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Hilary Aked

Embarrassment for UK Zionists after Israel rally is cancelled

The planned gathering was called off because the venue pulled out [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 January, 2016

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A pro Israel rally planned for later in January in Manchester in northern England has been cancelled after pressure from UK pro-Palestinian groups

A UK pro-Israel rally scheduled for the end of the month has been cancelled in an embarrassing blow to the British Zionist movement.

The event – called “Say No to Terror: Stand With Israel” – was due to take place on January 31st in Manchester, north west England.

Manchster was home to Chaim Weizmann who, almost a century ago, was instrumental in securing the Balfour Declaration which paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, and would later became its president. 

The planned gathering in the city was called off last week, reportedly because the venue pulled out of hosting the event, though the hotel itself has not made a statement confirming that it withdrew permission to use its function rooms. 

The main organizers of the event, thee North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI) released a press release saying the venue had “fallen victim to an orchestrated campaign by specific pressure groups whose sole aim is to delegitimise the existence of the State of Israel”.

Several pro-Palestinian groups including Palestine Action, Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine had jointly called for a non-violent demonstration to “Reject Israeli Apartheid”. 

Billed as a major “national solidarity event”, a puff piece in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper claimed that up to 2,000 people were set to attend the pro-Israel rally – though registration only appeared to have opened days before the cancellation was announced, and just 46 people were attending the Facebook event

Peviously, the UK’s largest pro-Israel event, We Believe in Israel, ganised by the BICOM spin-off group of the same name – attracted, according to maximum estimates, about 1,500 in London in March last year.  

NWFOI’s earlier boasts that the event was likely to draw huge crowds were over-ambitious all along, especially for an organisation which describes itself, in the words of co-chair Anthony Dennison, as grassroot. 

The now abandoned even won the backing of major British Zionist groups like the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation - as well as the endorsement of the Israeli embassy.  

Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan, MP for Enfield North, had also been lined up to speak.   

This recent spate of cancellations suggests that hosting events in support of Israe is coming to be seen as unacceptable by the British public.



In the past NWFOI has worked closely with another so-called “grassroots” group Sussex Friends of Israel (SFI), jointly organising “IsrAction Day” - an attempt to undermine the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement - in December 2015. SFI is known to have accepted thousands of pounds from an Israeli group called Over the Rainbow to finance this “buy-cott” activism.  

The group’s statement claimed that the event was merely “postponed” and would take place in March instead, in order to coincide with the arrival of Mark Regev, Tel Aviv's propagandist-in-chief  as the new Israeli ambassador to the UK.

But Manchester Palestine Action hailed the cancellation of the event as a sign that the venue had “seen sense after being contacted by many conscientious folk in Manchester and the rest of the North, who care for injustice against Palestinians”. 

They vowed to demonstrate “wherever Israeli war crimes and mass murder are being celebrated” and said that Israel’s supporters were “desperate to ignore the horrors of the apartheid regime and the mass murder of Palestinians”.

As the BDS movement develops, an increasing number of artists and academics refuse to play in or have links with Israel and a growing list of shops decline to sell goods made on stolen Palestinian land.

In the same week, and this time further south, an event at Warwick University, which was set to feature a spokesperson from the Israeli embassy, was cancelled after pressure from academics.  

This recent spate of cancellations suggests that hosting events in support of Israel - a highly militarised apartheid state - or speakers which violate the Palestinian call for boycott, is coming to be seen as unacceptable by the British public.

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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