Friday, December 14, 2007 | return to: international


Jews are central players in U.K. financing scandals

by dinah spritzer, jta

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A campaign financing scandal in which two of the principal players are Jewish is dealing a heavy blow to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's already weakened administration.

The involvement of two Jews at the center of the very public scandal is also making many British Jews uncomfortable, but Jewish community leaders say it has not caused any alarming anti-Jewish media coverage or anti-Semitic fallout.

"You can't escape from the fact that the main dramatis personae in this saga are Jews," said Antony Lerman, the executive director of the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research. "Not only are they Jewish, they are committed Jews."

But Lerman said "the media's coverage on this issue has been fair."

As might be expected, those under scrutiny have links with an Israeli advocacy organization — fueling the cadre of anti-Israeli conspiracy theorists.

The crisis began at the end of November, when the British media reported that real estate magnate David Abrahams anonymously donated 670,000 British pounds, or $1.37 million, to Brown's center-left Labor Party over the past four years.

Anonymous donations above 5,000 pounds, or around $10,000, are illegal in Britain following the enactment of a law in 2000 — spearheaded by the Labor Party — that was intended to make political influence peddling more transparent.

Politicians described Abrahams in the British press as a "hanger-on" who, unable to win elections for higher office, sought influence through his money.

The Abrahams donations, made through four intermediaries, implicated chief Labor Party fundraiser Jon Mendelsohn, 40, who also is the director of the Labor Friends of Israel. The group of 44 legislators supports Israel and Middle East peace.

Mendelsohn and Abrahams reportedly met through the Labor Friends of Israel.

Mendelsohn said he was unaware of the donations until September and admitted he tried to handle the matter quietly, without informing the country's electoral commission. Abrahams claims Mendelsohn called his intermediary method "a good idea" and knew of his donations as far back as April.

Abrahams, who owns six real estate firms in Newcastle, is being investigated by the police for his role in the affair.

This is not the first political scandal for Abrahams. In 1991 he had to quit his Parliament campaign when the Sunday Sun newspaper reported that he was paying a woman to act as his wife.

The woman who says she was paid to play Abrahams' wife told the Daily Telegraph that Abrahams has a 7-foot pink statue of Elvis Presley and enormous piles of cash lying around his Newcastle home.

With such titillating details, "Donorgate," as the donations drama was been dubbed, has received extensive front-page and television coverage in Britain.

Brown is being accused by the opposing Tories and Liberal Democrats of running a party awash in sleaze.

The Labor Party secretary has resigned and numerous others are expected to be ousted, including a number of Parliament members who did not declare the source of their donations.

It is the scale of the scandal that has diffused the Jewish factor, said Rabbi Andrew Goldstein of the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue in a London suburb.

"The focus is on Brown being incompetent rather than on Jewish plots," he said. "The press is not focusing on the Jewish connection. I have not seen any anti-Israel or anti-Semitism in the coverage."

This contrasts with the affair of Lord Levy, the chief fundraiser for Tony Blair, the former prime minister and now a Middle East envoy.

Levy was investigated by the police this year and last over accusations that wealthy supporters provided Labor with secret loans in return for positions in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament.

"The media never failed to mention Levy was a prominent Jew," said Jewish Londoner Richard Millet.


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