Time to recognise progressive case for Israel

As a participant in the We Believe in Israel conference on Sunday I was invited to speak on three panels. The first two were on the delegitimisation debate and the third on how liberals could make the progressive case for Israel.

In all my sessions, the debate was cordial and dignified despite the sometimes radical differences of opinion. The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland made a powerful case for not overstating the power and influence of those who wish to undermine Israel's right to exist - and I agree that this is a risk.

But it is my belief that there is an equal risk of complacency. The arguments of those who would destroy Israel and do harm to its people have begun to enter the mainstream dinner-party chatter of liberal Britain.

Unfortunately, such is the hostility to Israel that too few representatives of liberal Britain turned up on Sunday. Those who did, found it difficult to make their voices heard.

We Believe in Israel should be the beginning of a movement to help stop the slow slide of Israel into pariah state status in the UK. For this to happen, its advocates need to stop talking among themselves and begin engaging with the British liberal opinion and the media that represents its views. They must also recognise that Israeli and Palestinian self-determination are intertwined.

As one of my fellow panellists, Professor Alan Johnson, suggested, next year's conference should be called We Believe in Israel and Palestine.

Last updated: 1:42pm, May 19 2011