New coalition feels let down by community

By Jessica Elgot, May 19, 2011
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Counter-demonstrators at Sunday’s rally outside the Israeli embassy

Counter-demonstrators at Sunday’s rally outside the Israeli embassy

One of the founders of a new umbrella group for pro-Israel groups has claimed that non-Jews often feel excluded from advocacy activities, and have been "let down" by established pro-Israel groups.

Sam Westrop, who co-ordinates the new British-Israel Coalition, said the new organisation aimed to better co-ordinate pro-Israel advocacy in the UK.

BIC organised a counter-demonstration to the "Nakba Day" rally outside the Israeli Embassy on Sunday, with around 60 pro-Israel supporters.

Close to 150 activists attended the Nakba demonstration which called for "solidarity with the third Palestinian Intifada". Participants chanted "Khyber al-Yahud [slaughter the Jews]" and waved Hizbollah flags. A 29-year-old man was arrested and charged with causing an obstruction.

We won’t have anything to do with the EDL

Mr Westrop said members of the BIC had complained to the police about "glorification of terrorism" at the rally. He added: "A few members of the EDL turned up purporting to be pro-Israel, but we wouldn't have anything to do with them and the police made them stand on other side of the road."

Founded last month, BIC now has 75 members. Some represent established groups but Mr Westrop said the majority were individuals who campaigned at their own initiatives.

"One of the groups we have under our umbrella is being set up at Leeds University by Muslims and Christians. They see what a hostile environment the campus is for supporters of Israel but cannot find a way to advocate, apart from through the Jewish Society."

He added: "We want to share information about what's happening and when Israel is being targeted. We feel let down by the major organisations, there's vast amounts of money being wasted because organisations could be better co-ordinated with each other. The BICOM conference felt like a Jewish-orientated event. We encompass Christian and Muslim Zionists too. While everyone else sat discussing Israel in the hotel, we were demonstrating at the Israeli embassy."

Alan Aziz, chief executive of the Zionist Federation, said: "We encourage the initiative, and hope we can work together. I do disagree that there is a lack of co-ordination between groups, we work very closely with many non-Jewish groups, but of course we can all do more. We were very much behind the protest on Sunday, but we can't attend every single one. We don't believe it should be a choice between attending an educational conference or a demonstration, both are valid."

Meanwhile, another new group, Campaign4Truth, has been set up to tackle what organisers say is the British media's "misportrayal of Hamas".

Organisers said the BBC and other news organisations "systematically ignored" the most extreme elements of Hamas's charter and support.

    Last updated: 1:48pm, May 19 2011