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
www.palestinecampaign.org 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
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.