'Even if It Had Cost Double, I Would Still Have Paid for Bibi's Trip,' Says U.K. Millionaire

Daphna Berman
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Daphna Berman

Joshua Rowe, the Manchester millionaire who invited Benjamin Netanyahu to London on behalf of the British Jewish community for an Israel advocacy campaign during the Second Lebanon War, yesterday rejected claims that business interests were behind his willingness to underwrite the trip's cost, which he estimated at 15,000 pounds.

Netanyahu, he said, also reimbursed him for personal expenses - around 1,500 pounds. "Netanyahu insisted on paying me back, but I said no, we'll cover it. He insisted and said that he needed to pay me for those private expenses and so he did."

In a telephone interview from the UK, Rowe told Haaretz that he personally invited Netanyahu on behalf of the British community, though he admitted that he never invited Sara Netanyahu along.

"I called Netanyahu, in consultation with the Jewish community, and told him about the media image of Israel [in England during the war]. He said he had permission from the Knesset and that he's coming." Regarding Sara, Rowe said: "She was there, but whether she was invited, I don't know. I did not invite her, but it wasn't an issue for us, we didn't have a problem with it."

Rowe is a leading figure in the Manchester Jewish community, where he is the chairman of governors at the King David School. He made his money in the textile business, and is considered to hold right of center political views.

Not a quid pro quo

"This is not a matter of quid pro quo," Rowe said. "If there is the slightest implication that the sponsor - that I - received any kind of benefit for this, it's completely untrue. I never had any kind of business connection with Netanyahu at all. I never asked for any protektsia, as they say in Israel. Never, never, never. "He worked for us; it wasn't a gift," Rowe added. "He was on CNN, Sky News, all over the media, and he also raised money for Israel Bonds."

Rowe said that the hotel booking, including the choice of hotel and selecting a suite - rather than a standard room - was done by the Israeli embassy in London. Rowe said he paid the final bill of around 15,000 pounds, of which the Israel Bonds then paid a third.

Rowe said that before extending the invitation to Netanyahu, he consulted with leading Jewish organizations during which he agreed to pay Netanyahu's bill.

"We always have a sponsor or two when we invite guests to the community. It's standard procedure in the charitable scene here. All the organizations wanted him to come, but I facilitated it. I said I would take the responsibility for the financial aspects of the trip." Rowe said he didn't understand the fuss in Israel surrounding the visit. "As an Englishman, I don't understand what's going on. It's not the Israeli taxpayer paying the bill. I was.

"British Jewry was in a depression. Israel was attacked by rockets, but the media was attacking Israel. It's not that we have pots of gold lying around, but even if it cost double or triple the amount, I still would have agreed to underwrite the trip. Netanyahu lifted a lot of spirits. He's a very effective ambassador for Israel."

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