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Meet Stuart Polak, the Israel lobbyist at centre of Priti Patel scandal

Israel lobbyist and Conservative peer accompanied Patel on all of her meetings in Israel where she met Benjamin Netanyahu
Polak claims to have been on holiday at the same time as Patel (Conservative Friends of Israel)

UK government minister Priti Patel resigned from her post after it was revealed that she held secret meetings with several Israeli politicians during her "family holiday" to Israel in August.

But for the Conservative peer who accompanied the international development secretary and helped organise her meetings in Israel, this should have been a walk in the park.

Stuart Polak, who is the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), has organised hundreds of trips to Israel for politicians and journalists over the years.

His most recent trip to Israel with Conservative MPs was headed by chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, former Tory minister Eric Pickles. Some of the big names who accompanied Pickles and Polak include several former Conservative ministers. 

Polak defended his meetings with Patel and told the BBC last week that he just happened to be in Israel at the same time as her. But accusations continue to mount against the veteran pro-Israeli advocate.

Conflict of interest

Critics have claimed that Patel's meetings with Israeli politicians and organisations represented a conflict of interest for Polak. This comes after one of the organisations that met Patel during her trip showcased high-tech medical products directly connected to TWC Associates, a consultancy firm chaired by the Conservative peer. 

According to TWC's website, its clients include several Israeli defence companies including Elbit Systems, whose drones operate in the occupied Golan Heights, which Patel controversially visited during her trip. 

Hailing from Liverpool and described as being an avid fan of the football club, Polak began his career as a United Synagogue youth officer in Edgware.

Inspired by a "sense of duty" to help his community, Polak has been the driving force that has helped propel the Conservative Friends of Israel to becoming a highly influential force in British politics today.

In this role he helped ensure that 80 percent of Conservative MPs are a member of CFI as well as writing speeches for numerous Conservative party leaders.

With an influential membership of 2,000 party figures, CFI holds immense sway inside the Conservative Party that goes beyond parliament. According to the Conservative Home website, CFI "supports Conservative candidates in elections up and down Britain, and organises campaigns to get the vote out for them, especially in target seats." 

Prior to stepping down as director of the influential lobby group, Polak headed CFI for more than 25 years, where he helped influence the Conservative Party's stance on the Middle East.

Earlier this year, Middle East Eye revealed that Markham Services Limited, a company co-owned and directed by Polak, had funded several trips to the Middle East for Alistair Burt, who became the UK's Middle East minister. 

His work in CFI led him to become a close confidant of former UK prime minister David Cameron who later gave him a lordship in 2015. Since then Polak has continued his pro-Israel advocacy.

Shying away

Known for being a back-room operator who keeps behind the scene, this latest scandal has put Polak at the centre of the revelations that continue to unfold in Westminster. 

His close associates describe him as not looking for a "public profile" and someone who isn't a "headline grabber".

Yet despite keeping a low profile, Polak has made occasional public interventions to speak out for Israel and ensure the Conservative Party protects its interests. 

He most recently described Baroness Warsi's comments to Middle East Eye over a "loophole" created to protect young Jews who join the Israeli army as "misguided" and showing a "total lack of understanding of the only true democracy in the Middle East".

"To equate the actions of the Israeli Defence Force and non-state actors that include vile terror groups such as Daesh is misguided. This blase attitude is both careless and shocking," Polak said at the time.