A guest post by Hadar Sela, a freelance Anglo Israeli writer
Jenny Tonge (far left) with Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh (third from left)
The recent tirade by Baroness Jenny Tonge – which resulted in her removal from the Liberal Democrats Party – included one of her more recurrent themes; the so-called ‘Israel lobby’.
Tonge said that Americans would tell “the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough” and accounts by those present at the event report that:
“Tonge, who describes herself as an “ethnic Christian” started by telling the audience to beware of the Israel lobby because “once they have decided to go for you, they will go for you. I bear the scars”. She cited the notorious writings of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which have been widely discredited for effectively alleging a Jewish conspiracy – a charge that the authors have strenuously denied.”
This, of course, is not a new theme for Jenny Tonge. In 2006 she opined:
“The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western World, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our party”.
It is therefore interesting to note that on Baroness Tonge’s newly updated profile page on the House of Lords website she declares two overseas trips within the last few months, both paid for by the Council for European Palestinian Relations.
Visit to Cairo and Gaza, 20-25 November 2011; travel expenses and accommodation paid by Council for European Palestinian Relations (based in Brussels)
Visit to Qatar, 8-10 January 2012, for discussions with Crown Prince; cost of accommodation and travel met by Council for European/Palestine Relations (based in Brussels)
The Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) declares itself to be an “independent non-profit and non-partisan” organization registered in Belgium (BE 0828.629.725) and with an office in London.
It appears on the Transparency Register of the Joint Secretariat of the European Parliament and European Commission (no. 60576433-83). According to that register we see that in the financial year 2010/2011 the CEPR had a total budget of 155,000 Euros, all of which came from donations, although no information is available as to the identity of the donors.
The CEPR declares on the register and on its website that:
“The CEPR is funded by individual donations from around the world in compliance with Belgian and UK legal requirements. It does not accept funds from any individuals or bodies whose objectives are inimical to the interests of peace and justice.”
So far, the CEPR perhaps sounds like any other lobbyist body, but the interesting aspects of this organization begin to come to light when one takes a look at the personalities behind it.
The Director of CEPR is Dr. Arafat Shoukri (aka Arafat Madi Mahmoud Shukri). Shoukri is also Operational Director with the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) – a Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood affiliated organization based in London which is outlawed in Israel due to its clear links to Hamas.
Several of the PRC’s senior figures are Hamas activists who found refuge in the UK. Founded by Salman Abu Sitta in 1996, the PRC was born out of rejection of the Oslo Accords, denial of Israel’s right to exist and the agenda of ‘right of return’ for millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, effectively annihilating the Jewish state. Its funding is not transparent.
Other PRC board members are connected to charities linked to the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Union of Good’ umbrella organization – illegal in Israel and the United States due to its fundraising activities for Hamas. Several prominent PRC activists took part in the infamous ‘Durban Conference’ in 2001.
Since 2003 the PRC has organized an annual ‘Conference of Palestinians in Europe’ which is attended by figures from Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood along with representatives of their supporting organisations. Ismail Haniyeh – unable to travel to the conferences in person due to a European travel ban – has on several occasions addressed the conference by video link.
Arafat Shoukri is also chair of the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) which was established by the Muslim Brotherhood’s European arm – the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) in 2007 and shares the same London offices as the PRC. The ECESG is one of the coalition of groups which organizes the various flotillas aimed at breaking Israel’s maritime embargo on Gaza which was established in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hamas. Jenny Tonge is a “supporting VIP” of the ECESG.
Here is Shoukri being interviewed in his ECESG capacity prior to the tragic 2010 flotilla:
The CEPR website is registered to ‘Save Gaza’, which was the address of the apparently now defunct ECESG website still promoted on the ECESG Facebook account.
Arafat Shoukri attended the recent ‘Conference for the Defence of Al Quds’ in Qatar, (also attended by Yusuf Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood) which came to the conclusion that “the Israelis have no heritage in Al-Quds”.
Assistant to the Director at CEPR is Ramy Abdu (aka Rami Salah Ismail Abdo) who at least until 2011 was (and may still be) also the ECESG spokesman. In 2009 Abdu left his native Gaza (where he acted as spokesman for the pro-Hamas ‘Popular Committee Against the Siege’) and moved to Manchester to study at MMU. He also became an ECESG co-ordinator. Here is Abdu being interviewed in his previous role with the PCAS.
James Tuite is the Parliamentary Officer of the CEPR and as such is active at the European Parliament in Brussels and presumably in initiatives such as this.
Dimitris Bouris is the CEPR Research Assistant. Examples of his writing and research can be seen here and here.
Stuart Reigeluth is Communications Officer for the CEPR. He holds a Master’s degree in Palestinian poetry from the American University in Beirut and also writes for several outlets including the Gulf News, the Daily Star, the Palestine-Israel Journal and Electronic Intifada.
Unsurprisingly, Reigeluth has also contributed articles to the antisemitic ‘Palestine Telegraph‘ which is run by Sameh Habeeb (aka Sameh Akram Subhi Habib – also originally from Gaza) who is also connected to both the Palestinian Return Centre and the ECESG, having acted as the latter’s spokesman during its 2009 aid convoy. Jenny Tonge was patron of the Palestine Telegraph until she resigned after it posted a David Duke video.
Julian Memetaj is listed as Communications Assistant on the CEPR website. In this recent article (written together with Reigeluth) he states that “Jewish Israelis are xenophobic towards Arabs”.
Ayman Abuawwad (also Abu Awad) is not listed on the website, but is sometimes described as Information Officer in press releases and articles put out on behalf of the CEPR. He is also apparently connected to the ECESG.
Further indication of the close level of co-operation between the CEPR and the other organisations with which so many of its staff are involved can be seen in their joint projects.
In 2011 the CEPR and the PRC together took a group of Parliamentarians from Britain and Europe – lead by Sir Gerald Kaufman – to Lebanon where they met representatives of the PFLP-GC and Osama Hamdan of Hamas. (Both these organisations are proscribed terror groups in the EU). Majid al Zeer of the PRC (a known Hamas operative) and Arafat Shoukri of the CEPR were also present in the delegation.
Also in 2011 a joint CEPR/ECESG project took a group of 50 Parliamentarians to Gaza, where they met with Ismail Haniyeh among others.
Whilst it is unsurprising to say the least that Jenny Tonge would collaborate with such a thinly veiled Hamas lobby as the Council for European Palestinian Relations, some of the many other members of both Houses of Parliament who have taken part in CEPR trips might care to ask themselves exactly where the money for their travel expenses originated and whether or not their allowing themselves to be lobbied by an organisation with such clear links to a terrorist organisation their own government has proscribed is appropriate.
The European and British Parliaments – which allow the CEPR to lobby on their premises – would also be wise to verify that organisation’s claim that it “does not accept funds from any individuals or bodies whose objectives are inimical to the interests of peace and justice”.