The Tories find new Israel hero in Robert

Doreen Wachmann meets the Conservatives' counterpart to Labour's pro-Zionist Louise Ellman

DOUGHTY Labour MP Louise Ellman is never scared to openly proclaim her Jewish identity and fight for Israel and against Islamic extremism at every Parliamentary opportunity.

And now the Conservative Party has finally found its counterpart to her.

This is proved by the recent resignation of London School of Economics director Sir Howard Davies and the ongoing row over Libyan funding for British universities.

For Harlow MP Robert Halfon has made no secret of the fact that it was the experiences of his Libyan refugee Jewish grandfather Renato Halfon that prompted him to go on all-out war against Libyan funding for universities in Britain.

With his father Clement Halfon having upped his level of Orthodox Jewish practice and now living in Jerusalem, Robert - whose partner Vanda is in the process of converting to Judaism through the Orthodox Sephardi Beth Din - says of his own Jewish allegiance: "I believe in it all. But I don't do enough."

But he certainly makes up for it by his constant support for Israel and courageous stand against Islamic fundamentalism.

The former Conservative Friends of Israel political director has wasted no time since being elected MP last May to speak up on behalf of Israel and against Islamic extremism.

Last month, the target of Halfon's vehement attacks was the Muslim parliamentary group iEngage which he tried to get banned from the Commons. This month it is Libyan funding for British universities,

And he certainly does not mince his words.

He says: "It is one of biggest scandals ever. I feel there should be a Foreign Office inquiry into the last government's appeasement of the Libyan regime.

"It was akin to British aristocrats appeasing fascism in the 1930s."

A hawk who early on wanted to see British military intervention to stop Gaddafi massacring his own people, Halfon says: "Our government should not do what the last government did and build alliances with terrorists and dictators.

"We should be supporting those areas in the Middle East like Kurdistan, northern Iraq and Israel that support democracy and human rights."

He continues: "I condemn any university that had links with the Libyan government. I also believe that universities which take blood money should not get any taxpayers' money."

And Halfon is not satisfied with Sir Howard Davies' resignation from the LSE.

He said: "I want the whole LSE council to resign, not just him."

He has also made freedom-of- information requests to 100 of Britain's top universities, asking them to divulge all donations received from the Middle East and North Africa.

And he has tabled a series of questions across five government departments, as well as the Prime Minister's Office, asking them the lengths to which government ministers and officials went to facilitate business and academic links with Gaddafi.

Besides Libyan links, Halfon is concerned about donations of around 75million from 123 Muslim countries to Oxford University, Saudi Arabian donations to Cambridge, and Edinburgh and Durham universities' memorandum of understanding with the Iranian government.

He is also concerned about possible links between his own alma mater, Exeter University, where he gained an MA in Russian politics, with a top figure in the Muslim Brotherhood's counterpart in the UK.

All Halfon's passionate engagement stems from the fact that his grandfather left Libya in 1968, driven out by Arab pogroms following the Six-Day War.

But Renato Halfon, whose Libyan clothes manufacturing business had sold clothes to the British army, was hoping to return to his birthplace once the situation had quietened down.

But with Gaddafi coming to power the following year and seizing all businesses, Renato was left with no option but to remain in London where his son Clement - Robert's father - was studying.

An Anglophile because Renato had liked his British customers "as they paid on time", Robert's grandfather had settled in London after some time in Rome.

But the family resentment against the dictator who had stolen his thriving business ran deep and is still motivating Robert to this day.

Meanwhile, Robert's father had married Jennifer - an Ashkenazi from whom he is now divorced.

Robert grew up in Hampstead, attending Hampstead Garden Synagogue.

He says: "I have always been very supportive of Israel. I have been to Israel many times for work and family, especially now that my father, who has become more Orthodox, lives in Jerusalem.

"I talk a lot about Israel in the House of Commons."

Unsurprisingly, this stance has not won him too many friends.

Although he claims that there are other friends of Israel, he admits: "The Arab-Palestinian lobby is very strong. There are a lot of people out there who take an Arabist, extremist Islamic view. That is par for the course."

Halfon has recently been the subject both of online antisemitic attacks and legal threats from institutions like Liverpool's John Moores University, which resent his meddling into their funding affairs.

But Halfon just shrugs them all off as "inevitable if you put your head above the parapet".

Let's hope his head remains above the parapet protecting the interests of Israel, democracy and university accountability for many years to come.

© 2011 Jewish Telegraph