Organizers of Sunday’s Step Up for Israel Advocacy Summit in Whippany are describing it as a unique opportunity to learn from a broad range of experts in the field of defending Israel. The goal of the summit — organized by the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Federation of Central NJ and the American Jewish Committee NJ region — is to “help prepare the community to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy” (see Related Article).
Speaking in the keynote slot will be Lorna Fitzsimons, executive director of BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre. The organization is dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain.
Fitzsimons was a member of the House of Commons from 1997 to 2005. She was defeated for reelection by a Liberal Democrat, Paul Rowen, partly because of her support of Israel in a district with many Muslim voters.
She spoke with NJ Jewish News by telephone on Oct. 7.
NJJN: What message will you bring to the advocacy summit?
FITZSIMONS: Our objective is to get peace and security. You tell an audience you want peace and security for all people and you can’t just get it for the Palestinians without having it for the Israelis, and you can’t just get it for the Israelis without having it for the Palestinians. They live so closely together their destinies are entwined. People are quite surprised when you come at it from that point of view, because it is not sectarian or partisan.
NJJN: There is much concern in the American-Jewish community about anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses. Is that also true in Britain and how do you cope with it?
FITZSIMONS: It has been bad in Britain for 40 years, but there is only a small minority of students involved. When you approach a person about a position you want them to change, you have to be very, very aware that the words you use and the presumptions you make will either make you die in a ditch or be very successful.
In America, a more commonly found narrative would be very, very hard-line pro-Israel, talking about terror and Islamism and incitement. Whereas in Britain they will allow you to be pro-Israel, but they want to know you’re not anti-Palestinian as well. They are very receptive when they know there is more freedom of religion practiced in Israel than in all the rest for the Middle East put together. Overwhelmingly, the most successful message is about being pro-peace.
NJJN: Are you saying that on American campuses, where there is a more pro-Israel hard line, it is the wrong tactic?
FITZSIMONS: No. I am not saying America is getting anything wrong. I am told by members of the American Jewish Committee that certain campuses in America [that use] the arguments and the language we use in Britain are actually more successful.
NJJN: You are not Jewish. Can you explain the reasons for your support of Israel?
FITZSIMONS: When I was growing up politically, I understood the history of Zionism from the European Left and the fact that it was a secular movement, not a religious movement. I think that is an important piece of history not to lose. Knowing that Zionism came out of the secular European Left is a political bonus. It means that people stop thinking it came out of religious zealotry. Surely we should be maximizing the number of people who can support Zionism as self-determination for the Jewish people. But I would be mortified if people thought I was saying the evangelical and political right wing are wrong.
NJJN: What do you think is the likelihood of a two-state solution?
FITZSIMONS: I think Israel is facing more threats than it has since 1967, if not 1948. It is going to take a long, long time for events in the Middle East to play themselves out. We have to make sure our governments know that our collective destinies are going to be affected in terms of how much hard work and cash we in the West are going to have to put in to support the Arab democracy movements. If we are not careful, they will be suppressed by the Islamists.
NJJN: Does that include American and British financial support for the Palestinian Authority? Our House of Representatives is making moves to cut off such aid.
FITZSIMONS: I think that is totally self-defeating and more about domestic American policies than helping the Israelis. This is not in Israel’s interest, because if you get unemployed, angry ex-government workers and security types, you are going to get a third Intifada. If that aid goes, things will go back to the Dark Ages and everybody will lose.