Tipped To Lead UK Pro-Israel Lobby
by Alison Swersky
August 9, 2002
Political rumours were rife in Westminster this week that discredited
former transport secretary Stephen Byers was favourite to take over
the chairmanship of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) lobby group.
The MP for North Tyneside, dubbed a liar by the national
press after a series of political bungles and cover ups, resigned
from the top ministerial posting after stating hed become
a "distraction from what the government is achieving.
But a Labour party insider this week revealed it was a possibility
that the 49-year-old politician would run for the prestigious post.
He said: I am not going to confirm or deny the rumour but
it is not a million miles from the truth.
It is inappropriate to comment any further as the Labour
Friends of Israel is not a dedicated Labour organisation.
Byers was unavailable for comment this week, keeping himself out
of the public eye since the News of The World revealed he had allegedly
cheated on his long-term partner with a Labour councillor at a conference
However, many pundits see the potential move by the ex-minister
as a return to frontline politics as the LFI is routinely consulted
by Tony Blair on Middle East policy.
The pro-Israel lobby group is also seen by budding backbenchers
as a way of climbing the ministerial ranks.
Former chairman Jim Murphy, MP for Eastwood, recently resigned
from the post after being appointed to whip. And previous incumbent
Stephen Twigg MP for Enfield Southgate is now an Education minister.
LFI director David Mencer said: MPs on the LFI executive
are in the process of selecting a new chairman and its in
our best interest to ensure that the new chairman of the organisation
retains our influence at the highest levels of government.
Public affairs consultant Jon Mendelsohn, who is also the LFI campaigns
chairman, added: We have not confirmed the long list of candidates
and we are far away from choosing a short list.
But he said the new post would be filled by autumn.
Despite the saga that ended his career, Byers has been hailed a
hero by Labour backbenchers for re-nationalising Railtrack.
And Jewish leaders have thrown their support behind the politican,
who at the time of the Finsbury Park shul desecration, was the only
cabinet minister to visit the site and vent his outrage at the vandalism.
Lord Greville Janner, of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:
I will be very happy if Stephen Byers accepts a major position
with LFI and I hope he does.
He has always been very pro-Israel and a good friend of the
Board of Deputies director-general Neville Nagler said: We
work very closely with the LFI and we are happy to work with anyone
elected to that position.
Zionist Federation president Eric Moonman said: I think he
is the best man for the job. He has been a good friend to the community
in the past, which goes beyond anything in his own constituency.
I also think he is someone that can deliver the goods. He
has good contacts and this will be very helpful in these difficult
times, especially in terms of media coverage.
He also warned people not to read to deeply into the job, which
is unpaid and not a ministerial position.
One Westminster insider added: The thing that matters is
the cause, not the person. Even if Tony Blair took up the post he
wouldnt get the support he did as prime minister.
One person who may oppose Byers appointment is LFIs
life president Gwyneth Dunwoody, who in her role as the House of
Commons transport select committee chairman, launched a scathing
attack on his time at the department.
market for Israel Friends chairmanship
by Bernard Josephs
August 9, 2002
Former Transport Secretary Ste-phen Byers is being tipped as a
top contender to take over the chair of the Parliamentary Labour
Friends of Israel vacated by Jim Murphy on being named a
A senior LFI source told the JC this week that Mr Byers was one
of the strongest contenders among a number of MPs under
consideration for the post.
Mr Byers who resigned his ministerial post in June amid
a crescendo of criticism over his stewardship of the department
has a strong record of support for UK-Israel ties and Jewish
As Trade and Industry Secretary, he signed the Britech agreement
encouraging research co-operation between British and Israeli
high-tech companies. Earlier this year, he joined Chief Rabbi Dr
Jonathan Sacks in a visit to Finsbury Park Syn-agogue after a desecration
At the time of his resignation, LFI issued a statement of personal
support for Mr Byers.
LFI director David Mencer described him as one of our greatest
friends in the Commons, noting that the North Tyneside MP
had stood by Israel while many senior politicians across Parliament
shied away from showing support.
West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson has also been mooted as a possible
new LFI chairman. The choice will be announced during Labours
With Labour in power, the LFI post involves keeping in close touch
with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
Mr Byers was unavailable for comment.