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Byers Tipped To Lead UK Pro-Israel Lobby

by Alison Swersky
Totally Jewish
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 he’d 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 in Cardiff.

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 it’s 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 Jewish people.”

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 wouldn’t get the support he did as prime minister.”

One person who may oppose Byers’ appointment is LFI’s 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.


Byers market for Israel Friends chairmanship

by Bernard Josephs
Jewish Chronicle
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 government whip.

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 community concerns.

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 attack.

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 Labour’s October conference.

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.