Leadership and Grassroots Combine to Beat BDS

Steven Jaffe – Grassroots Consultant to the Board.

RIBA rescinds its call to exclude Israeli architects from an international professional body.

A group of Labour councillors in Dudley in the West Midlands withdraw an extremist resolution  which called on the council to end all “procurement of goods and services where there is a direct benefit to the State of Israel.”

In Brighton, an anti-Israel motion is also withdrawn.

Isolated and accidental reversals for the ‘Boycott Israel’ movement? I don’t think so. The power of grassroots action is seen alongside effective representations by main communal organisations.

Within days of the RIBA resolution, I joined a group of concerned architects who came together under the banner Constructive Dialogue, determined to restore reasonableness and balance to their professional body. I also saw how  relevant community organisations, including the Board of Deputies and the JLC,  made highly effective representations to the RIBA leadership.

There was crucial input from UK Lawyers for Israel regarding the flouting of RIBA’s charitable objectives. There were also rank and file members of the community who cancelled functions at RIBA HQ and the Masorti bet din which withdrew its licence.

Each of these responses played their part. RIBA could not ignore the reputational and other damage caused by their action which did not reflect the priorities and concerns of its members.

In Dudley, it was a local grassroots group, West Midlands Friends of Israel, launched little more than a year ago,  which galvanised local people who were prepared to stand up against an extremist anti-Israel resolution. Whereas in the past these friends of Israel could only have responded as individuals, often unaware of others who shared their concerns, WMFoI provided a unified campaigning banner, confidence and strength in numbers.

It was leading activists in WMFoI who made the phone calls, drafted the template letters and sent out the emails which ensured Dudley councillors fully understood how divisive the resolution would be. Councils have a duty to consider the impact of their actions on communal relations and concern about the boycott resolution extended far beyond the Jewish community.

Again, the indefatigable efforts of UKLFI needs to be acknowledged as well as does the high-level intervention by the Board and the JLC, along with other communal and grassroots organisations in the community.

In Brighton it was the Sussex Friends of Israel which galvanised local opposition to the resolution there – building on over a year-long campaign opposing BDS in Brighton.

These developments at RIBA, in Dudley and in Brighton are significant setbacks for a campaign to isolate and weaken Israel to the point of destroying it.

Why significant?

Because the BDS movement depends on convincing everyone that Israel is – to adopt their warped terminology –  so obviously the modern-day equivalent to apartheid South Africa, that no reasonable person would demur from wanting to weaken and isolate it through boycotts. Just like apartheid South Africa, they claim, the Zionist project is bound to unravel because of an overwhelming and unstoppable move towards Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.

As grassroots consultant to the Board of Deputies, I see more than most how the response to that campaign needs to be a sensitive working together of the main communal organisations and activists on the ground. We face many challenges and tensions ahead but working together is the effective way forward.

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