By Edward Misrahi, Chairman of BICOM
The pro-Israel community in the UK is at a pivotal crossroads. We can either be complacent about the challenges to Israel’s fundamental right to exist, or put our efforts into fighting back against the tide of delegitimisation we face from groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) or Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The PSC’s aims state that it is “in opposition to Israel’s occupation and its aggression against neighbouring states” and being “in opposition to racism, including anti-Jewish prejudice and Islamophobia, and the apartheid and Zionist nature of the Israeli state”.
Let’s note here its basic assertion of opposition to Israel being able to defend itself against hostile neighbouring states.
Also, its deliberate avoidance of the term “anti-Semitism”, as well as it being fundamentally anti-Zionist; i.e. against the right of Jews to self-determination as a nation.
The BDS’s aims include “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”
Let’s note that this would essentially mean an end to Israel as it currently exists.
Last summer, the PSC sent more than 58,000 letters to MPs about Israel’s actions in Gaza.
When MPs are contacted by thousands of their constituents, it naturally changes their stance.
MPs don’t want to be out of tune with “public opinion”.
By contrast, pro-Israel voices managed to send only about a tenth as many letters to their MPs.
While the BDS movement hasn’t got mass support, it has made inroads into our universities, trade unions, shops, occasionally into our cultural events, and has encouraged protests outside stores and institutions with Israeli affiliations across the country.
Pro-Israel voices often fail to prevent these spaces from bowing to the pressure BDS movement activists place on them. It would be wrong to underestimate the campaigning ability of the people in these groups.
They know how to campaign, how to use new media, how to mobilise large groups of people who would not buy in to their kind of core ideology, but who do accept a very simplistic world view of the Palestinians as the perpetual victim and Israel as the perpetual oppressor.
Last weekend, the PSC and its allies mobilised hundreds of activists at a conference at SOAS that talked about using the General Election as a “tipping point” in UK public discourse on Israel.
We cannot allow this to happen. As well as the increasingly professional campaigns against Israel, an ugly fringe crosses the red line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
The vile abuse we have been subjected to on Facebook just for posting a public advert about our conference is sickening.
Unless pro-Israel people in the UK are making their voice heard, and there’s an understanding at a political level about how many of us there are, we’ll lose the fight against these groups who insidiously seek to destroy Israel and deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination.
We have no option but to be out there in communities all over the country, talking to our locally and nationally elected representatives so they understand what we believe about Israel and what we want them to say and do in Parliament.
Otherwise, we leave the vacuum to be filled with the voices of the PSC and supporters of BDS. We should not be prepared to let that happen or even consider it an option. These groups are well organised, and relentless.
We must be just as tenacious.
In fact, we must be better.
We need to build on the great work of many organisations involved in the grassroots fight back seen last summer.
This Sunday’s We Believe in Israel conference is the place to show solidarity with Israel, regardless of your thoughts about its government’s policies.
We must stand together and stand strong; to say with a unified voice that we believe in Israel, and there is a reason why British society should, too.
We have to stand together in our numbers and show the detractors of Israel once and for all that there is a pro-Israel voice in this country, and we will not be silent, we know how to speak, and we know that we stand up for Israel’s fundamental right to exist in peace and security.
I hope to see you at the conference on Sunday.
• Find out more at www.webelieveinisrael.org.uk