Archive for the ‘Parliament’ Category.

Post-Ceasefire: UK Reflections on a Positive Model of Activism and Communication

This is a cross post from The Times of Israel by Jeremy Newmark

Israel demonstrated patience and restraint in the face of regular rocket fire for months, but the enormous increase was too much to bear. For the past week, Israel conducted operation Pillar of Defence, a biblical reference to the pillar of cloud that guided the Children of Israel through the desert when they left Egypt and protected them from the Egyptians’ arrows and slings.

These rockets are aimed at Israeli towns, houses and schools. They are weapons used almost exclusively to hurt civilians. Using them against Israel is a breach of International Humanitarian Law – in other words, a War Crime. Officially, at least, the major Human Rights NGOs recognise this. In 2008, Human Rights Watch said

Hamas rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians are unlawful and unjustifiable and amount to war crimes.

This Monday, a report from Amnesty International said that rocket fire by Hamas and other groups against Israeli towns

violates international humanitarian law.

Others have pointed out that launching such attacks from civilian areas (thus creating human shields) constitutes a double war crime. You’d never know it to watch the behaviour of some of these selfsame NGOs, with their staff taking to Twitter and the traditional airwaves to strongly attack Israel with only a cursory mention of Hamas (and in one case making arguably antisemitic jokes at the expense of Jewish Members of Parliament).

UNITE, one of the UK’s largest trade unions and the biggest funder of the Labour Party, released a 500-word screed, which condemned the

illegal Israeli assassination

of Hamas terrorist leaders but didn’t once mention Hamas rockets or Israeli victims, even dismissively. The failure of institutions like UNITE to even acknowledge Hamas war crimes is shameful, and demolishes any pretense that they are interested in international law, justice or a lasting peace.

This time, though, these groups are the more marginal. The British Government demonstrated balance and understanding from the outset. Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague backed Israel’s right to self-defence and are absolutely explicit that the primary responsibility for the escalation lies with Hamas itself.

Of course, the Government was also very clear that it feared a ground offensive – something that Israel’s Government was also clearly trying to avoid. This combination is a mature and developed approach which Israel’s leaders are much more likely to heed than the immediate condemnation that we’ve sometimes seen in the past.

This approach was echoed in Parliament, with many MPs rising to speak in support of Israel and condemn Hamas. The perennial knee-jerk critics like Sir Gerald Kaufman were in a clear minority. Reasonable and constructive comments came from all sides of the house with supporters of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel ensuring their voices were heard in both the Commons and the Lords.

One reason for this support is that Israel’s story is being told better than it has been for many years. During previous conflicts, Hamas and Hezbollah got their messages out more effectively and faster than Israel. Supporters of Israel in the UK were left without the information we needed to respond. Things seem to have changed dramatically. Finally Israel has mastered social media. The IDF’s Facebook graphics, rapid responses and YouTube videos mocking Hamas’s almost-comical boasts meant that lies have been debunked before they can spread. In the UK, we are especially lucky to have Daniel Taub. As Israel’s Ambassador to Britain he is a powerful advocate and effective communicator who has also helped get Israel’s message across in the media and to politicians. The quality of analysis and output from BICOM was also world class.

The UK Jewish Community is united in its support for Israel’s right – Israel’s need – to stop the rocket fire. Leaders from across the community wrote to Ambassador Taub to express this support and to ask him to convey it to Israel’s leaders. This support also exists at the grassroots level. Members of the Jewish community have been actively organising and joining protests outside the Palestinian mission against rocket fire and counter-protests at the Israeli Embassy to ensure that anti-Israel protests are answered. They have used Facebook and Twitter to show their support and spread the message that the rockets must stop. They’ve made sure that the Batsheva Dance Troupe, an Israeli group touring the UK, was welcomed with Israeli flags and smiles in sharp contrast to the boycotters who greeted them with hate.

Israel worked hard to avoid sending ground troops into Gaza, with Israeli leaders doing everything they could to reach a ceasefire agreement that will stop the rockets through negotiation. The ceasefire deal announced by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohmed Kamel Amr will be tested immediately. Will Hamas and the other groups keep to the agreement? How should Israel respond if they don’t? Will Hamas attempt to re-arm? Will Israel be forced into ground action anyway?

We pray and hope for peace for Israel – especially Southern Israel, which hasn’t been free from rockets day-to-day for years. We hope that the model of positive activism seen in the UK will be an enduring example for the future. The region needs a lasting solution to this conflict. The only viable solution remains a two state solution. A safe and secure Israel alongside a Palestinian state. And we also hope that the positive model of communication and activism seen in Israel and the UK can be a model and inspiration for the future.

Government Rejects Boycotters’ Demand to ban West Bank goods

This is a cross-post from the Times of Israel by Jeremy Newmark, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council

One of the big campaigns of anti-Israel campaigners this year has been for a UK Government ban on goods produced in Israeli settlements and industrial areas in the West Bank. The Public and Commerical Services trade Union – whose Deputy General-Secretary Hugh Lanning also chairs the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – has been pushing for this, as has the Trades Union Congress. In June, Christian Aid and the Quakers held a meeting in Parliament to press MPs to introduce such a ban.

Answering a recent recent Parliamentary Question from veteran anti-Israel campaigner Richard Burden MP calling for a ban, Food Minister Jim Paice made it clear:

[The Government] does not believe that a Government-imposed ban or boycott of settlement produce would help engage or influence Israel, or lead to progress in the Middle East Peace Process.

So the Government has ruled out one of the boycotters’ key campaign targets for the next year, on an issue where they probably thought they could win. It hasn’t been a great year for boycott Israel campaigners.

Turning their backs to the slaughter of Syrians

The slaughter in Syria is horrific. Every day brings a report of a new massacre – women and children executed, the Syrian regime shelling whole residential neighbourhoods. According to estimates, at least 14,000 people have been killed – of which 10,000 were civilians. These are astonishingly high numbers and they are increasing by several hundred a week.

Apart from Russia and Iran, the Syrian regime doesn’t have many supporters left. The EU and US have called for Assad to step down and condemned the regime, and Arab countries (as well as Turkey) have been among the most vocal opponents of Assad.

So it’s particularly strange to see Members of the Scottish Parliament choose now to support Assad’s Syria by attacking Israeli control over the Golan Heights. The heights were captured from Syria during the Six Day War. In the late 1990s, Israel and Syria came very close to a peace deal that would have seen the Golan transferred back to Syrian control, but the deal fell through after Hafez Assad – Bashar’s father – walked away.

The MSPs have put a motion to the Scottish Parliament condemning Eden Springs UK. Eden Springs is part of the same corporate group as Israel’s Eden Springs, which sells bottled water in Israel. Some of this water comes from springs in the Golan Heights.

The short motion is full of mistakes:

  • Eden Springs UK gets all its water from springs in the UK, including Scotland. It doesn’t import water from Israel.
  • The motions says the Golan “has been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967” – which is plain wrong.
  • The motion quotes Article 55 of the Hague Conventions, but Article 55 says that using spring-water from an occupied territory is lawful (as a renewing resource, using spring-water is considered usufruct)

But mistakes aside, it’s disturbing that there are people who, after hearing of the charnel house in Houla, Hama and al-Qubayr, immediately decide to attack Israel for not being nicer to Syria.

At least they are more honest (or more shameless) than the National Union of Students Executive, which passed a boycott of Eden Springs last month. The Scottish Parliament motion refers to the “Syrian Golan”. NUS’s motion didn’t even mention the word “Syria” once.

The timing seems almost too convenient. Have Syria’s intelligence and PR organs been pushing this message onto naïve dupes in NUS and the Scottish Parliament? It’s worth noting that Assad has tried to blame the Syrian uprising on ‘Zionists’. Or are the supporters of this new anti-Israel campaign simply heartless?

The Israeli Government is making preparations to receive Syrian refugees in the Golan. The idea that Israel should be offering to return the Golan Heights to Assad, the Butcher of Houla  and al-Qubayr, is both disturbing and disgusting.

Those campaigners who have chosen now to attack Israel over the Golan aren’t supporting the Syrian people; they are turning their backs on them, closing their ears to their screams .They should be utterly ashamed.

PSC’s two-state smokescreen begins to clear

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wants to have it both ways.

On the one hand, many of its members and activists don’t believe that Israel should exist. PSC does not support a two-state solution.

On the other hand, PSC as been working hard in order to attract Trade Unions and MPs as affiliates. To do this, PSC has had to wear moderate clothes. Most of the Trade Unions that are affiliated to PSC have a pro-two-state policy, and so do some of the MPs who are involved in it. If you asked some of these MPs or Union General Secretaries whether the Palestine Solidarity Campaign supported Israel’s continuing right to exist, they’d say “of course it does”. I know this because I’ve done it.

PSC works hard to stop its most high-profile supporters learning what they’ve signed up to, but they can’t hide the most obvious clue: the PSC logo, which includes a map of the whole of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

PSC's logo

This week’s Jewish Chronicle reveals that Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has written to the PSC to raise the issue of their logo. She writes:

“It has been brought to my attention that the PSC logo appears to reflect 1917, pre-creation of Israel, borders and as such could be open to interpretation by some as implying non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist. I am following this up with the director of the PSC since I am quite sure that PSC does indeed recognise Israel’s right to exist, and it is unhelpful and damaging if any other impression is given.”

Caroline Lucas is not a friend of Israel, and the Green Party’s policy on Israel (such as their support for boycotts) is harmful and wrong. However, she has done exactly the right thing here and shown leadership. Other MPs and Trade Unions who work with PSC should do the same and not allow the PSC’s leaders to equivocate.

Ultimately, if the PSC does not change its logo that wipes Israel off the map, then Caroline Lucas – and all of us – will have our answer.

We Believe in Israel – Conference 15th May

On the 15th of May, a huge conference for supporters of Israel, called  ”We Believe in Israel”, will be held. This will be one of the biggest pro-Israel events in the country, and certainly the largest, most diverse and most vibrant conference for Israel’s supporters in the UK.

We Believe in Israel will include inspirational plenary sessions with top-level speakers, and sessions that will include updates and analysis on the situation in the region, training in skills that can help you in your political activism, and sessions that will allow you to grapple with the complex ethical and philosophical challenges that underpin the Jewish state.

We Believe in Israel is a BICOM event that is supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation, the Union of Jewish Students and many others. Fair Play is proud to support the Conference.

BOOK NOW – and we’ll see you there!