Hundreds of people broke out in rapturous applause for Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, as he sought support from delegates to the 2015 We Believe in Israel conference.
More than 1500 people, Jews and non-Jews, came to central London on Sunday from all over the country for a full day programme of workshops and how-to seminars in promoting Israel’s case.
In keeping with the cross-denominational style of the We Believe organisation, the day kicked off with the mutual admiration society of Labour’s Michael Dugher, a Vice President of Labour Friends of Israel, and the Conservative Chief Whip and long time friend of Israel, Michael Gove, both declaring: “I am a Zionist”. The opening plenary session was also addressed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
The conference – following the first such event in 2011 – then broke up into more than 60 separate workshop sessions. The presentations spanned the political spectrum from UKIP Friends of Israel to Yachad and the New Israel Fund, and the ages ranged from the very young- seven and some teenagers – to the very old but still extremely active. Delegates included Peter Martin, the mayor of North Down in Northern Ireland, and a large number of Christian Zionists. Even a few Palestinian supporters attended, though it is debatable how much they appreciated some of the sessions.
The closing plenary was addressed by the former director of Bicom, Lorna Fitzsimmons, and Israel.’s former education minister, Gideon Saar. But it was Ambassador Taub’s trenchant speech that brought the audience to its feet.
“We are the people we’ve been waiting for,” he told the delegates. “Raise your voice. Write the letters, send the emails, they CAN make a difference. You don’t need to be a defence attorney for the state of Israel, but please be a character witness for the state of Israel.”
Mick Davis, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, told the Jewish News that there had been a “failure” on the part of Jewish leadership in the UK “to understand the need for people to stand up and express their support for Israel”, particularly over last summer’s Gaza conflict. “We should have had something at the height of the Gaza fighting”, he said, adding that 2011 We Believe conference “wasn’t followed up properly.”. This conference, he said, would have a better response.
Mr Davis added: “It is ridiculous in 2015 that Israel’s right to exist should be up for debate, but this is the space we are in. It is a battle for Israel’s legitimacy: and it is one we must fight”.