Strategist was inquisitive about world from age of 11


THE first time Dr Alan Mendoza can remember being fascinated by politics was during the General Election of 1987.

Even as an 11-year-old he had a passion for the subject - and recalls arguing with fellow pupils at his primary school about who to vote for.

"I was always inquisitive about the world, even then," Dr Mendoza told me.

Now, nearly 30 years later, Dr Mendoza has much more influence as the executive director of The Henry Jackson Society.

The London-based think tank's aim is to "fight for the principles and alliances which keep societies free".

He said: "We work out how to get engaged in politics on a daily basis, how to influence the media cycle and how to discuss matters with politicians in a way which has an impact on certain policies."

It is a long way from his early days growing up in Kingston-upon-Thames, New Morden and then Wembley.

He is part of the famous Mendoza family which included such names as the English boxing champion Daniel Mendoza, legendary comedian and actor Peter Sellers and Rufus Isaacs, who was the 1st Marquess of Reading.

"My father's family came to London in the 17th century, as Marronos from Spain," Dr Mendoza said.

"They settled in the East End and many of them entered the noble trader of being publicans.

"My great-grandfather actually ran a pub down by the docks."

Dr Mendoza's mother, Marjatta, was raised in the far north of Finland and converted to Judaism.

Barmitzvah at the famous Bevis Marks Synagogue, he was raised in a modern Orthodox home.

The 38-year-old who also sits on the board of the Spanish and Portuguese Community, read history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and, at the same institution, completed a PhD focusing on Anglo-American relations during the Bosnian War.

It was during a gap year that Dr Mendoza became involved with a publishing company which produced in-house membership magazines.

But it was while at Cambridge that Dr Mendoza conceptualised the forbearer to the Henry Jackson Society.

"I had gone back into publishing for a while and then started what became the society," Dr Mendoza recalled.

"We described ourselves as a group of students and academics who saw foreign policy as being expansive.

"Yet there was no practical follow-through as to what that meant. It only worked up to a point."

He was at the forefront of this new group, working for two years without a salary and gradually building up connections.

"It really could never have happened without the internet," Dr Mendoza said.

"We used it to bring a noble but rarefied organisation into the real world."

The society, which is based in Westminster, now has a staff of close to 20, led by Dr Mendoza.

Its different departments include research, a Russian studies centre, Parliamentary affairs, legal and events.

The society also has staff in Cambridge, New York and Los Angeles.

"We educate the philippic and the policy makers about certain situations in the world," Dr Mendoza explained.

"Our large research division will look into developments in Turkey, for example, or at terrorism around the world and produce pieces which give a prognosis or conclusion.

"As a result, that respirator is pushed on a blog or produced in a book and we try to present those findings to the media.

"We hold events in Parliament on a particular subject and we go to Whitehall to show MPs the results.

"It is about pushing our line into their general thinking."

The society has been described as "neoconservative" by The Guardian and as "right-wing" by critics.

Yet they are terms Dr Mendoza does not agree with.

"We are proud of being a cross-party organisation," he explained. "We have never have had a political ideology.

"There have been such great changes both domestically and internationally over the past 10 years.

"If you look at the world's problems, the authoritarian states are the cause of them.

"We learned the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan only too well, but not in Syria and certainly not what Russia is doing there and in Ukraine."

The society has also been described as being pro-Israel, something which Dr Mendoza does agree with.

"We are, but we do not come at that from a 'linked by religion or nationality' angle," he said.

"It is more about Israel being on the continuum of democratic nations which we in the West know to be fundamental to our societies.

"Israel faces the same challenges as the West does.

"Israel is an embattled nation, so we believe that Israel should be given an easier time.

"Which other country in the Middle East has a supreme court which can overrule its government, which has a free media and where minorities' rights are respected?

"All of that shows why Israel should be supported."

Dr Mendoza, who also hosts a current affairs programme on J-TV, reckoned many had not realised that the Jewish State has a history of dealing with radical Islamism.

"Hamas and ISIS are on the same continuum," he added. "They both believe in a caliphate, yet they may differ in how to get there.

"People are beginning to understand that passively, if not actively.

"The more terrorism we face in the West, the more people will understand that Israel is in the same boat.

In the wake of Labour's antisemitism crisis, Dr Mendoza was aghast at its surge.

"It is shocking that a party such as Labour, which used to be a big bastion of support for Israel, has now fallen by the wayside," he continued.

"Of course, there are still a good number of Labour MPs who are supportive of Israel.

"I think the big change in British politics has come on the right. There is now large support for Israel.

"Take, for example, David Cameron. In 2008, he described Gaza as a 'concentration camp', yet towards his time as Prime Minister, when talking about Israel, he did not even mention settlements as an issue any more.

"It was quite a remarkable transformation."

For Dr Mendoza, who has been married to Claudia, the Jewish Leadership Council's head of policy and research, for nearly six years, every day is different - depending on what is setting the news agenda.

"Part of it is about being reactive and the other, proactive," he said.

"If a story is breaking, I will attempt to steer it in our direction.

"As the strategic head, I am looking at opportunities, both short-term and long-term.

"Long-term, how do we expand our support base which also includes a fundraising element?"

A lifelong Conservative, last year Dr Mendoza stood for the Brent seat in the General Election.

"I knew it was an unwinnable seat, but Brent ended up with the fifth-highest swing in the country, which was not a bad result," he surmised.

"Perhaps if the opportunity presented itself, I would try to stand again.

"I enjoyed the experience of on-the-ground campaigning - it was definitely a learning process."

Dr Mendoza's home life is taken up by his two children, three-year-old Madison and Theodore, one.

"I have learned that my hobbies are now my children's hobbies," he laughed.

"I have learned all about children's television and kids' parties, too."

Thanks to their respective jobs Dr Mendoza and his wife, who live in St John's Wood, north London, enjoy "interesting debates" around the table.

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph