Is­rael sleep­walks into PR hell

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - MIRIAM SHA­VIV

FOR SUP­PORT­ERS of Is­rael, it was like a punch to the gut. Last Thurs­day night on Ques­tion Time, BNP leader Nick Grif­fin told the coun­try that the BNP was the only party to sup­port Is­rael in its war “against the ter­ror­ists” dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead. This was pos­si­bly the worst pub­lic re­la­tions blow to Is­rael in this coun­try since Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead it­self, per­haps longer. Mr Grif­fin has just en­sured that any­one who sup­ports Is­rael, or its right to de­fend it­self, can be linked to the BNP. The as­so­ci­a­tion might take years to shake off.

Clearly, a man who at one point was a Holo­caust-de­nier (and has now — he claims — changed his mind, al­though he re­fused to ex­plain why), can­not also be a true friend of Is­rael.

So why did he do it? As­sert­ing that he is a friend of Is­rael has two im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits. First, it al­lows him to ar­gue that he is not an­ti­semitic or racist (which was the ex­act point he was try­ing to make on Ques­tion Time).

Sec­ond, it al­lows him to por­tray him­self, to his sup­port­ers, as an­tiMus­lim. In to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, Is­lam­o­pho­bia car­ries far more elec­toral ben­e­fit than an­tisemitism.

For Is­rael, the dam­age is com­pounded by the na­tional spot­light on Pol­ish MEP Michal Kamin­ski, the Tories’ Euro­pean ally who is ac­cused of hold­ing an­ti­semitic views.

Mr Kamin­ski, af­ter all, is also a staunch pub­lic sup­porter of Is­rael and its right to de­fend it­self in Brus­sels. This sum­mer, he even vis­ited the Jewish state.

But while Is­rael it­self has had noth­ing to do with Mr Grif­fin (as far as I know), Is­rael, and some of its UK sup­port­ers, have em­braced Mr Kamin­ski. Dur­ing his visit, which was or­gan­ised by the Con­ser­va­tive Friends of Is­rael, he was wel­comed by Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Danny Ayalon. He was also guest of hon­our at the CFI lunch at the Tory party con­fer­ence ear­lier this month.

How gen­uine are his views on Is­rael? Do they come from sim­i­lar places to those of Mr Grif­fin? It re­mains un­clear. Ei­ther way, the is­sue here is that this ally of Is­rael is seen as at least bor­der­line an­ti­semitic by many Jews — and by many non-Jews, who find the Con­ser­va­tive al­liance with him deeply trou­bling. Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship with him is a real prob­lem — for its own im­age, as well as for di­as­pora Jews and in­deed any­one fight­ing racism.

Is­rael should be ex­tremely care­ful about choos­ing to em­brace this man. But now it emerges that Mr Ayalon was not aware of his ques­tion­able back­ground when he met him — and re­mained com­pletely ig­no­rant of the row over Mr Kamin­ski rag­ing in the UK, un­til he read about it on the front page of the JC while wait­ing for an in­ter­view in our offices this week.

This as­ton­ish­ing ad­mis­sion raises sig­nif­i­cant ques­tions about his ad­vis­ers, who clearly did not vet their guest prop­erly. The be­hav­iour of the Is­raeli am­bas­sador to the UK, Ron Prosor, is even more trou­bling. Why had he not made sure that his bosses were fully in­formed about the spat once it broke out, par­tic­u­larly since Mr Ayalon had been named in the me­dia in con­nec­tion to Mr Kamin­ski? Hav­ing ne­glected — ap­par­ently — to do so, how could he have let his deputy min­is­ter come to the UK so shod­dily briefed?

Even now, I am not sure that Mr Ayalon — whose me­dia ad­viser called me the day af­ter our meet­ing to re­it­er­ate what a good friend of Is­rael Mr Kamin­ski is — un­der­stands the im­pli­ca­tions of this re­la­tion­ship. At what point, lo­cal Jews are en­ti­tled to ask, does sup­port for Is­rael be­gin to “make up” for prob­lem­atic at­ti­tudes to di­as­pora Jews?

Over the years, out of a po­si­tion of iso­la­tion, Is­rael has co-op­er­ated with and even en­dorsed many du­bi­ous, and even racist, in­di­vid­u­als and regimes, such as apartheid South Africa. This is short-sighted. As Grif­fin’s poi­son em­brace last week showed only too clearly, with friends like th­ese, en­e­mies are un­nec­es­sary. Miriam Sha­viv is the JC’s for­eign ed­i­tor. Fol­low her on twit­ter@miri­amsh

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