'You don't defend Israel properly'

JNF spokesman attacks community

A leading pro-Israel activist believes the mainstream Jewish community "cannot be trusted" to defend Israel and claims non-Jews are now leading the way in combating delegitimisation efforts.

Sam Westrop, a founder of the British Israel Coalition (BIC), said the community was often "paralysed" because it could not agree on positions to take on issues affecting Israel. He said Jewish communal leaders "shied away" from discussing Israel whenever possible.

"The overriding sentiment I encounter is that the Jewish community will do the bare minimum to defend Israel, either because they are frightened of causing a provocation or they feel it's not their mandate," said Mr Westrop.

He claimed communal organisations and their leaders were preoccupied with having the "right image" in the eyes of the public, rather than by a desire to "do the right thing".

"I would say non-Jews are doing more to defend Israel in Britain," said Mr Westrop. "It's odd when you can rely more on non-Jews than the Jewish community."

The BIC is an umbrella group of Israel supporters formed last year. It claims to have more than 2,500 members, including Christians and Muslims, and says it exists to "combat the visceral hatred of Israel that is championed by the delegitimisation network".

Since its formation, BIC has helped co-ordinate counter-protests to defend Israel at Palestine Solidarity Campaign events and demonstrations.

Mr Westrop, who is also a press officer for the JNF, said a team of 30 BIC activists had worked for six months to monitor and collate references to last weekend's "flytilla" initiative, sending details to Israeli officials and airlines.

He added: "I have heard nothing about the flytilla from the Jewish Leadership Council or the Board of Deputies. It's worrying."

He admitted that independent activists and BIC members could act with fewer restraints than elected communal representatives, but said tangible results meant BIC and its supporters should be entitled to more credit.

Mr Westrop criticised the Zionist Federation and said its claims that it would lead the way in organising counter-protests were "obviously nonsense".

"We have often asked the ZF to join us and help publicise counter-demonstrations. They have told us it's not effective, but we can show counter-demos challenge the distortions of truth. The response from members of the public has been fantastic. They tell us they are delighted to hear the other side."

ZF executive director Alan Aziz hit back, arguing that activists wanting to support Israel should join established groups rather than set up their own. Mr Westrop, he said, "wants to promote himself", adding that "egos" were hampering co-ordination of Israel advocacy work.

"If people really want to make a difference they should get behind the organisation they think is already doing the most and help take it in a direction they want," he said.

Mr Aziz agreed with Mr Westrop that all pro-Israel groups could "do more", but said the ZF was "doing more than most".

"It was the ZF that went out and created partnerships and friendships with the non-Jewish community. It's very powerful and positive for the pro-Israel community to have these alliances," he said.

Jon Benjamin, executive director of the Board of Deputies, was more circumspect. He said: "The Board and partner organisations are doing an enormous amount of work countering the most invidious efforts of the PSC and BDS movement.

"We have pushed back against entryism in schools, are challenging the narratives being deployed in churches. We also encourage BUYcotts to defeat boycotts, with a degree of success that has caused the likes of Norman Finkelstein to dismiss the BDS movement as an ineffective cult.

"There is an enormous amount of work still to do, with limited resources, and we have to pick our battles accordingly. As an engaged community there are bound to be different tactics and strategies upon which we may not all agree, but when our adversaries complain of our successes, it is rather naïve for others to deny them."

A JLC spokesman said: "The JLC supports the efforts of all groups working to improve Jewish life and Israel's standing in the UK. It's great to see ever growing commitment to advocacy from all directions but we should remember that we are all on the same side and energies should be directed at those who are hostile to these causes."

    Last updated: 3:46pm, April 19 2012