Board chief handed a PR gift to Israel’s enemies

Complacency is deadly when dealing with Israel’s plummeting image in Britain

By Robin Shepherd, July 30, 2009

All is fair in love and war, or so they say. In the world of political commentary, however, there is little fairness, less love and often the kind of intensity that could lead some to believe that a war was precisely what one was engaged in. But if you can’t take the punches, don’t get involved.

I have taken a few punches in the past for my calls for a more reasoned approach to Israel’s predicament in the Middle East.

But few things have taken me more by surprise than Board of Deputies President Vivian Wineman’s response to a piece of mine in last week’s Jerusalem Post, in which I sought to explain why Israel’s reputation has taken such a beating in recent months.

For Mr Wineman, amazingly, it hasn’t. In the world of the Board President, everything in the British garden is rosy.  

The piece I had written drew on the research I had undertaken over the last two years for a book on anti-Zionism to be published in September. I outlined a number of possible explanations for what was going on, ranging from the Netanyahu government’s new emphasis on insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, through the deep personal hostility felt by many opinion formers in Britain to Netanyahu himself and especially his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to my perception that Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s new overtures to the Muslim world had played into the hands of constituencies which oppose Israel’s existence. 

I further noted that things were likely to get worse rather than better, and that this could easily fuel anti-semitism further.

Not so, according to Mr Wineman, who wrote that this was all “misguided and alarmist”. There were problems for the pro-Israel community in the UK, he said, but everything was more or less on the right track. Instead of worrying, we should celebrate!

Yet his article came out just days after the Community Security Trust had released data showing a record rise in antisemitic incidents this year. This could be considered alarming.

But it is surely obvious that no foreign country in Britain is treated with more disdain these days than Israel: not just by the usual suspects on the fringes but by pillars of our country’s political and cultural life: the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, the Financial Times, the Church Of England, celebrated figures from the arts, charities… the list goes on.

Does it not make sense to try and understand why this is happening, and to rethink old strategies that have plainly failed to have an impact?

Mr Wineman, of course, is entitled to a different view. But he should be aware that his remarks will now play a key role in the work of Israel’s opponents. They have long said that the pro-Israel community’s concerns were at best overblown and at worst paranoid. Now they have “proof”.

They have been handed an invaluable gift. I really wonder whether that is what Mr Wineman intended.

Robin Shepherd is director of International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society. His book, “A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel”, is published in September

Last updated: 5:11pm, July 30 2009