I was up at 5am on Sunday morning to catch the 5.45am coach to Manchester for The Big Tent For Israel conference along with another 17 hardy souls and so an early Saturday night was in order, although we were bemused that the half-way stop at Corley services lasted a full 45 minutes, possibly in line with EU regulations, as we could all have done with an extra 45 minutes in bed.
Once on the coach tiredness quickly subsided as anecdotes were exchanged about past battles against London’s anti-Zionist movement and plans discussed about possible future action.
We pulled in to Manchester at about 10.15am and once through registration were eventually seated in time for the sharp 10.50am start where we heard from Ivan Lewis MP, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub and Mick Davis, who seemed to be speaking on a videolink from somewhere much warmer than Manchester!
Sessions were arranged in five spheres that the Reut Report recognised as being the main areas in which Israel tends to suffer delegitimisation in the UK: Politics, Media, Academia, the Trade Unions, Churches.
Lewis, a “son of Manchester”, reminded us that Manchester was where Zionism came of age with CP Scott, owner of the Manchester Guardian, befriending Chaim Weizman and introducing him to British statesmen, which eventually led to the Balfour Declaration. Scott’s Guardian even editorially supported the idea of the Jewish Legion, the brainchild of Jabotinsky. How times have changed!
Daniel Taub was adamant that it is Israel’s existence that is under attack. If it was just about “occupation” then why, he asked, were Israel’s pull-outs from south Lebanon and Gaza followed by a constant barrage of rocket attacks on Israel from those places.
He told us about when he went to speak at a British university and was met by a front row of anti-Israel activists who immediately stood up and unfurled anti-Israel slogans in front of him. So he went to his computer and showed them a youtube clip of a Palestinian gunman attempting to cross a street. Knowing he would be immediately targetted when he stepped out the gunman grabbed a Palestinian boy and held him as he crossed before discarding the boy on the other side. Taub asked which Palestinian those activists were supporting; the boy or the gunman?
After that I went to hear Jonny Paul (Jerusalem Post), another “son of Manchester”, Adam Levick (CifWatch), Marcus Sheff (Israel Project), yet another “son of Manchester”, and Michael Weiss (Henry Jackson Society) speak about Media Delegitimisation: Fact or Paranoia?
Sheff told us that Israel’s PR has improved from where it used to be, although that seemed to be from a very low wrung of the ladder, while Jonny Paul spoke about The Independent’s cartoon by Dave Brown of Ariel Sharon eating a baby, The New Statesman‘s 2002 front page of a Star of David piercing the Union Jack flag to illustrate a story about Britain’s “Zionist lobby” with the title “A Kosher conspiracy?” and of The Independent‘s false front page story by Robert Fisk that Israel may have used depleted Uranium weapons in the 2006 Lebanon War.
I was flattered to have been asked to chair the panel on Countering Delegitimisation: Strategy and Tactics alongside Jonathan Hoffman, Adam Levick and Richard Gold (engageonline).
I had just been to hear Lorna Fitzsimons (BICOM) speak at Every Jew is an Ambassador for Israel, why don’t we use them?, where I disagreed with quite a bit of what she said, although the passion with which she delivers her words was a brilliant lesson in oratory.
She asked who in the audience had written a letter to their local newspaper about Israel, or phoned in to a radio station, or had met with their MP. Few in the audience had done any of this and people were asked to pledge that they would.
I ripped up my prepared speech and decided to speak about how few pro-Israel letters get published and when they do they get published alongside letters extolling the supposed virtues of a one-state solution or Hamas.
At least with blogging everything you write gets published in addition to the important fact that the internet has now become one of the main battle-lines of attack against Israel.
I explained that I thought that the title of our panel discussion should really have been Countering anti-Semitism: Strategy and Tactics as I have lost count of the number of times I have heard Jews, not Israel or Zionism, be the object of degradation and derision at many of the anti-Israel meetings I have been to.
Some of the examples I gave were of anti-Israel commentator Khaled Amaryeh calling someone a “kike” on my blog, of a woman called Jane Green telling me outside a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting she had just attended that any Jews that did die in the Holocaust probably died after having had their foreskins chopped off, of trade union rep. Steve Hedley’s racist accusation at an anti-Israel RMT event that I was one of the Chosen People and of academic Ghada Karmi’s statement at a conference at SOAS that:
“The Zionist project would never have succeeded without Western complicity. Criminals might want to rob you, kill you, rape your daughters but normally they do not get away with it. Israel’s total impunity is so unusual today. The only way to reverse this is on the basis of rights and justice; that is the right of return of the refugees and the dispossessed and the exiles back to their homeland. If that were to happen we know very well that that would be the end of a Jewish state in our region.”
I also displayed the falsified slide shown at an anti-Israel meeting at Amnesty International of a young Palestinian boy having had a tattoo of a Star of David, allegedly, carved into his forearm by an Israeli soldier using a piece of broken glass. The Star was too small and too perfect to have been created that way and the plaster doesn’t even fit over the supposed wound!
Jonathan, Adam and Richard spoke very well and after that I went to listen to Stuart Palmer (Cohav) give another Social Media Workshop before the final session brought together some Rapporteurs to tell us about some of the events that people had been unable to go to seeing as many sessions clashed.
It was good to meet other bloggers, like Ray Cook, who had been lured out from behind their computers for the day, but I was astonished by the huge turnout with numbers reaching at least 500, possibly as many as 650.
But then that’s Manchester for you; hardcore Zionist through and through.
Oh, and Titanics kosher smoked salmon sandwiches on sale were just to die for!