"Israel has a strong message but it will still be a hard sell"

December 3, 2010
Richard Kuper

The Reut Institute report on London’s role as the “hub of hubs” of the delegitimisation campaign is a profoundly important intervention in the debate. Its analysis of the existential attack on Israel, by an alliance of Islamists and the hard left, acts as a sobering warning to those who felt that the Jewish people’s right to statehood had been established decades ago.

But this is not just another think tank analysis of Israel’s failure to win the PR battle, in defence of its right to exist. This is a call to action for grassroots supporters of Israel in the UK Jewish community, which is urged to set up a movement to take on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British-based Islamists who find common cause with Hamas.

It is also heartening that the authors recognise that the fight against deligitimisation will only succeed if there is credible progress towards a two-state solution and equal rights and opportunities for minorities in Israel.

As part of this campaign, the researchers urge supporters of Israel to forge new links with left-liberal opinion formers in Britain to help make the argument.

There are many sickened by the unholy alliance of the hard left and Islamic right

The scale of this task is vast. Israel is very close to losing liberal Britain.

This week, for example, sees the launch of the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund dedicated to supporting Palestinians access to international justice. Promotional material for a fundraiser called on people to “help give Palestinians their day in court, by enabling legal action on war crimes, settlements and other violations of international law”. Celebrated lawyer Michael Mansfield and activist-comedian Mark Thomas were due to take part in the event for the fund, which is explicitly modelled on a similar initiative set up for those fighting apartheid in South Africa.

As the situation stands, it may seem absurd to think that Israel could persuade liberal opinion. The second Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade, settlement building: none of this makes the job of Israel’s supporters any easier, whatever justification is made for Israel’s actions in each specific case.

The other side has a far better product to sell to liberals: decades of discrimination, a nationless people facing a colonising military power. What has Israel to offer when faced with liberal empathy for the wretched of the earth? The Reut report urges Israel to promote its liberal face: its thriving cultural sphere and civil society, its scientific and technological advances, its record in disaster relief. This is important, of course, especially in the fight to undermine the arguments for a cultural and academic boycott. But it will not be enough on its own and will not build a movement.

There are people on the liberal left in Britain who still believe Israel chimes with their own principles and beliefs. There are many who are sickened by the unholy alliance of the hard left and the Islamic far right. In order to attract these people to a campaign – with all the glamour of turning up to meetings in draughty halls and stuffing envelopes – it will need to broaden its focus.

This will need to be a campaign in defence of democratic values which builds bridges with the students fighting the totalitarian regime in Tehran and the brave women and human rights activists fighting extremist Islam around the world.

Now there’s a cause worth taking onto the streets.

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