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Palestinians charge ahead in British propaganda war [18 March 2002]

By Sharon Sadeh

Monday, March 18, 2002

LONDON - While Israelis argue over who will emerge with the upper hand in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinians are busy chalking up impressive achievements in the war of images they have been waging in Britain for a year.

The gradual erosion in Israel's status in the United Kingdom is, at least in part, due to the vigorous activities of Arab and pro-Palestinian organizations, with the assistance of dozens of British volunteers, who wish to see Israel portrayed as a racist, pariah state. This propaganda campaign is being waged in a number of areas.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a volunteer-based group, is in charge of the political, trade and media arenas. Its Web site includes a detailed list of campaigns and events, with a view to raising questions on the legitimacy of Israel's existence, and to encourage embargoes on Israeli produce in Britain, which it calls being "an accomplice to Israel's brutal military occupation of Palestinians."

The site also lists British firms and bodies who have "sinned" by cooperating with the "Zionist tyrant," and the names of Israeli firms operating in Britain.

The Israeli Embassy in Britain claims that the main part of the campaign, entitled Boycott Israeli Goods, has been a virtual failure. Most British businesses have refused to cooperate, despite protests outside supermarkets and department stores, and the distribution of tens of thousands of leaflets.

Two London department stores, Selfridges and Harrods, which initially agreed to take goods produced in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights off their shelves, soon reversed the decision, though they did put up tags stating where in Israel the goods had been produced. Harrods' Egyptian owner, Mohammed Al Fayed, stressed that he had no intention of boycotting Israeli goods, or becoming embroiled in any trade boycotts or disputes, while fully endorsing "the importance of free trade between all countries in the Middle East."

The trade balance between Israel and Britain - Israel's third largest export market in the European Union - shows, however, that there has been a 15 percent fall in trade between the two countries, from $4.073 billion in 2000 to $3.439 billion in 2001. In addition, there has been a 30 percent fall in tourism from Britain, and these trends are expected to continue.

Israeli representatives tend to put the above down to the economic slowdown in both countries coupled with the worsening security situation in Israel, though they do admit that Israeli companies are finding it harder and harder to operate in the British market.

Talks between the Israeli wine producer Yarden and a large supermarket chain fell through, apparently over financial, rather than political, differences. British companies who operate or invest in Israel have refused to have their logos included in Israeli public relations films, fearing that this could damage their business in Britain and other countries.

Ha'aretz has also learned of cases where senior Jewish officials in British firms have hesitated and sometimes even avoided contacting and cooperating with Israeli companies.

Britain's Department of Trade and Industry may have declared Israel a "target market" because of its purchase potential, but it is stalling on issuing export licenses for selling military components to Israel. In addition, the Foreign Office recently ordered Israel to explain why it had modified British Centurion tanks into armored personnel carriers, despite a written assurance from Israel in November 2000 that no British component was being used as part of the army's activities in the territories. Palestinians, with the assistance of British Members of Parliament, are now trying to thwart the sale of anti-tank artillery produced by Rafael, the Israel Armament Development Authority, claiming that the missiles had been used against the Palestinians during the current uprising.

The pro-Palestinian groups' achievements are even more impressive in the field of education. Israeli students and lecturers were shocked to discover recently that one of the leading colleges at Oxford, St. Anthony's, had allowed student members of the Arab Cultural Society to invite Joseph Massad of Columbia University to the college some two weeks ago to give his lecture "On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy."

Massad claimed in his lecture that the "Jews are not a nation" and that "a Jewish state is a racist state" that does not have the right to exist. Oxford University looked into the matter following a number of complaints, and found that although Massad's comments were certainly controversial, it was legitimate to voice them. The university admitted that it had "reservations about the title, which implied reference to the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

A motion which states that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism and that Israel is an apartheid state was recently tabled at students union meetings around the country, a joint-initiative of ultra left-wingers, and Palestinian and Muslim activists. It was passed by the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies' Student Union, which also prohibited the sale of Israeli goods on campus.

A similar motion won a majority at the University of Manchester Student Union, but did not pass as it did not have the required two-thirds majority. The rejection of the motion at a university where some 600 Jewish students are enrolled, was reportedly met by a wave of anger and frustration by Muslims and Palestinians, with Jewish students being attacked, bricks thrown at Hillel House, the Jewish student digs, and a knife was thrust into the door of a Jewish student's dormitory room.

The anti-Israel wave currently washing over Britain is leaving its mark. Almost all events aimed at increasing understanding between Jews and Muslims have been called off, and a similar fate has befallen Israeli-Palestinian initiatives. Jewish communities security personnel report a steady rise in assault attempts and vandalism on Jews and synagogues, and many Jews are now concerned that a significant escalation in violence between Israel and the Palestinians, or even a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, could even lead to attempted murder.