Wednesday, March 25

A Peek Inside the UK's pro-Israel lobby

Inside the UK's pro-Israel lobby

Through the heavily-securitised doors of London's exclusive Lancaster hotel, several hundred smartly-dressed delegates are milling around drinking coffee or eating kosher sandwiches and snacks. The air is filled with the hubbub of chatter and the clinking of glasses, occasionally punctuated by a security announcement reminding everyone not to disclose their location on social media platforms "for security reasons".
This is the sight that greets me when, after being thoroughly patted down by a security guard, I enter the venue of "We Believe in Israel", a gathering of like-minded individuals and organisations that professes to be the "largest conference to promote support for Israel" in Britain. According to Director's address in the inside cover of the programme, "the overarching aim of the day is to unite as many people as possible behind one simple concept: Israel as a Jewish and democratic state". The sheer absurdity of this double-speak-esque oxymoron – Israel as a 'Jewish" and "democratic" state (as if the declaration of a state based purely on ethnic and religious classification was not antithetical to the very definition of democracy) - perfectly sets the tone for the day. George Orwell must be turning in his grave.
Well attended by a mixture of pro-Israel campaigners and Zionists from both Israel and the UK - the list of delegates is rigorously vetted and the conference organisers retain the right to deny attendance to anyone they consider unfit - the conference offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the UK's pro-Israel lobby, and an opportunity to engage with such groups on their own terms. As well as scheduled talks by all the usual suspects, such as BICOM, StandWithUs, the Zionist Federation and the Henry Jackson Society, there are also sessions run by pro-Israel factions in each of the UK's mainstream political parties, including the recently inaugurated UKIP Friends of Israel.
But beyond simply offering a platform for pushing a Zionist agenda, the conference also has a deeply practical focus, and offers a number of skill-based sessions aimed at "creating a more positive image of Israel in the UK", including talks on effective lobbying, campaigning, dealing with the press, shaping British educational policy, mobilising the grassroots and making effective use of social media platforms. All to teach people how to "develop and support a grassroots network advocating for Israel".
As part of the welcome pack presented to every delegated (I, for one, know that I will cherish my "We Believe in Israel" pen forever) is a "Tool Kit" intended "to give pro-Israel campaigners the essential information and advice needed to campaign for Israel both all-year-round and in the event of a crisis". This 65-page document is broken up into six sections, each tailored around a specific skill, from "How to influence people" to "How to set up a local campaign group" and includes "fact sheets" on key issues such as "Jewishness, Zionism and Israel", "Settlements", "Iran", "Hamas" and "The progressive case for Israel".
Most chillingly, the tool kit makes explicit the strategy potential recruits to the pro-Israel cause should adopt in spreading the Zionist message, proclaiming that "The absolute key to us shifting opinions on Israel is to develop individual personal relationships with people. This will make us better placed to influence them." In other words, instrumentalise your personal relationships and use people as pawns in a larger game of influence and opinion.
Except from conference handout: How to influence people
There are a number of key strategies to remember each time you try to influence someone:
  • Decide exactly what your goal or objective is
  • Define your message
  • Identify your target audience
  • Tailor your message to the audience
  • Identify the most effective delivery mechanism for that message and that audience
  • Execute the communication
  • Evaluate how well it worked - did you shift opinions?
Alongside this document is a tiny, pocket-sized "fact" booklet produced by StandWithUs that reads like a manifesto for radical Zionism; a mind-boggling collection of cherry-picked sources, massaged statistics and downright propaganda. As well as proclaiming that "Jews are indigenous to Israel and have maintained a presence for over 3,000 years" and that as early as 1854 "Jews were the largest religious group in Jerusalem" the booklet is equally dismissive of Palestinian claims to sovereignty and human rights, claiming firstly that 1948 Arabs "accepted Israel's invitation to choose peace and become Israeli citizens" and, amazingly, that "Israel helped set up the first self-government for the Palestinians".
The Palestinians, if mentioned at all, are stripped of all humanity and corporality, reduced to either ungrateful citizens of a peaceful Israeli state, refugees whose plight has been used "as a propaganda weapon against Israel" by other Arab countries, or, predictably, as destitute nomads and backwards tribespeople crying out for the civilising influences of Israel. One page juxtaposes an image of group of huddled figures in a barren desert with a picture of a vibrant cityscape. Under the first image is the caption "Tel Aviv 1909", under the second "Tel Aviv 2009"; one hundred years on, and see how Israel has made the desert bloom. This well-worn and discriminatory trope of Palestinian ineffectiveness and poverty recalls the saying "A land without a people for a people without a land", thus effectively writing the Palestinians out of their own history.
Indeed, throughout the entire day, the Palestinian shadow looms over the conference, present only in its absence; an absent presence that nevertheless haunts proceedings, from the heavy emphasis on security to the increasingly shrill affirmations that "We Believe in Israel [and not Palestine]". The complete lack of willingness of any of the assembled parties to engage in any meaningful discussion of the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the ongoing human rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinians on an almost daily basis speaks to a deep sense of unease at the heart of the pro-Israel lobby; it is almost as if they know that the entire edifice of their belief system is constructed on shaky foundations, and that to face the hard facts of reality risks bringing the whole thing crashing to the ground. And so they continue to engage in a sort of Orwellian double-think, waxing lyrical about Israel's medical achievements, tolerance for homosexuals, and technological innovations while pointedly ignoring any references to an apartheid state whose very existence depends on the subjugation and repression of hundreds of thousands of human beings.
But however easy it may be to ridicule the biases and fallacies of "We Believe in Israel", it would be a mistake to dismiss the pro-Israel lobby outright, or even to engage in a reciprocal slandering match, as many pro-Palestinian factions have been known to do. Instead, those who truly care for the fate of Palestinians whose very existence has been shaped by the continued presence of the Israeli military in the most intimate spheres of their lives should rather use this opportunity to learn the methods and strategies of the pro-Israel lobby from the inside, so as to better combat their propaganda attempts. In the words of Frantz Fanon: "Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent"; only by stepping away from their emotional involvement in the conflict, however difficult that may be, and adopting a calm and rational strategy in the manner of the pro-Israel lobby, will Palestinians succeed in making their voices heard.
The "tool kit" provided by the conference may thus be used by pro-Palestinians, as well as pro-Israelis. One of the most important lessons to be learned from the strategies set out in the booklet is that the most effective method of influencing people and effecting real change is not to engage in heated debates or other activities that may alienate people (armed struggle being a prime example), but to "develop individual personal relationships", moblise your personal and professional networks, "tailor your message to your audience" and, most importantly, "don't underestimate your own influence." If the Palestinians can ultimately use Israel's PR and propaganda strategies against them, and succeed in both exposing the hypocrisy and double-think of the pro-Israel lobby and in turning the tide of international public opinion against Israel, then the battle for an independent sovereign Palestine will already be half won.


0 Have Your Say!:

Post a Comment