The Henry Jackson Society (HJS) is a UK-based advocacy organization that serves as a bastion of trans-Atlantic neoconservatism. Established in 2005, the group's "statement of principles" promotes a "forward strategy" aimed at assisting democratization across the globe, ensuring the maintenance of strong militaries in the United States and the European Union, and giving "two cheers to capitalism." Citing a commitment to "fundamental values," the statement also cautions that alliances with "repressive regimes" should only be temporary.
HJS maintains staff in London, Cambridge, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. The group's executive director is Alan Mendoza, a Cambridge-trained historian and founder of the Disraelian Union, "a London-based progressive Conservative think-tank and discussion forum." Its president is Brenda Simms, a teaching fellow at the University of Cambridge's Centre of International Studies. HSJ's associate director is Douglas Murray, who founded the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain and has been criticized for using Islamophobic rhetoric.
Some of the group's members have complained about HJS' rightward drift over the years. "No longer is [HJS] a centrist, bipartisan think-tank seeking to promote democratic geopolitics through providing sober, objective and informed analysis to policy-makers," wrote founding member Marko Attila Hoare after resigning from the group in 2012. "Instead, it has become an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks."
An indication of the group's political priorities emerged during the concerted, neoconservative-led campaign to pressure the Barack Obama administration to attack Syria in the wake the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in August 2013. Echoing similar advocacy messages issued by groups like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, HJS urged in a press release for President Obama to "to persuade the U.S. Congress to take military action against the Assad regime." The release quoted Alan Mendoza, who said: "Tired though it may be of conflict, is the U.S. prepared to accept rogue states running amok using weapons of mass destruction, knowing that this issue doesn't just affect Syria but also Iran, North Korea and terrorist organisations like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda? Or will it once again prove to be the bastion of freedom and security in the world that is exemplified by the notion of American Exceptionalism?
Political and Ideological Connections
The group's political connections, particularly within the UK, were apparent at its founding from the list of individuals who signed its statement of principles. The list consisted largely of elite U.K. policymakers from both the left and right, including close associates of former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. The list also included Irwin Stelzer, a U.K.-based Hudson Institute scholar associated with U.S. neoconservatism who has served as an adviser to Rupert Murdoch.
Other signatories to the HJS statement of principles included: Denis MacShane, former Minister for Europe; Paul Cornish, a member of the Royal Institute for International Affairs; Lord Powell, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's personal adviser on defense and foreign affairs; Lord Trimble, the former leader of Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionists; and Robert Halfon of Conservative Friends of Israel.
The Conservative Party was represented on the HJS list of signatories by a number of members of parliament (MPs), including Michael Ancram, grandson of Lord Lothian, a founding member of the Round Table, an imperial secret society that was set up at the end of the nineteenth century to promote Anglo-American values and policies. Other signatories included Tory MPs Edward Vaizey, Greg Pope, and Michael Gove.
The organization has also been supported by a group of "International Patrons," which include a large number of U.S. neoconservatives: Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations; Michael Chertoff, former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Carl Gershman, head of the National Endowment for Democracy; the late Max Kampelman, a retired U.S. diplomat who has supported the work of Freedom House and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard; Bruce Jackson, founder of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq; Robert Kagan, cofounder with Kristol of the Project for the New American Century; Clifford May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Richard Perle, a Ronald Reagan-era assistant secretary of defense and coauthor with David Frum of the 2003 book An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror; Joshua Muravchik, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and former CIA director James Woolsey.
When the group was launched, its name—which honors the famously hawkish former U.S. senator from the state of Washington, Henry "Scoop" Jackson—caused some confusion. Also known as the "Senator from Boeing" because of his long-time patronage of the aerospace company, Jackson was a highly influential Democratic whose staunchly anti-détente and hardline "pro-Israel" positions made him a favorite of the burgeoning neoconservative movement in the 1970s.
The creation of HJS in Britain in the midst of the Iraq War marked an effort in the United Kingdom to encourage a political realignment like the one nurtured by the U.S. neoconservative movement. Yet, as one observer for Right Web wrote, "If your goal is to urge European decision-makers to aggressively promote liberal values, why associate yourself with a tainted neoconservative label?" (See Luke McCallin, "The Henry Who Society?" Right Web, October 18, 2006).
HJS's publication The British Moment, which was authored by several Cambridge-based scholars to support the Henry Jackson Society, serves as the group's "flagship" publication and "manifesto." HJS says the book "calls for a new way of thinking about British foreign, security, and defense policy in the 21st century and argues that the time is ripe for Britain to play a leading and progressive role in promoting democracy and human rights across the globe. The British Moment's authors argue it is time for Britain, and indeed, the rest of Europe, to reclaim the noble tradition of liberal interventionism and pursue an active strategy across the globe."
Commenting on the book, Samuel Brittan wrote in the Financial Times, "There is a paradox about the whole enterprise. The British Moment comes wrapped in a Union Jack cover, and all the emphasis is on British policy. Why, then, take the name of a U.S. senator with a very mixed bag of views? Better to have called it the Palmerston Society after the 19th-century British prime minister who selectively favored 'small nations struggling to be free,' often with the aid of British gunboats."
On Islam and Terrorism
A key rhetorical tactic in HJS publications is to link acts of terrorism with the spread of Islam, in Europe as well as the United States. This has been noted by a former HJS member, Marko Attila Hoare, who in a letter written after resigning from the group noted the Islamophobia of HSJ associates like Douglas Murray, who has argued that "Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board. … We in Europe owe—after all—no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. … So don't flatter them."
HSJ, Hoare added, "has shown no equivalent concern with white or Christian extremism; there are no articles on its website concerning groups like the British National Party or EDL. It has published at least four articles on the Toulouse killings by a lone Islamist, but none on the massacres carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July . Actually, as European Neighbourhood Section Director, I did publish an article on Breivik and the European anti-Islamic far-right, in which I concluded that 'The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.' This article was immediately removed from the website and resulted in me having my right to post articles directly to the HJS website revoked."
HSJ's Islamophobic drift was apparently accelerated by its 2011 absorption of the Centre for Social Cohesion, an outlet headed by Murray that tried to raise alarm about the spread of Islam in Britain. In a 2011 report on the group, SpinWatch warned of a "cold war on British Muslims" and accused the center of "condon[ing] the rise of groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) because of their own links to the counter-jihad movement."
HJS executive director Alan Mendoza has also spoke alarmingly about the spread of Islam. In March 2013, he spoke at the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington. In his remarks, Mendoza warned about the implications of Muslim immigration to Europe, blaming European countries' increasing willingness to criticize Israel on their growing Muslim populations. Dismissing the role of social movements in highlighting Israel's human rights record, Mendoza claimed that "alleged concern for [the] human rights agenda is used as a false cover for anti-Israel attacks motivated by hatred of the Jewish state in Europe."
In February 2013, HJS released what it billed as a comprehensive study of al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in the United States. Among other findings, the report claimed that al-Qaeda members inside the United States were more likely than not to be U.S. citizens with decent educations and employment prospects. Many were found to be converts to Islam rather than people born into the faith. The report was rolled out at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where it was introduced by retired General Michael Hayden and warmly received by conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, which used the report to argue that the "number of homegrown plots is substantial and rising" and that "the Islamist threat will in all likelihood be with us for a long time to come."
Iran, Israel, and the Middle East
Many HJS publications have focused on Israel and the Middle East, about which the group has staked out positions in line with those of its ideological supporters in the United States.
In recent events and publications, HSJ figures have pressed for "regime change" in Iran and discounted the effectiveness of negotiations. At a September 2012 event in London entitled "What it Takes to Prevent a Nuclear Iran," Michael Makovsky of Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, a pro-intervention think tank, warned that "the only way to fully resolve the problem is regime change." Although Makovsky claimed that he would not advocate an Iraq- or Afghanistan-style invasion, he said Iranians would only comply with demands about its nuclear program if they think they are facing a "credible military option."
Similarly, in an April 2013 op-ed for the conservative Times of Israel, HSJ scholar Ilana Decker lambasted the P5+1 diplomatic process as "protracted sham negotiations that threaten to ease pressure on Iran, defang and enable Iran to blithely advance its nuclear ambitions behind a smokescreen of ersatz bonhomie."
HSJ figures have also been active proponents of western intervention in Syria's civil war. In March 2012, HSJ communications director Michael Weiss wrote a blog post for the New York Times advocating that the United States "begin marshaling a coalition for regime change in Syria consisting of countries" like "Britain, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey." Weiss claimed that the act of preparation alone would hasten defections from the Syrian armed forces and "send an unambiguous signal to Assad that his war against lightly armed militias and unarmed protestors is about to get a lot tougher." A little over a year later, in April 2013, HSJ director Alan Mendoza warned that "delaying our intervention in Syria will win us no support among the freedom fighters there, will weaken our liberal and democratic friends, and lead to a collapse of our moral authority."
U.S. neoconservatives have figured prominently in many HJS publications regarding the Middle East. In 2007, HJS published an interview with Richard Perle, in which the well known ideologue lamented the "huge missed opportunity" to cultivate western-friendly opposition groups in Iran in the midst of the Iraq war, which he claimed "has left us, even today, without a credible political approach to regime change." Perle went on to associate criticism of neoconservatism with anti-Semitism. "Anti-Semites are always seeking a new template to express their views," he said. "Very early on when the Patrick Buchanans in the United States and the George Galloways in the U.K. began to enumerate the risks of neoconservatism, they did not mention the non-Jewish subscribers to neoconservative ideas, but only singled out the Jews. This speaks volumes."
HJS published a 2007 "strategic briefing" authored by Meyrav Wurmser, cofounder of the controversial Middle East Media Research Institute and a Middle East program director at the Hudson Institute. In the executive summary of the briefing, titled "Iran-Hamas Relations: The Growing Threat from a Radical Religious Coalition," Wurmser argued that Iran was casting itself as "the leader of a bloc of Third World countries that actively oppose the West and wish to harm its interests, in Iraq and elsewhere, in every conceivable way." Wurmser called Iran's "growing alliance with Hamas" a "central aspect" of this strategy.
HJS has also published articles and hosted meetings aimed at promoting a view of Middle East affairs similar to that of Israel's right-wing Likud Party. An example was a July 2010 event launching the Friends of Israel Initiative, a group made up of various U.S. neoconservatives and rightist politicians from other countries to combat what it claims is an "unprecedented campaign of delegitimation against Israel waged by the enemies of the Jewish State and, perversely, supported by numerous international institutions."
Founding members included John Bolton and George Weigel, both longstanding neoconservative figures, as well José María Aznar, the former conservative prime minister of Spain. Also among the ranks of FII's membership were Fiamma Nirenstein, a member of the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi's coalition; Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru; and David Trimble, former leader of Northern Ireland's conservative Ulster Unionist Party and an HSJ founding signatory.
The launch event, which took place at the British House of Commons, featured a number speakers, including Aznar, who gave the opening speech. Aznar touted the group as made of up courageous individuals who were united in the effort to "stand up" for Israel's right to exist despite "knowing that we will automatically be stigmatized as Zionist agents, as neo-conservative conspirators, or something worse." He claimed they were willing to do this because "we live in a world where losing our moral bearings, losing our identity, losing the faith in our democratic societies, can only bring our own destruction."
"We see an emboldened Iran," he added, "pursuing nuclear weapons; we see traditional allies of the West asserting themselves in ways that are not always benign or constructive, like Turkey, for instance; we see a Europe focused on economic survival that disregards existential topics like the rise of political Islam among us; and we see a United States of America sending out signals that she no longer places as much emphasis as before on her leadership position of the free world, let alone as the world's policeman."