Saturday, April 01, 2006

Harold Wilson's Handler?

still some mysteries behind the pipe smoke.

ARIEH HANDLER celebrated his 90th birthday last year, and finally "made Alyah"(lit. 'ascent'), that is to say, this old Zionist emigrated to Israel. On May 25 this year, which they call "Jerusalem Day", Misrachi, the religious Zionist movement linked with Israel's right-wing National Religious Party, will be holding a celebratory dinner to pay tribute to Mr. Handler's lifetime service to their cause, particularly his work for youth and education.

"Arieh has been an inspiration to many people and has changed the lives of literally thousands. If you are one of those people, or if you have any photos, stories or anecdotes relating to any aspect of Arieh’s lifework, we would like to hear from you".

Arieh Handler is credited with founding the youth movement B'nei Akiva, which established religious kibbutzim. But he also became the chairman of Hapoel Hamizrahi Bank, which looked after his party's finances; and by coincidence, while Misrahi and Friends of Bnei Akiva were making plans to celebrate him, I had thought of his name in connection with current interest in political party finances and a recent television programme.

Among the people whose lives were touched in some way by Arieh Handler was one James Harold Wilson, twice prime minister of Great Britain (1964-70 and 1974-77). That Wilson had a number of Jewish businessmen friends is well known, as were his sympathies with the State of Israel. Some of these associates dated from his time at the Board of Trade, in the post-war Attlee government, when he eased restrictions and shared the interest of people like timber merchant Montague Meyer in developing East-West trade.

This might have been good for Britain but it attracted suspicion from public school Cold Warriers in the security services who resented the Yorkshire grammar school oik as much as they disliked his you-know-who-ish friends.

There has long been a Zionist presence in the Labour Party. Poale Zion, linked with the Israeli Labour Party, affiliated in 1920, and the Labour Friends of Israel could count on a wide range of MPs and some union leaders for support. The Labour government's backing for Israel, extending as we now know to secret nuclear collaboration, was important in the 1967 war which led to the conquest of so much territory.

Property developer Eric Miller, knighted by Wilson, was one of the party's Zionists. He was found dead in his garden while his business was subject to a police investigation. There were rumours that it was not suicide. Eric Moonman MP was chairman of Poale Zion before defecting to the Social Democrats, and went on to head the British Israel Public Affairs Committee(BIPAC).

Arieh Handler stuck out among these circles, as neither a northern manufacturer nor a Labour Zionist. Beside his Hapoel Hamizrahi Bank, however, Handler headed the London branch of the International Credit Bank of Geneva, established in 1959, by a man called Tibor Rosenbaum.
Hungarian-born Rosenbaum had lived in Israel, and reputedly carried out special assignments for the State in its early days, from arms dealings to relations with President Tubman of Liberia.

His bank had a special relationship with the State, as well as some special customers -such as Meir Lansky, when the US crime boss tried to shake off the FBI in 1970, by claiming his rights under Israel's "Law of Return", buying a flat in Tel Aviv and some political protektzia.

Rosenbaum's bank was also used to move Israeli public funds abroad, obtain foreign exchange, and back secret operations. It also made a loan at one time to the Israeli Labour Party, so it seems such lending has a precedent. Eventually the Israeli authorities fell out with Rosenbaum. Either they felt too much was being siphoned off for services, or he fell fowl of shifts in foreign policy relationships. But meantime it was Arieh Handler, the ICB's man in London, who handed over a £1,500 cheque to Harold Wilson in 1973, and headed the group of businessmen financing Wilson's office.

Labour's Jack Dromey says as party treasurer he was not told about loans made to the Party under the Blair government. The circle of friends of Wilson set up a special trust fund to finance his office because, they said, they did not want the Labour Party to see it.

M15 kept slipping information and allegations about Wilson to Private Eye magazine. Much of the material it published focussed on his Jewish friends and Zionist connections. It nicknamed secretary Marcia Williams (who became Lady Falkender) the "Zionic Woman".

The recent TV programme The Plot Against Harold Wilson ( BBC2, March 16) concentrated more on the security services imagining Wilson as a "commie" agent, and the more important state conspiracy against the labour movement. It was good to hear confirmed what we suspected, that troops sent to Heathrow airport in 1974 were rehearsing civil war, not as was claimed at the time, looking out for terrorists.

As for Wilson's Swiss bank account, it was frozen in 1974, when ICB went into liquidation, and he never got to use it. On March 16, 1976 Wilson resigned as Prime Minister, a few days after his 60th birthday. There was no obvious political reason for him to go then. It may have been just that he felt his once formidable mental powers were slipping. But the reasons for his resignation have remained a subject for speculation.



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