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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

The pro-Israel Peer who brought down a UK cabinet minister

Priti Patel resigned on Wednesday after it was revealed she had held secret meetings with Israeli officials, arranged by Conservative Peer Lord Polak

British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel sits in a car as she departs Downing Street after resigning from her position. Carl Court/Getty Images
British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel sits in a car as she departs Downing Street after resigning from her position. Carl Court/Getty Images

Fury over Israeli meddling in British politics swept Westminster on Wednesday, costing a cabinet minister who had been a rising star her job.

Former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer said International Development Secretary Priti Patel’s series of meetings with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was a clear breach of cabinet rules. "She should not be colluding with a foreign government - it doesn't matter if it's an ally or not, to do it in that secretive way makes her look like she's much more the emissary of the Israeli government than a member of the British government."

The meetings were all arranged by Lord Polak, a veteran Conservative who ran the party’s friends of Israel association for decades.

Stuart Polak is the consummate Westminster insider. Just hours before the news that cabinet minister Patel had held a dozen unauthorised meetings in Israel in August, the Conservative peer was seen in lengthy discussions with the prime minister’s chief of staff.

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Casual observers would have seen nothing unusual in the tete-a-tete. Polak had risen from an office junior at a synagogue in Edgware, West London to become the face of the Conservative’s Israel lobby.

With Israel’s prime minister Benajmin Netanyahyu visiting London on the invite of Theresa May to mark “with pride” the Balfour Declaration, Polak could last week savour a high point in the relationship between his party and the Jewish state.

The Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is the most powerful of the satellite groups in Westminster that seek to shape policy and develop political understanding of specialist issues.

For Polak his career has been a steady schedule of dinners in Pall Mall clubs, trips to Israel for hundreds of Conservatives, conferences in central London venues and, the ultimately treacherous, arranging of one-on-one meetings with senior Israelis.

The annual lunch in five star hotels like the Dorchester on Park Lane was always addressed by the Conservative leader and attracted a guest list of up to 700. On its website CFI claims to have arranged for 91 MPs and peers to travel to Israel on 13 trips in just the last two years.

A close friendship with Andrew Feldman, David Cameron’s close ally and fundraiser, resulted in a seat in the House of Lords. At some point, allies feel that Polak lost his political sixth sense, promoting Mrs Patel with a zeal that led to her downfall.

“I think they knew they were not doing the right thing,” one unnamed friend told the Jewish Chronicle. “They took a gamble and screwed up. Love him as I do, Stuart may have got too cocky for his own good. He’s helped Priti’s rise – and her fall.”

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