'Sleep second to getting Israel message out'

Ambassador Ron Prosor

Ambassador Ron Prosor

The Israeli diplomat charged with handling boycott issues in the country's Foreign Ministry, DJ Schneeweiss, told a standing-room only session: "BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) is not swamping the world with its agenda."

He warned: "We must not lose ourselves in this battle and we must remember that there are many friends of Israel who are not buying into this agenda and not associating themselves with BDS. They can be, and are, potential partners in fending it off."

Mr Schneeweiss, a former press counsellor at the Israeli embassy in London, noted that boycott was "binary. [They say], either you support our mission of punishing Israel, or you are an accomplice in the crimes that are Israel.

"We have to be aware of this, and to be aware that BDS operates by giving ordinary people things to do. We have to respond to that; we have to give people something to do, something constructive, rather than the zero sum agenda of the boycott."

The basic right of international law doesn’t apply to Israel

Other members of the panel, the Jewish Leadership Council's executive director Jeremy Newmark and London Jewish Forum founder Adrian Cohen, made it clear that those who were pro-boycott were anti-peace.

Mr Schneeweiss noted that on many occasions the BDS movement claimed victory when the reverse was the case. "We should encourage a positive agenda. Don't divest, invest. We should not be defined by our opponents- open up to them."

One of Israel's veteran diplomats, Ambassador Robbie Sabel, forensically identified the "myths" of international law as applied to the Jewish state.

Speaking on a panel with educator Daniel Needlestone and journalist Shimon Shiffer, the UK-born Mr Sabel, now a professor of law at the Hebrew University, declared: "What we have seen is effectively a kidnapping of international law. The right of self-defence, a very basic right of international law, apparently does not apply to Israel. "

Israel's demand for the Palestinians to recognise it as a Jewish state was given short shrift by the historian Professor David Cesarani.

He said that the Israeli government's requirement had been "concocted in order to throw a spanner into the peace process".

But he also criticised it as having "potentially disastrous" repercussions because trying to define a Jewish state would mean revisiting the troublesome issue of who is a Jew.

"That opens such a huge can of wriggly insects that we are all going to be in deep trouble," he said. How could Israel ask for recognition as a Jewish state, if the "Jewish legal and religious authorities cannot agree who is a Jew?"

Professor Alan Johnson, of Edge Hill University, offered an alternative approach to recognition, citing an Israeli foreign affairs researcher who had suggested that Israel should "seek recognition of the Jewish people's right to self-determination in a sovereign state rather than recognition of Israel as a Jewish state."

Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland warned against accusing as delegitimisers those who did not question Israel's right to exist but were critical of its occupation of the West Bank.

"I have a feeling we tie ourselves up in knots about delegitimisation," he said. There were many people who would not be bothered about Israel were it not for the occupation, he contended.

Former political editor of The Sun Trevor Kavanagh took the Israeli government to task for failing to put its story across at a workshop on the challenges facing the country in the international media.

"I am astonished that the Israeli government needs lectures on this. Israel is on the back foot while its opponents around the world are getting off with their lies," Mr Kavanagh said.

"These are first principles. The Israeli media and government need to be told: you've got to identify and repudiate claims and assertions as they come in. What's happening now is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted."

But panellist Yaron Dekel, a Channel 1 talk show host, said that the Israeli side needed time to gather and ascertain the facts.

Referring to the 24-hour delay that occurred before Israel got its story out about the Mavi Marmara operation, he said: "You have to wait until the soldiers come back from the sea. They also have to sleep for three hours because they have worked all night."

But Mr Kavanagh argued: "Propaganda is a weapon of war and you cannot deploy it at your leisure. Sleep comes second to getting the message out. "

Adam Cannon, a media lawyer at the Daily Telegraph who was also on the panel, suggested that delegates to the conference should make the most of new media forums such as Facebook, Twitter and comment threads to put its case across.

But Alex Brummer, Daily Mail City Editor and JC contributor, said that since internet threads often become racist and insulting, they were not good arenas for debate. "You have to target your complaints. If you write to the letters editor, for example, you've got a much better chance of having facts put right."

Tony Blair's political director pledged that the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement would not stop the Quartet pushing the terrorist organisation to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

Speaking at a packed session on the future of the peace process, alongside Bicom's Israel director Jonathan Cummings and Israeli journalist Yaron Dekel, Matthew Doyle said that while the Quartet welcomed Palestinian unity, there would be no negotiations which included Hamas in its present form.

He said there could be "creative solutions" to enable the Quartet to continue its work with a Palestinian government that included Hamas. But he added: "You can't have negotiations about two states if one of the parties to that negotiation doesn't believe that the other should exist."

Labour peer Lord Winston, chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, called for university vice-chancellors to be "actively encouraged" to tackle the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel on British campuses.

Speaking in a campus session including former National Union of Students president Wes Streeting, UJS chair Alex Dwek and former Armed Services Minister Bill Rammell, the peer expressed concern about a rash of campus incidents relating to Israel.

Mr Rammell said that while too often in the past vice chancellors had ignored Jewish students, they would be pressured "to use their power more wisely" if students were more willing to make complaints about antisemitic behaviour.

British trade unions are alone internationally in their anti-Israel attitudes, according to trade union experts.

Eric Lee, founder of Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, said that Israel had support across the world, including in America, Australia, Germany and Italy, but not in Britain where trade unions backed a boycott of Israel.

At a session chaired by Trade Union Friends of Israel director Stephen Scott, Roger Lyons, TUFI chair and former president of the TUC, said: "The Palestine Solidarity Campaign doesn't support the peace process and the 18 unions affiliated with the PSC do not know that or do not understand it."

Debbie Coulter, former deputy general secretary of the GMB trade union, said: "Any person speaking in support of Israel within the trade union movement is met with hostility and disdain. I was an unconditional supporter of the Palestinian cause. I have revised my opinions over the years."

We believe Israel will offer cash grants to help advocacy groups get off the ground

Lorna Fitzsimons, executive director of Bicom, said this week that We Believe in Israel would become an annual event - and planning has started already to make We Believe 2012 even bigger and more successful.

She said: "The We Believe brand will live on as a national movement. We are talking about the re-engineering of the way things work by trying to facilitate the development of a serious, grassroots movement."

Among the plans for the year ahead: there will be a follow-up conference later in the year held by the Manchester community, with help from the We Believe brand.

The Israeli Embassy plans six separate regional training events. And a grassroots development officer will be appointed to help the local communities.

Each delegate to Sunday's conference will be encouraged to sign up ten new people who will be added to a national database of information and updates, including updates to the "toolkit" provided to all attendees. Additionally, everyone who attended the conference will get BICOM's daily email information service, as will anyone who agrees to sign up to the We Believe movement.

Advice and guidelines on lobbying local and national politicians will be provided.

Ms Fitzsimons added: "We will be announcing the setting up of a development pot of money for individuals and organisations to apply for grants which will help them develop their local work.

"Linked to this, we will also announce an award for the most innovative (or most successful) advocacy intervention delivered by an individual who was inspired to action by the conference over the next six months."

Last updated: 1:59pm, May 19 2011