Our community has called out the antisemitism endemic in Labour and at the same time shed light on the hold that Momentum has on Jeremy Corbyn. In this febrile environment, where antisemitism is often displayed by anti-Israel activists, it is perhaps not surprising that some of our pro-Israel campaigning has somewhat lost its direction. For example, in June two of our Zionist campaigners were convicted of “aggressive, bullying behaviour” during a pro-Palestinian rally. And lawyer Mark Lewis, who had faced heavy antisemitic vitriol, admitted last December that he used abusive language that he deeply regretted to an 18 year old for voting Labour in 2017. Most of us wouldn’t have the guts to organise a counter-protest, or (in the case of Lewis) fight Israel’s cause, often in the face of antisemitism, so it’s not fair to judge, but it rather indicates that to some extend there is a wild-west response to Israel hatred.
We now have a situation where instead of discussion about Israel’s policies in the settlements, and the lack of a Palestinian peace leadership, there is shouting out between ‘anti-Zionism’ and ‘pro-Zionism’. The ‘whizz-kid’ generation, who are often at the vanguard of fighting anti-Zionism, particularly on- line, are up against bomb warfare, and their counter-attack is rightly, to take out the cranks and conspiracy theorists who wade their poison through the air (much of the same poison emanates from the new political order).
This polarisation has affected the tone of debate in general and unfortunately means many of the noble rallying cries by centre-ground Zionists as a starting point to holding a debate, are pretty useless. For example, stating your wish for ‘peace and prosperity’ for all Israelis and Palestinians, immediately leads to finger pointing about why this hasn’t yet happened. The next question by an Israel sceptic is often ‘do you support the Israeli government’, which is a tricky question, as you might well say, ‘Diaspora Jews are not responsible for…’ and/ or ‘I accept the will of the Israeli people as a democracy…’ in which case the person you debate with is often identifying you with what they perceive a racist state. Many people in the community simply do not have the confidence to know how to respond to these questions. So they become inert on talking about Israel. This is a shame as we have failed to mobilise a huge support base.
And we need it because support for Israel in this country is low. A third of respondents in a 2017 JPR/ CST survey about antisemitism had an unfavourable view of Israel- compared with 17 per cent with a favourable view. Only 43 per cent believed Israel was the historic home of the Jewish people. Three times as many people sympathise more with the Palestinians than Israelis.
This suggests our community needs to be more cohesive about how we elevate our connection to Israel in order to more widely explain why de-legitimization of Israel is so wrong to us. (Ironically) In spite of the hard-left’s best attempts, anti-Jewish language in debating Israel is becoming more of no-go area in civil society and this presents a real opportunity for the Jewish community to characterise its connection with Israel.
A Jewish community conference- ostensibly on how to communicate about Israel confidently in the digital age – would bring together different sorts of communicators and imbue them with essential messages, and direction: what this should be is open to debate, but freeing ourselves to talk about Israel in a more heart-felt manner, much as when we chat about Israel to each other, would be a good start. This would make the Anglo-Jewish connection with Israel much easier to understand for the average, decent member of UK society (and indeed to Israelis).
Our major public affairs organisations, including the JLC, and the Board, could use this as an opportunity to improve their internal communications by connecting their excellent day to day external affairs work with grassroots activism (which is potentially 200,000 people). The conference could discuss which central messages we articulate when talking about Israel. Chief amongst them should be the utter centrality of Israel to all Jews. Namely: 1. Israel is the ancient national homeland of the Jewish People (a common religious, ethnic group who lived in a national kingdom); 2. Jews have lived there continuously since being exiled by the Romans.. 3. Israel fought, and won, a succession of wars against Arab nations who sought to destroy them. 4) Israel is a democratic state that has every right to defend its citizens against Palestinian-led terrorism. Having confidence in our ability to articulate our beliefs on Israel will not only enhance Israel’s standing in this country, but strengthen our own sense of pride.