length a friend of Lord Levy's, the Jewish businessman Sir Alan Sugar.
Sugar said Levy was a scapegoat who has "been set up as a bad guy" in the cash for honours affair. He spoke of Levy's "blind devotion for Tony Blair who he claims is his friend , and looking at the newspaper and television reports at the moment, with friends like him [Blair] you don't need any enemies." Sir Alan said he has a lot of respect for Blair and thinks he has been a "great prime minister and a decent man", but Blair will "go down in my estimation if he allows this nonsense to continue in respect to Levy, because Levy raised a lot of money for his party and assisted him to get elected."
Asked whether there is an anti-semitic angle to some of the media coverage of Lord Levy, Sir Alan said: "The major newspaper that has continually 'hounded' Levy is the Daily Mail. It's a paper which has been accused in the past of being tough on ethnic minorities such as the Jews or the Asians. "
But rather than agreeing that Lord Levy is being subjected to anti-semitism, Sugar said: "personally, I would steer away from the anti-semitism thing. "