UK SUPPORTERS OF ISRAEL participate in a day-long conference.
(photo credit: JOHN RIFKIN)
LONDON – Some 1,500 supporters of Israel from virtually all major UK-based lobbying organizations concerned with the Jewish state participated in a day-long conference Sunday, aimed at equipping them to deal with increased campaigning for BDS on social media, as well as tackling the more traditional areas of political, campus, media and interfaith challenges.
The gathering was superbly organized by Luke Akehurst, who runs the “We believe in Israel” grassroots network within BICOM, the organization that handles mainstream media and community activity for Israel in the UK. Those attending heard from a wealth of guest speakers and seasoned campaigners intermingled with politicians from across the UK political spectrum, who gave briefings, advice, and suggestions to deal with the ongoing anti-Israel campaigning as part of 70 break-out sessions offered to participants.
The UK’s pro-Palestinian lobby was given a substantial boost when, last October, the House of Commons voted for a non-binding motion calling for early recognition of a Palestinian state, but despite attempts to advance the BDS campaign both in local authorities and on university campuses, their success rate has been somewhat limited, with pro-Israel activists launching counter campaigns that registered some positive results.
However, Akehurst noted that, after last summer’s Gaza conflict, an opinion poll disclosed that most of the UK took no view between the protagonists, and that support for Israel and the Palestinians was evenly divided at 20 percent each.
Opening the proceedings, two senior politicians, government chief whip Michael Gove and opposition shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, both emphasized their pro-Israel credentials, declaring themselves Zionists.
Gove urged Israel supporters to stand up to those promoting the poisonous BDS campaign, adding Israel’s attempted delegitimization by the BDS movement “must always be confronted by right-thinking people. It is for this reason that I am proud to be part of this year’s ‘We Believe’ Conference.”
Labor’s Dugher reminded those present that shared values bind the UK and Israel together in friendship.
As for the enemies who stand against Israel, he added, “They are our enemies, too. And I am proud to call myself a Zionist.”
Others addressing the opening and closing sessions included Israel’s former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, Israel’s UK Ambassador Daniel Taub, and UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
Commenting after the conference, the largest of its type seen in the UK to date, Akehurst told The Jerusalem Post
that he was delighted by the interest and response by people from all strands of life, Jewish and non-Jewish, representing all political views both in Israel and the UK. Some 58 pro Israel communal organizations involved in Israel advocacy had participated in the conference, which he noted was quite some achievement.
The ‘We believe in Israel’ director added, “I’m incredibly proud of the work that the activists in our network do, and thank them for their commitment to Israel and for their input into the conversations and workshops we had today.”
As a result he said, participants at the conference left with tools and knowledge that will serve as the basis for ongoing activism, and a stronger than ever commitment to ensuring the fairness of debate around Israel.
Edward Misrahi, BICOM’s Chairman said that the conference had showed once again that the community was ready and able to become more active once it had been provided with the tools and training. “The energy and passion of the delegates gave us a lot of confidence in our ability to ensure that the case for Israel is heard loud and clear across the country.”