Israel advocacy is strong, but we need your help to carry on

By Lorna Fitzsimons, March 1, 2012
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After five years at Bicom I have the chance to take stock. I believe Israel advocacy is now much stronger in the UK and better serves the community and Israel.

Before Bicom, my sole exposure to pro-Israel advocacy had been the Union of Jewish Students when I was at the National Union of Students, and Labour Friends of Israel when I was an MP. Both were, and are simply brilliant. Yet as involved as I was I didn't really know of Bicom. There was also nothing for me to get involved in as a non-Jew in between being a student and being an MP.

Over the past five years Bicom has committed itself to trying to achieve a more balanced hearing for Israel in the media and developing a more joined-up approach across the community towards pro-Israel advocacy. That was evident in that marvellous day last May when 26 organisations came together to inspire 1,500 people under the banner of "We Believe in Israel".

Five years ago many thought that pro-Israel advocacy was only done by Jews. Bicom is now run at the senior level by predominantly non-Jewish staff. Five years ago, there was no real coordination between UK and international advocacy organisations. Now Bicom is held up as an international example of best practice and regularly called upon to brief and train others.

The task can't be left to few dedicated people

We now have a well-developed and practiced crisis management system and protocol run jointly with the JLC. We used it to great effect in response to Operation Cast Lead, in 2010 as the first Flotilla hit the headlines, as well as last year during the Palestinian bid for UN membership.

Five years ago none of the British pro-Israel advocacy organisations had a presence in Israel and we weren't really on the Israeli government's map. Bicom now has an office there allowing us to provide a seamless service for journalists and sister organisations in the region. We are regularly brought into discussions by governments in the UK and Israel as trusted experts. Five years ago there was a lot of turning a blind eye in Britain. Today we have faced up to the use of London as a hub for delegitimisation and we are working hard to counter efforts to portray Israel as a pariah state. This work really started with the Stop The Boycott Campaign, whichlifted advocacy out of smoke-filled rooms to the front pages of every national newspaper. To this day no UK academic institution has boycotted Israel, despite the efforts of the BDS campaign.

Today the danger is bigger than at any other time I can remember, yet we are stronger and have more allies than we think. However there are more projects than we have money for. There is no shortage of the best of the best wanting to work with us, But we can't do it on thin air. The community talks about wanting a grass roots movement but it hasn't yet put its money where its mouth is. For example, it talks about the trouble in British Trade Unions yet one of our most underfunded organisations is Trade Union Friends for Israel.

The professionals working in advocacy in the community are some of the best in the world but as the task gets bigger it can't all be left to a few dedicated people. The time is now if we want to have impact. We can still turn this around. Our polling shows that 22 per cent of the public are with us and 13 per cent against, 17 per cent don't give a damn and the rest are up for grabs.

The British people like an underdog, for sure, and they think Israel overreacts. But they also think Iran is the biggest problem, they place Hamas rejectionists second, and they did not like the Palestinians' unilateral moves at the UN. They want to see a Palestinian state but they don't blame Israel for that not having happened yet. As for their reaction to the Arab spring, it has been more astute than that of the political and media classes. They understood what Israel did, that the upheavals made peace more important than ever but also harder to achieve.

It has been an honour to work for Bicom and with so many wonderful and brilliant people. I will continue to advocate and indeed agitate for you and Israel whatever I do. Let me leave with two quotes that I have to constantly remind myself of. The first is from Abraham Lincoln: "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other." The second is from Winston Churchill: "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

Lorna Fitzsimons served as the CEO of Bicom from 2006 to 2012

Last updated: 11:54am, March 1 2012