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Three pro-Israel groups rising - and one treading water

    Fiona Sharpe, Sussex Friends of Israel
    Fiona Sharpe, Sussex Friends of Israel

    Sussex Friends of Israel

    Established in 2013. Ronnie Bloom is president of the group, whose co-chairs are Fiona Sharpe, Winston Pickett and Simon Cobbs.

    Membership

    Has 15,000 people in its Facebook group.

    Activities in the past year
    Successfully campaigned against an anti-Israel conference at Southampton University, getting it cancelled.

    Organised protests against the 2022 Qatar World Cup on the basis that the country funds Gazan terrorist attacks.

    Held a hustings before the general election attended by the Labour and Conservative candidates for Hove.

    Together with North West Friends of Israel organised the first ever IsrAction day, when they encouraged people to buy Israeli goods from mainstream supermarkets and donate them to the needy. Over £10,000 worth of food was donated in Manchester alone.

    What they say about themselves

    "SFI is dedicated to developing greater support, awareness and understanding of Israel through education, communication and community partnership," says co-chair Fiona Sharpe. "The fact that we gave those activists who were already out there more of a structure and incentive to stand up to BDS and to stand up for Israel in general - that's our greatest achievement."

    Ms Sharpe says she is comfortable with the SFI's "streetfighter reputation", but points out that the group has built a reputation for working quietly behind the scenes, as it did with the Jewish Leadership Council and police on the campaign against an anti-Israel conference at Southampton University. The conference was cancelled.

    "I'm proud to say that our relationship with some of the more mainstream organisations is far more open and mutually respectful than it was at the beginning," she says.

    "We want to continue pushing the mainstream organisations when we feel they're not stepping up to the plate as much as we feel the Anglo-Jewish community want them to. We will also continue to let people know that England is a very safe country to be Jewish, that you are safe to stand up and say you are proud to be Jewish and a supporter of Israel."

    North West Friends of Israel

    Established summer 2014. Co-chaired by Anthony Dennison and Raphi Bloom

    Anthony Dennison, North West Friends of Israel
    Anthony Dennison, North West Friends of Israel

    Membership

    Has 1,000 people in its public Facebook group and more than 3,000 in its private group.

    Activities in the past year

    Organised the rally against antisemitism in Manchester, which was attended by 2,500 people.

    Organised counter-protests against boycotters attempting to shut down the Israeli-owned Kedem store in central Manchester.

    Successfully opposed a motion to fly a Palestinian flag from Manchester Town Hall. Together with Sussex Friends of Israel, organised the first ever IsrAction day.

    What they say about themselves

    "We're a place to bring pro-Israel activists together and as a tool to coordinate activity in support of, and to advocate for, Israel, fight BDS and expose antisemitism," says co-chair Anthony Dennison.

    "The success we've had has exceeded what we thought we might achieve when we first stood outside Kedem and decided to form as a group, and we believe we can achieve a great deal more.

    "We're very proud of the rally. We had 2,500 people representing the Manchester Jewish community, Brighton, the Kurdish community, and Christian groups, and 1,200 people online watching from the US, Argentina and Israel. It was phenomenal, an incredible event.

    "We're also proud of what we did and continue to do with Kedem. Another high point was IsrAction. That amazing success was taken up by a few organisations like the Zionist Federation, and supported by everyone including the Israeli embassy. We've now started planning the next one - for Chanucah - as a worldwide event.

    "The energy for grassroots groups is still there. Last year we had the focal point of Operation Protective Edge, so people were galvanised around that. People were galvanised around the rally in Golders Greeen before it was moved.

    "There's still loads of work to do. We're going to go to local authorities and explain Israel to local politicians, and start doing roadshows to say what Israel contributes to the world."

    Campaign Against Antisemitism

    Established in August 2014. Run by chairman Gideon Falter.

    Membership

    Nearly 8,000 people in its Facebook group.

    Activities in the past year
    In August 2014, organised a rally against antisemitism outside the Royal Courts of Justice, which attracted 4,500 people, with speakers including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Maajid Nawaz - chairman of the anti-extremist organisation the Quilliam foundation. The then- Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman was booed over the Board's perceived lack of a response to rising antisemitism during the Gaza conflict.

    Organised a protest outside the Tricycle Theatre in London after the venue boycotted the UK Jewish Film Festival.

    In January, they caused controversy when a survey they commissioned found that 45 per cent of British Jews "feared they might not have a long -term future in the UK", while one in four had considered leaving in the past two years.

    Organised a No To Nazis counter-demonstration to oppose the planned rally in Golders Green on July 4 of this year. More than 2,100 people signed up to it.

    What they say about themselves

    "The Campaign Against Antisemitism was formed to empower victims of antisemitism, to ensure that the police arrested the perpetrators and their employers disciplined them," says chairman Gideon Falter.

    "We believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant and turn the spotlight on antisemitism wherever we find it. We are a grassroots organisation dedicated to turning the rising tide of antisemitism.

    "In less than a year we have gone from a spontaneous protest outside the Tricycle to becoming a well-organised high-profile grassroots campaign with a rapidly growing team of volunteers, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

    "At our rally at the Royal Courts of Justice we called for 'zero tolerance law enforcement' and these words now feature in politician's speeches."

    Mr Falter highlights CAA's "Antisemitism Barometer survey" which he says showed how antisemitism was seen as a national challenge in the wake of the Paris attacks.

    He adds that the group has no paid employees and practically no funding.

    "We are empowering individual members of the community to contribute their considerable talents to the fight against antisemitism.

    "Our goal is to tackle antisemitism through education and enforcement, and to do it with the agility of a start-up, the expertise of established professionals in various fields - and where needed, a dash of chutzpah."

    North London Friends of Israel

    Established in February 2014. Run by Mark Haringman and Harry Goldstein.

    Membership

    Around 800 in the Facebook group, 200 on the mailing list and 50 paid members.

    Activities in the past year

    Protested when kosher food was removed from the shelves of a London Sainsbury's.

    Campaigned against the 2022 Qatar World Cup on the basis the country funds Gazan terrorist attacks. Raised issues with Barnet MP and cabinet minister Theresa Villiers during the general election.

    Recently met Christian supporters in a north-London church, with local MP David Burrowes.

    What they say about themselves
    "We're here to provide a focus for supporters of Israel in the north-London area, to campaign for a balanced political environment for Israel, and to take action so that support for Israel is heard online and in the traditional media," says Mark Haringman.

    He acknowledges that its social media group is not as active as it was. "Now things have calmed down, people aren't getting out of their armchairs so much and providing the support needed.

    "But there's still a core of about 10 activists. We've done stuff like gathered outside Sainsbury's when people were threatening to pull things off shelves, we're active in opposing the Golders Green protest and we're also involved with Christian Friends of Israel.

    "We pick and choose, but we're not as active on the streets as we'd like to be.

    "What we do is counter-demonstrations, and there aren't always issues to counter-demonstrate.

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