Pro-Israel British activists told to fight back on BDS

At London conference, UK’s Ellwood says Israel must show it’s serious about peace.

VICE PREMIER Silvan Shalom speaks at the BICOM-’Jewish News’ conference in London on Monday. (photo credit: BICOM)
VICE PREMIER Silvan Shalom speaks at the BICOM-’Jewish News’ conference in London on Monday.
(photo credit: BICOM)
LONDON – Advancing BDS movement must be dealt with more effectively, more than 200 participants were told on Monday at a pro-Israel conference in London.
The “UK – Israel Shared Strategic Challenges Conference” jointly organized by the Jewish News and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM) held in the Palace of Westminster on Monday heard from vice premier Silvan Shalom, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, among others.
Three themes dominated the deliberations – the peace process, the BDS movement and Iran, though experts also discussed extremism and radicalization and the rise in anti-Semitism.
Coinciding with the release of the UN report on last year’s Gaza conflict, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor not only entertained his audience with stories of the absurdities of the international body, he slammed them for failing to deal with the many other injustices in the world and concentrating for the most part on Israel.
Shaul Mofaz, now a private Israeli citizen, showed little concern at reports he may face arrest for war crimes charges upon arriving in the UK. During a joint interview for The Jerusalem Post and Israel Radio’s English News, facing a small recorder, he just sat stony faced and point blank refused to say a word, much to the embarrassment of several Israelis in the same room. Shalom, on the other hand, was more than willing to discuss the delays in the peace process, which he blamed on the Palestinian leadership, but politely refused to be drawn on matters closer to home.
The embarrassing tweet sent earlier that day by his wife about US President Barack Obama, he explained, was “off limits.”
He told the Post that the UN was clearly biased against Israel, especially the human rights committee, saying it had failed to tackle human rights abuses in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Comparing Israel with Hamas was “ridiculous.”
Hamas was doing all it could to kill Israeli civilians while Israel had done all it could to warn and save the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, he said.
“To blame us for war crimes is ridiculous. It is something of course that we cannot tolerate and it looks like a bias in that organization and especially in that committee,” Shalom said.
Asked if this could cause a further setback in the peace process, Shalom said the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” and that they will just continue to try to attack Israel in international fora, “no matter which organization it is.”
He added that at the same time they are trying to achieve their own goals without making any kind of compromise or making any kind of concession that will be needed to start a dialogue with the Israelis. “So we are trying to resume the negotiations and we have kinds of engagement with official Palestinians so I hope one day we can do it.”
He lamented the “waste of time,” and said if the Palestinians came back to the table they could make progress on some aspects of implementation while discussing all the other issues at the same time.
So were any discussions being undertaken through back channels? Shalom admitted there were discussions all the time but those discussions had never brought them to have a real dialogue that could bring about a breakthrough. Noting it was not just the Netanyahu governments that had not succeeded, all their predecessors had failed as well, “even those from the Left who came with very big generosity, who planned to give much more than we can even think about, still at the last minute, the Palestinians escaped one after another.”
On the prospect of reviving the peace talks, Shalom said not only had he met Abbas before, he would be very happy to meet him once again. But Abbas is very upset with the help the Israelis give Hamas, directly or indirectly, by enabling the Qataris to give them money, he said.
“We think it is very important to help the people there [in Gaza], we have no problem with them, the problem is with their leadership, and Abu Mazen [Abbas] cannot do anything there.” The Palestinian Authority leader, he noted, had not visited Gaza in the last eight and a half years “not because he does not like to go there. It is only because he cannot go there and if he will go there… he might get killed.”
Israel has asked the Qataris to help those in Gaza through Abbas. It was something they preferred to do. But if Abbas cannot deliver, he asked, what was the other option, “to let them live in a situation that is not good for them and not good for us?” Herzog, whom undertook a series of meetings in London including with Labor MPs, was repeatedly asked whether he had any intention to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, filling the vacancy as foreign minister. But he made clear that he could not support the direction of the current government and would continue to try to bring it down.
UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood spoke of the close bonds with Israel but made clear that speaking as a friend of Israel “repeated announcements on settlement building are deeply corrosive of public attitudes in the UK towards Israel and are seen quite simply as a sign that Israel is not serious about peace.”
He strongly condemned the BDS movement and although the National Union of Students had voted in favor of boycotts, not one university had a boycott policy in place. But he made clear it was important to “understand the drivers of the movement.”
For most people it was the frustration at the lack of progress towards peace with the Palestinians, and he posed the question on many minds “Is Israel serious about peace?” He concluded that Israel had “great power to reduce support for BDS by showing the moderate majority that it is serious about peace.”