IDEA NOTES FOR THE BIG TENT by BARRY SHAW.
What began as a private initiative is taking late roots in Manchester with the upcoming Big Tent Conference at the end of this month.
What drove the initiators to put together their programme was a grave concern over the growing delegitimisation campaigns against Israel that have gone relatively unchallenged in Britain. It is to be hoped that the event will not dilute into a lukewarm agenda of nice speeches and little post-conference action.
To concentrate the attention of the participants and audience of the Big Tent it is vital that they fully appreciate the clear and present dangers facing Israel today. There are vital reasons why the conference must stand firmly with Israel and vow to take ongoing action to confront the delegitimisers.
Here are some of my recommendations based on experience, contacts, and knowledge about who, in Britain, are on the forefront of the battle being waged against Israel and what they need to win the fight.
It is, in the main, the young, staunchly pro-Israel, activists who are facing down the radical elements that have made London the hub of delegitimisation. They are the ones who are left alone to counter hate Israel events and speeches on the campus, who are assaulted verbally and even physically when speaking up for Israel, and take to the streets to counter anti-Israel demonstrations dressed up as pro-Palestinian, human rights, protests.
These are the dynamic and brave groups and individuals that must be reinforced and strengthened in their David and Goliath battle against the well organized, well financed, opponents of Israel.
As an organizer of the Herzlia Situation Room, set up at the time of this year’s Gaza Flotilla, I saw the successful effect of a coordinated social media attack on the radicals and “useful idiots” who participated in the failed flotilla. It failed due to a two pronged approach that reaped dividends.
The Israeli government worked with European governments to hamper the progress of the ships that were tied down in Greek ports. It also failed due to the efforts of individuals and a couple of NGOs who worked, through legal means, to prevent the ships from sailing while, at the same time, mounting a campaign to delegitimize the flotilla activists.
The use of the social media played a large part in driving a wedge between public opinion and the ship’s radicals. We created a social media presence with a website, over 40 Facebook groups in various languages, and numerous Twitter accounts.
We banged out a strong message that accused the ship’s radicals of perpetrating a lie, that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that it was wrong to sail into the welcoming arms of a Hamas terror regime. The sound bites that I created did not mention Israel. By putting the spotlight on these extremists was sufficient to distance broad public opinion away from them. The 2011 Gaza Flotilla was an expensive failure for the radical organizers. It costs them, according to a Dutch investigative journalist, ten million Euros as the ships remained anchored in Pireaus.
The same team of social media volunteers was made to turn their attention to the “Flightilla”. This was the planned air invasion of 600 radicals who intended to descend on Ben Gurion Airport from various European airports and stage disruptive demonstration in Israel both at the airport and at a number of other locations.
Due to the intelligence we had gathered by researching the radical organizations behind this campaign about 450 of them were prevented from getting on planes at the points of departure while those who managed to fly were arrested as they landed in Israel.
The social media savvy team of 14 volunteers helped avoid an embarrassing international incident for Israel. We found that there were many overt and covert ways of taking the war to our enemy, the delegitimisers. We proved that it is possible to beat a ten million Euro anti-Israel enterprise with a small bunch of willing volunteers.
The method and the message are lessons to be learned by The Big Tent activists as one way to mount successful campaigns against the delegitimisers in Britain. The huge advantage to this is that it does not take a big budget, expensive offices, to execute. All you need are a bunch of savvy and keen young people with laptops with a coordinated approach to their actions. Their work, as we have seen, includes a rapid response element. This has been used to get people on to the streets to counter the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests with a properly organized strategy it is possible to rally thousands in support of Israel.
Vivian Wineman, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle as saying that British Jewish leadership has access to the British government but it does not have influence. He would gain that influence if backed by thousands of people demonstrating against the radicalization that has taken root in London that is a danger not only to Israel but also to Britain. It must be in the interest of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies to encourage and to assist the groups who have proven capable of identifying the enemy and are taking the fight to them. They are doing this in the social media and on the campus.
Perhaps the most battered of our advocacy warriors are the students. The campus is the hotbed of radicalism where extremist actions are fermented. These are the campaigners who must be armed with well funded strategies. Pro-Israel British student groups can learn from the successful tactics being employed in America.
On campuses across North America, pro-Israeli student groups are reaching out to multiple ethnic and social student groups and establishing relationships of shared interests. As Tali Segev of Illinois University told the Jerusalem Post recently, “We’ve had a lot of success with cross-cultural programming. We’ve held events with the East-African Student Association. We did a fundraiser with the African Cultural Association for Save a Child’s Heart, based in Israel. We even did a fundraising effort alongside the different Japanese organizations following last year’s earthquake in Japan.”
Segev happens to be a Chicago Jewish Federation Israel Education Center intern. “We want to teach about Israel, its diversity and its connections all around the world.” Segev’s message that Israel is not isolated is one that beats the aims of the delegitimisers.
I recommend that pro-Israel student bodies outreach to other ethnic, cultural, and social groups on UK campuses. The initial effort need not be to gain their immediate support for Israel but to create mutually respectful bonds of cooperation that will pay dividends when it comes to recruiting understanding and support for their pro-Israel events. By making Israel relevant to Indian students, Asian and African students, gay students, even with moderate Arab and Muslim students to gain dialogue, British pro-Israel students can copy the programming being done across the Atlantic. An essential part of this type of partnership should involve inviting the heads of these student bodies to come to Israel and experience firsthand what a vibrant, all embracing, country we have here. I, as an Israeli board member of AXIUS, can facilitate a Study Tour of Israel that will involve meeting political, academic, community, and security leaders in Israel.
It is not possible to face the challenges of delegitimisation without considering the legal aspects of this threat. This is the reason why I initiated and am organizing an international conference on The Legal Aspects of Countering the Delegitimisation of Israel. It will be held under the auspices of the Strategic Dialogue Center of the Netanya Academic College in Israel next year. This conference could be one of the follow up events if the Big Tent includes the legal challenges to the delegitimisation campaigns against Israel on its agenda.
I consider this to be an important cornerstone of the battle against delegitimisation as lawfare is increasingly being applied against Israel. The Palestinian Authority ‘s recent actions at the United Nations were primarily to invoke resolutions against Israel as part of their delegitimisation campaign against a Jewish State they reject and refuse to negotiate with. Universal jurisdiction was recently removed as a threat to Israelis visiting Britain, but there are many more actions that must be taken such as those against boycotts, prevention of free speech, dishonest reporting by the media, and mistrials brought by biased judges in the UK.
I am delighted to have been a guiding spirit in the creation of the UK Lawyers for Israel NGO. More British lawyers should associate themselves with this group. I am currently helping to set up similar groups in other European countries. There is much to be done in the courts and by changing legislation that will defang a lot of the extremist and radical forces based in Britain.
As the title suggest, these are notes that point to just three of the sectors in which it is possible to make discernable progress in fighting the evils of delegitimisation of Israel.
My basic message is to take the spotlight off Israel and point it firmly in the face of the delegitimisers. The main aim of any delegitimisation campaign must be to out them, name them, and shame them. It is they, not Israel, that should be placed in the dock of the accused. It is their lies, hypocrisy, and obvious intentions to stir up hate that must be exposed.
By exposing their radicalism and extremism it is possible to win over the hearts and minds of the broad middle ground of public opinion in Britain and bring them into the Big Tent.
BARRY SHAW is the author of ISRAEL –RECLAIMING THE NARRATIVE.