Merseyside Friends of Israel’s inaugural conference shows the need – and success – of Israel advocacy
Several prominent figures in the Israel advocacy movement and other fields spoke at a conference in Liverpool on Sunday hosted by Merseyside Friends of Israel. I attended the day-long conference with over a hundred passionate supporters of Israel.
The conference was opened by Elise Beilin, the chair of Merseyside Friends of Israel. She spoke of the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and how the slogans are not much different from the thirties; then they were saying “Jews go to Palestine,” now they are saying “Jews get out of Palestine.” She discussed anti-Semitism in Liverpool itself, including nazi grafitti on the wall of a Jewish cemetery, the overwhelming amount of anti-Semitic tweets in response to a Rosh Hashanah tweet by Liverpool FC, various demonstrations by anti-Israel groups, ending with Saturday’s protest instigated by a far-right white supremacist group, and exacerbated by far-left groups, resulting in a violent confrontation. She also raised the issue of the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, which makes getting the facts about Israel out all the more imperative.
Give MPs alternative to PSC narrative
The first speaker was Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, and vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel. As an MP, she has seen first-hand the results of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s lobbying within Westminster – the way MPs now talk with hostility toward Israel. She described what the PSC is about, namely wiping Israel of the map, and how they believe Israel is uniquely evil and has no right to exist. She has received many emails from people asking her to complain about Israel killing Palestinian children during the recent wave of terror attacks on Israel. They describe the events in terms of Israel’s “horrendous abuse” of Palestinian children, but leave out the fact that the children concerned are in fact committing terrorist attacks on Israelis and getting killed by the police or military as a result.
Louise encouraged supporters of Israel to use the same lobbying tactics with MPs to show them another voice in the debate, as currently most of what they hear comes from the anti-Israel side. She is a very vocal proponent of Israel and the good which comes from its partnerships with the UK, especially since the UK is Israel’s second biggest trading partner after the US. Louise will be working with MFI to help bring out the truth about Israel.
Spread the good news
Next up was Joy Wolfe, the chair of StandWithUs UK, who has been involved with Zionist activism for over sixty years. She began by thanking Louise for her continued support in the face of the serious abuse she suffers – something Louise did not mention herself. Joy advocates focusing on the positives aspects of Israel, by providing examples of Israelis and Palestinians working together, and showing how much Israel is doing to improve the lives of its Arab citizens. Letting the world know how much they’d be missing out on if Israel wasn’t here is another good tactic in Joy’s opinion; information such as the fact one in four prescription pills in this country are made by Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva will come as a surprise to most.
There are always negative things which need to be challenged as well, such as Israeli Apartheid Week, and anti-Israel hate campaign held in universities and other places around not just the UK, but the world. Joy believes a good way to challenge this, and the rampant anti-Semitism in universities is by lobbying benefactors of the offending institutions to stop funding them. Trying to persuade Palestinians that peace is a better option than continued violence against Israel is another avenue worth exploring, albeit a difficult one.
Pick the battles worth fighting
The following speaker was David Lewis, one of the founders of UK Lawyers for Israel. He believes activists should pick their battles with care, only expending energy and time on things which really matter and can be improved, rather than on everything which outrages them. He gave the example of the posters put up in certain London Underground stations about Israel Apartheid Week. The posters were plastered over the top of legitimate paid for ads, meaning they were not approved by Transport for London; therefore TfL will take them down swiftly to avoid angering the owners of the genuine ads, so there is little use in pro-Israel activists petitioning TfL over the issue.
David also believes being slow and careful on a few key issues, rather than jumping rapidly from one to the next achieves more in the long term. Specializing on things in your area of expertise is also more efficient; as a former solicitor, David focuses on the legal issues of Israel advocacy.
Jews and Christians are strong together
Speaking next were Steven Jaffe and Nigel Goodrich. Steven is a co-chair of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel and a consultant with the British Board of Deputies and Nigel is the founder of the Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland. Their partnership in the conference exemplifies their work in bringing Jews and Christians together in support of Israel.
Steven spoke about the large numbers of Christians who love Israel and of how he is working to get them involved in activism for Israel. He emphasized the importance of Christians and Jews working together in support of Israel in order to present a united front and give strength to both communities. He also brought up the Shalom Declaration, which is a Christian initiative aimed at encouraging churches and other organizations in the UK to make a pledge of support for Israel. It currently has over 130 signatures, including that of a European organization with over three million members, gained just last week. It is developments like this which lead Steven to believe the tide is turning in favor of Israel; more work is obviously needed, but it is paying off.
Nigel talked about his success in Scotland; what started with two guys is now a network of twelve groups with more springing up all the time, and last week, for the first time ever, a resolution in favor of Israel was passed in the Scottish parliament and there are more people for Israel than against it their parliament now. He has even managed to get Israel a place at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year – he just needs to convince the church to hold his shalom / peace event. The church must consider its reputation before deciding whether to host a peace event, apparently.
Both Steven and Nigel advise supporters to engage their MPs and the media, and win friends among them by sending positive messages about their love for Israelis and Palestinians, and desire for peace, which the receiver can then contrast with the messages of hate coming from others. This message also needs to be spread across social media and to reach young people in particular.
Campaign at grassroots level
The penultimate speaker was Luke Akehurst, director of We Believe in Israel. He described how the lack of opposition at grassroots level has enabled the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to garner support from such unlikely places as trade unions (Hamas kills trade unionists). All it takes is one guy bringing a motion to a poorly attended meeting which is accepted without debate, allowing him to take it to the next level and the next, resulting in Unite issuing a statement against Israel during the last war with Gaza. Unite eventually reversed the statement once they were made aware of what the PSC is about and who it supports.
Luke also discussed the bizarre coalition between far-left and Islamist organizations in opposition to Israel. They do share some other elements – they are anti-democracy and anti-America (for different reasons), but otherwise are diametrically opposed. One is communist and therefore anti-religion and against self-determination for anyone, while the other wants religion – Islam – to rule everywhere. This partnership is behind the Stop the War coalition and playing a role behind the scenes of the PSC. As far as the PSC is concerned, Luke believes it is the communist Socialist Action group which actually calls the shots. The usual arguments of how great Israel’s democracy is or how free the country is don’t work with these people, so the solution is campaign at grassroots level like they do, to ensure their targets get to hear the pro-Israel argument as well.
Israel’s experiences with terrorism can be an advantage
The final speaker was Jonathan Sacerdoti, an award winning political and cultural commentator and news reporter. He covered the terror attacks in Paris last year for an Israeli news station; because the situation was something Israel is unfortunately familiar with, the Israeli station was able to cover the story with three people compared to CNN’s 70. During the siege of the terrorists’ house in Saint Denis, his team used an Israeli invention to broadcast live using a handheld device, instead of big, expensive satellite trucks. This Israeli technology enabled them to be more mobile and along with lessons learned during many similar events in Israel, meant Jonathan’s team was usually first to a scene.
He detailed other ways Israel’s experience in dealing with terrorism and other security issues is being used by Europe and America as they begin to face what Israel has lived with for decades. Israeli security agencies assisted France after the attacks and continue to help with counter terrorism work there and in many other countries. Israeli cyber security systems help foil attacks all over the world, including preventing hackers from taking down vital networks.
All of the speakers offered insights into different aspects of the battle to get Israel recognized for what it really is. They are all using their strengths and particular expertise to help in the ways that they can get the most out of. There is something for everyone to do to help.