Manchester to pitch Big Tent for Israel
By Marcus Dysch, JC.com
A major pro-Israel conference will go ahead in Manchester later this year despite disagreements over its name, format and the range of speakers.
It had been thought the November 27 event would be promoted under the We Believe banner first used by Bicom at its May conference, Britain’s largest ever Israel advocacy event, in London.
But, following disagreements between organisers in the north west and Bicom, the Manchester event will now be entitled The Big Tent for Israel.
Bicom and We Believe staff will continue to work with the Manchester advocates to put together the programme of speakers and sessions, but are likely to have a lower profile than first expected.
Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag of Whitefield Hebrew Congregation in north Manchester is leading the organisation of the conference.
He said he wanted to act after reading about a Reut Institute report in the JC last year which branded London the “hub of hubs” of the movement to undermine Israel.
Rabbi Guttentag said: “It was assumed [after May] that Bicom’s London conference would be replicated in Manchester. It was not the deal we had made. The last few weeks have been a bit of an Alice in Wonderland situation.
“There have been some different tangents and people talking at cross-purposes. We are also experienced up here. We have our own way of approaching things. There is no need to have just one brand copied everywhere.
“To mobilise and unite the community you cannot presume that we will have a top-down, ‘you will do x, y and z’ situation.
“To simply roll out a franchise was one option put in front of us – and would have been easier. But we felt we had something extra to add.”
Luke Akehurst, the newly-appointed director of the We Believe network, said no final decisions had been made about the Manchester conference.
He said: “It’s still very early days in terms of planning. We are trying to sort out an appropriately broad range of speakers and we are trying to make sure it works and goes ahead.”
Arms industry promoter latest recruit for UK Israel lobby
David’s blog, electronic intifada
What is the next career move for a promoter of the arms industry? Join the Israel lobby, it seems.
Over the past few days, I have been writing about how the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM) has indicted war criminal Michael Herzog on its staff. Herzog’s newest colleague at the center is Luke Akehurst, until recently a “defense” specialist with the public relations giant Weber Shandwick.
Enticing Akehurst to work for her is quite a coup for Lorna Fitzsimons, BICOM’s chief executive. He was named “UK consultant of the year” at the 2008 Public Affairs News Awards. The prize was in recognition for his invaluable services for several companies that arm dictators.
Finmeccanica, one of his clients, cultivated strong links with Muammar Gaddafi lately. While it has predicted that its revenues for 2011 will exceed €18 billion, the civil war in Libya will inevitably have repercussions. The Italian firm has a backlog of orders worth €800 million from the Gaddafi regime.
Akehurst also represented GKN, which supplied water cannons to Indonesia in the 1990s, unperturbed about how its then military ruler Suharto was overseeing the brutal occupation of East Timor, where out one of the twentieth century’s worst cases of genocide occurred.Serco, another client of his, manages Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a consortium that bands it together with the world’s number one weapons maker Lockheed Martin.
It is fitting that Akehurst, a Labor Party elected representative for Hackney council in London, has joined BICOM. For the largest donor to that center Poju Zabludowicz inherited a vast fortune through his father’s involvement in the arms industry. Shlomo Zabludowicz set up a firm called Soltam, which is today owned by the top Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit.
In 2009, TheObserver reported that Poju Zabludowicz gave BICOM (which he chairs) nearly £1 million in 2007 alone. A subsequent TV documentary about Britain’s pro-Israel lobby showed how he has invested in a shopping centre in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and other Israeli business activities in the occupied West Bank.
According to The Sunday Times, Zabludowicz is placed at number 31 on the list of Britain’s richest residents.
Even though Fitzsimons and Akehurst hail from a Labor background, Zabludowicz is agenerous contributor to the rival Conservatives, led by Prime Minister David Cameron. It isde rigueur for that party’s members of parliament to join the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFOI) and take part in its trips to the Middle East. One such junket – in February this year – included a visit to Elbit’s headquarters. A briefing note prepared by the CFOIunderscored how Elbit “provides the British armed forces with the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that play such a crucial role in intelligence-collection.” The MPs weren’t reminded that such warplanes were used to kill and maim women and children in Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009.
I would like to congratulate Luke Akehurst on his new appointment and suggest that he studies his payslips carefully. If he does, he will see they are stained with the blood of innocent Palestinians.