Voice of hope in UK Muslims for Israel

The latest pro-Israel advocacy group emanates from an unlikely source, but is dedicated to turning the tables on the delegitimisation campaign.

British Muslims for Israel aims to challenge perceptions within the Muslim community about life in the country, according to one of its founders, Hasan Afzal.

Currently on a year's leave from Birmingham University, Mr Afzal, 21, said the group had emerged as a result of young, professional Muslims' concerns about the "dumbing down of rhetoric about Muslims and the Middle East".

He said BMI would promote Israel's right to exist and the belief in a peaceful solution with the Palestinians.

Mr Afzal said: "How has the debate switched from being about implementing a two-state solution, to the delegitimisation of Israel and a prologue that ends with the country's destruction?

"We do not buy into the Islamist dialogue about a war against the West or Israel. It boils down to this: what sort of world do we want to live in? We say to the Muslim community 'don't be fooled by the Arab or Islamist rhetoric, that this will end in one all-out war'."

The group was set up in January and Mr Afzal admitted progress had been slow. He said that the number of members could not be revealed "for security reasons", but confirmed a number of meetings had already taken place.

Participating Muslims have included a doctor, a teacher and a journalist.

Mr Afzal said: "I knew a couple of British Muslims who felt like me, and we met to talk. They knew other people and we came together. I thought I was in a one-man minority, but there are Muslims out there who are liberal and believe in their religion. We have hit on a great treasure chest of human rights activists who believe in Israel.

"We discuss how we can advocate for Israel. We highlight the hypocrisy of Middle East countries. No-one talks about the treatment of Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia or some Muslim communities in Pakistan. People only want to talk about Israel and the Palestinians."

The response from some Muslim groups has been overtly negative. Supporters of the anti-Zionist Muslim Public Affairs Committee called Mr Afzal "a traitor".

He said: "We are up against it, but this is not an overnight campaign. If MPAC is calling me a traitor, I must have done something right. Your average Muslim on the British street is apathetic. But there needs to be a voice from the other side, or we will see mainstream Muslims moving towards the extreme.

"If we give the pro-Israeli side, we can have a discussion here and move people to our side without them feeling like a 'traitor'. The UK is way behind other countries. There's a massive liberal Muslim movement out there, just not so much in the UK."

BMI is yet to have any contact with the Israeli Embassy, but is being supported by a number of think tanks and human rights organisations. Plans include linking with Christian Zionist groups, finding a presence in Westminster through collaboration with parliamentarians, and the publishing of reports about the standard of Muslim life in Israel compared to other Middle East countries.

    Last updated: 11:05am, March 31 2011