By Martin Bright
May 20, 2011
This is a short speech I gave to the We Believe in Israel conference on Sunday May 15th:
It is of paramount importance that supporters of Israel do not simply brand those who disagree with us as delegitimisers. I have been spending a lot of time recently reading some of the more vocal and articulate critics of Israel. Jacqueline Rose's Question of Zion is on my bedside table and Gideon Levy's The Punishement of Gaza is in my pocket today. In order to make the progressive case for Israel (one which I believe must be made) I believe it is important to understand the arguments one's opponents make. This is especially true when someone has spend so much time reporting on the ground, as is the case with Gideon Levy, or when they have such an impeccable academic reputation in other fields, such as Jacqueline Rose.
This may come as a surprise to this audience, but neither are, in my view, delegitimisers. They may feed into the arguments for delegitimisation and it is certain that Jacqueline Rose's view of what Israel should be may not represent anything people in this room would recognise as Israel.
But the real problem lies elsewhere. The issue is that the arguments of those who would destroy Israel and do its people harm have begun to enter the mainstream dinner-party chatter of liberal Britain.
I am asked all the time how, as a signed-up member of the north London chatterati, I can stomach being the political editor of the Jewish Chronicle. A good friend of mine is the chair of the British-Syria Society and I can tell you that it's only very recently that she has been asked how she can stomach that role.
This is why it was possible to invite a senior representative of Hamas onto the stage at the Hay Book Festival, as I wrote in the JC this week, and yet senior Israeli politicians and military figures face boycott or arrest.
Today's conference is a painfully unfashionable event. It is not "cool", as it once was, to support Israel. Delegitimisation is the new "radical chic" and this is what we are up against.