The donor, the ac­tivist and the big ques­tions

How a se­cret Labour donor and the Prime Min­is­ter’s chief fundraiser be­came em­broiled in a new po­lit­i­cal scan­dal

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY NATHAN JEFFAY, JAN SHURE AND BERNARD JOSEPHS

NEW­CAS­TLE-BORN DAVID Abra­hams, the man at the heart of the Labour Party’s latest sleaze al­le­ga­tions, is well known in Jewish com­mu­nal cir­cles and Is­rael-re­lated char­i­ties.

In­deed, when the me­dia in­ter­est in his 19 proxy do­na­tions to the party be­came in­tense on Mon­day, he did not spend the evening at home at his £1 mil­lion apart­ment in Im­pe­rial Court, St John’s Wood, in North-West Lon­don.

In­stead, he headed for the op­u­lent en­vi­rons of the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians in Re­gent’s Park, where the Bri­tish Tech­nion So­ci­ety, the UK fundrais­ing arm of the Haifa-based Tech­nion, was hold­ing its an­nual din­ner.

Pub­lic-re­la­tions con­sul­tant Shi­mon Co­hen, whose com­pany rep­re­sents the char­ity, was sur­prised to see Mr Abra­hams at the event. “It was un­ex­pected, con­sid­er­ing he claims to want to avoid the lime­light.”

By the fol­low­ing night, Mr Abrah a ms was a p - pear­ing on BBC’s News­night read­ing on-air a let­ter sent to him by Jon Men­del­sohn, Gor­don Brown’s di­rec­tor of e l e c t i on r e - sources, only two days be­fore the scan­dal broke in the Sun­day pa­pers. This placed the for­mer head of the Labour Friends of Is­rael at the cen­tre of the row, and led to Op­po­si­tion calls for Mr Men­del­sohn’s res­ig­na­tion.

The only son of Ben­nie Abra­hams, a for­mer Lord Mayor of New­cas­tle, and Mar­ion, née Shapiro, mar­ried at Liver­pool’s Princes Road Syn­a­gogue in May 1939, David Martin Abra­hams was born in 1944, though in 1991, he told a Labour se­lec­tion com­mit­tee in Rich­mond, York­shire that he was born in 1954. The JC con­firmed that he was born 10 years ear­lier: his bar­mitz­vah took place at New­cas­tle’s United He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion on De­cem­ber 7 1957, mak­ing next Fri­day the 50th an­niver­sary of the event.

Ac­cord­ing to the York­shire Post, Mr Abra­hams not only at­tempted to shave 10 years off his age for the Rich­mond se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, but also called him­self David Martin and cre­ated an in­stant fam­ily. By tak­ing di­vor­cée Anthea Bai­ley and her 11-year-old son to his in­ter­view, he al­legedly cre­ated the im­pres­sion they were his wife and son. He claimed that his use of the name David Martin was le­git­i­mate, as a way to be in­de­pen­dent of his fa­ther, a prom­i­nent busi­ness­man and lo­cal politi­cian. Af­ter his fa­ther’s death, he re­verted to Abra­hams.

He be­gan his flir­ta­tion with Labour pol­i­tics in the 1970s, when he rep­re­sented a New­cas­tle ward on the nowde­funct Tyne and Wear Metropoli­tan County Coun­cil, though he lost the safe Labour seat four years later.

De­scribed as a “Labour groupie” and by jour­nal­ist Stephen Pol­lard as “the pushi­est per­son I have ever met”, he was present when Tony Blair gave his res­ig­na­tion speech at his Sedge­field con­stituency HQ in June.

Though he now has a house in the pros­per­ous sub­urb of Gos­forth, where a large pro­por­tion of the city’s sec­u­lar Jewish com­mu­nity live, he was brought up on the grit­tier west side of New­cas­tle. His for­mer so­lic­i­tor, Howard Gold, said that, un­like many Jewish boys of his age, Mr Abra­hams did not at­tend one of the private schools favoured by the Jewish com­mu­nity, but was sent to a lo­cal state school, in line with his fa­ther’s so­cial­ist prin­ci­ples.

There is no record of univer­sity at­ten­dance, but Mr Abra­hams’s latest project is en­dow­ing a chair in Mid­dle East pol­i­tics at War­wick Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Glob­al­i­sa­tion and Re­gion­al­i­sa­tion. He told the JC that he had se­lected the Mid­lands in­sti­tu­tion be­cause “they have a good track record as far as Jewish stu­dents are con­cerned”.

He is a pro­vin­cial vice-chair­man of the Jewish Labour Move­ment, serves on the board of the Trade Union Friends of Is­rael, and was among com­mu­nal lead­ers who met Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert dur­ing his re­cent visit to the UK.

He was also the north­ern con­venor of the Labour Friends of Is­rael and in 1991 was elected to the LFI na­tional ex­ec­u­tive. It is likely that it was at LFI where he first met Jon Men­del­sohn, who be­came its di­rec­tor in 2002.

Other char­i­ties which have ben­e­fited from David Abra­hams’s gifts in­clude Friends of Bar Ilan Univer­sity, whose chair­man Con­rad Mor­ris de­scribed him as “a re­cent donor” who had been present at its May din­ner at Guild­hall. He has also given to the Cen­tre for Jewish-Chris­tian Re­la­tions and the Cen­tre for Mus­lim Jewish Re­la­tions, both based at Cam­bridge’s Woolf In­sti­tute, where ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ed Kessler de­scribed Mr Abra­hams as “one of a num­ber of donors who has made rel­a­tively mod­est do­na­tions of £2,000 or less in the last cou­ple of years”.

Dayan Ivan Bin­stock, min­is­ter at St John’s Wood Syn­a­gogue, con­firmed that Mr Abra­hams was a mem­ber and “an oc­ca­sional wor­ship­per”, but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

On Ty­ne­side, Rabbi Dovid Lewis, min­is­ter of New­cas­tle United He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion — where a hall was en­dowed in the name of Mr Abra­hams’s mother — told the JC the prop­erty de­vel­oper had “never been any­where near the shul that I know of in the three years I have been here”.

Shul pres­i­dent Vic­tor Gal­lant said that Mr Abra­hams’s par­ents had made “huge do­na­tions” to the syn­a­gogue, but their son “was not a donor”.

Mr Gal­lant added that he was amazed “that the unas­sum­ing man I know slightly has been pro­pelled in to the me­dia spot­light”.

Mr Abra­hams was “not an ac­tive mem­ber of the Jewish com­mu­nity”, not a mem­ber of the syn­a­gogue and had only “spo­radic con­tact”, noted Mr Gal­lant, but “he is well known be­cause his fa­ther, as lord mayor, was well known.

“I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber the times I have seen him in shul, he has been say­ing Kad­dish [me­mo­rial prayers] for his par­ents,” added Mr Gal­lant. He re­called a row four years ago when Mr Abra­hams cut down a tree in the lo­cal New­cas­tle ceme­tery with­out per­mis­sion, so that he could erect memo­ri­als for his par­ents. But the row was “am­i­ca­bly re­solved”, said Mr Gal­lant.

On Tues­day this week, af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown had de­nounced Mr Abra­hams’s method of con­tri­bu­tion to the Labour Party , the JC re­ceived the first in­di­ca­tion that there was an­other Jewish player in the af­fair — Mr Men­del­sohn, 28th in the JC’s own Power 100 list ear­lier this year.

This news­pa­per ob­tained a copy of the ap­par­ently damn­ing let­ter writ­ten by Mr Men­del­sohn, presently the Labour Party’s chief elec­tion fundraiser, to Mr Abra­hams. The let­ter, dated Novem­ber 22, said that the party was “very ap­pre­cia­tive of all the help and sup­port you have given over many years”, and asked for a meet­ing with Mr Abra­hams to dis­cuss “the pri­or­i­ties that we are as­sign­ing to our re­sources”.

Mr Abra­hams pointed out that this meant Mr Men­del­sohn was all too aware of the way in which he was do­nat­ing money to Labour — and wanted to con­tinue the process.

But in a for­mal state­ment is­sued on Wed­nes­day, Mr Men­del­sohn in­sisted that “given our per­sonal his­tory of past dis­agree­ments”, he felt it un­likely that Mr Abra­hams would agree to a meet­ing. His let­ter, he main­tained, “does not ask for funds, but is a po­lite and cour­te­ous re­quest to or­gan­ise a meet­ing at which I was plan­ning to tell him of my de­ci­sion” — that his “method of con­tri­bu­tion was un­ac­cept­able”. The two had sat next to each other at the Board of Deputies din­ner in April.

Jon Men­del­sohn with Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown

David Abra­hams with his mother Mar­ion and fa­ther Ben­nie in New­cas­tle; all three were Labour coun­cil­lors

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