One of Britain’s most hard-working pro-Israel groups, We Believe in Israel, is celebrating the recruitment of its 20,000th activist.
And We Believe’s director, Luke Akehurst, said: “This is an incredible moment for us”. He paid tribute to those who “are out there in their local communities day after day, doing the difficult work educating people about Israel and challenging anti-Israel activity”.
We Believe in Israel was created after two major pro-Israel conferences in London, the first in 2011 and the second in 2015, both held at times, says Akehurst, when the grassroots were not really strong enough to respond to anti-Israel campaigns, and “communal morale was at its lowest”.
“We Believe in Israel was created after a major pro-Israel conferences in London in 2011 held at a time, says Akehurst, when the grassroots were not really strong enough to respond to anti-Israel campaigns, and “communal morale was at its lowest”. A second conference was held in 2015.
Akehurst was brought in as an external consultant to help put the initial conference together, but he said the feedback from delegates was overwhelming — “they said, give us more, give us the material to help us fight”.
Today, with 20,000 activists to its name, We Believe can proudly point to 149 speaker meetings in every part of Britain, “from Inverness to Exeter, from Belfast to Norwich”. It has taken, so far, 60 local councillors on nine separate study tours to Israel; it has recruited 700 councillors to Local Government Friends of Israel groups; has launched a training academy for young pro-Israel professionals, and has held Britain’s first Zionism month.
The extraordinary achievement of We Believe is that its success lies with just two people — Luke Akehurst, who has travelled all over Britain (he reckons to have addressed 145 out of those 149 meetings) — and his campaign executive, Rachel Kaye.
Between the two of them, and the growth in social media, they have managed to reach thousands of people. “We have to be on social media, challenging and putting out positive messages”, says Akehurst, “giving people information in bite-sized chunks”. The appetite for information — as demonstrated in the 2015 We Believe conference in particular — means that there has been a concerted fight-back against the delegitimisation of Israel, nationally.
One such positive campaign was before Eurovision, when not only did We Believe challenge an attempted boycott of Israel, but even produced party packs for Eurovision night parties.
And the breakdown of support is fascinating. Akehurst says We Believe activists are now 45 per cent Christian, 40 per cent Jews, with the remainder secular or previously non-committed. Among the most popular campaign materials distributed by We Believe is Professor Alan Johnson’s pamphlet “Israel and the Palestinians: A Guide to the Debate”, which has been distributed to thousands of students. What people want, argues Akehurst, is a way to make the case for Israel with confidence.
He says there is a lot more work to do, and pays tribute to the other pro-Israel groups with which We Believe works in concert. “We need to build the broadest possible pro-Israel coalition to fight against anti-Israel campaigns, much of which are infested with antisemitism.”
At least twice a year, Akehurst takes groups of local councillors on a first-time visit to Israel. For him, “it is not just a refresher course but also an amazing battery re-charge, to see what Israel is doing”. It is a practical realisation of Zionism in action — and 20,000 We Believers are helping to support it.