Community needs to re-think how to make Israel’s case

Frances O'Grady: The TUC's new general secretary

Frances O'Grady: The TUC's new general secretary

Supporters of Israel are losing the battle of ideas in the UK. This has probably been true for some time, if only they would admit it. But after this year’s TUC conference there is no longer any question about it, on the left at least.

On the one side stands Trade Union Friends of Israel, a heroic bunch of tireless campaigners who nevertheless struggle to fill a room with activists. On the other is the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, still struggling to shake off accusations of Holocaust denial and antisemitism among its branch members, yet still enjoying the support of union general secretaries themselves.

When Daniel Taub was appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the UK he made it his personal mission to reach out to the trade union movement. But they have no intention of listening. Campaign groups spring up to make Israel’s case, and Fair Play is right to point out the folly of the TUC’s latest motion to send a delegation to Gaza under the auspices of the PSC.

But the point is that this motion was passed unanimously. The consensus in large swathes of the left is quite simply this: Israel is the oppressor and the Palestinians the oppressed. When the debate is simplified to this extent it is difficult to see where the argument can usefully go — and many have simply given up making it.

Who will take the argument to those who wish Israel ill?

On the right, the situation is different. Ambitious young Tories still join Conservative Friends of Israel and support is strong at the very top of the party. But as recent events have shown, relations between the UK and Israel are as strained as they have ever been, and even long-time supporters within the government have become exasperated with Netanyahu.

The Jewish leadership needs to take stock as do those outside the community who count themselves as friends of Israel.

The new management at Bicom has taken a less combative approach following the departure of former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons as chief executive, while building on her work. The consensus seems to be that this more academic, think tank-type approach is working well for the organisation.

But who will now take the argument to those on campus, in trade unions and in Westminster who wish Israel harm? This question needs answering before it is too late.

Last updated: 12:02pm, September 13 2012