Community efforts to fight the anti-Israel boycott movement are being hampered by chronic under-funding, key figures have privately told the JC. Advocates for Israel are understood to be deeply frustrated that efforts to promote their case are being hampered by a desperate need to spend time soliciting funds from community donors.One of the headlines with the above article in the print edition was £2 million for Israel lobby. They'd better make it £4 million, £2 million for the Israel lobby and another £2 million for the "there's-no-such-thing-as-an-Israel lobby" lobby.
The organisations fronting what looks set to be a long-term war against the pro-boycotters, as well as carrying out advocacy for Israel, have total annual budgets of £2m-£2.5 million at their disposal, according to inquiries by the JC. However, this includes money spent on running costs.
One senior advocate, who did not want to be named, bemoaned the lack of a communal war chest, which is delaying pro-Israel work. Another said: “The position we are in today is where we should have been 18 months ago. There just isn’t the money to do everything we need to do and even if it could be raised, the community would want more.”
The Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom) had a budget of £1.2m last year and has sought to increase that to £1.8m. Lobbying groups such as Conservative Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel have, the JC has been told, budgets of around £500,000 and £350,000 a year. In 2005, the most recent figures available, the Board of Deputies was left with a surplus of £93,000 on income of £1.18m.
Councillor Monroe Palmer, who runs the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel, scrapes by on just £15,000 a year. He said: “We probably need about £100,000 a year to lobby effectively.” The rest is made up of smaller bodies such as the Zionist Federation with about £60,000. The Trade Union Friends of Israel — arguably a key player in the battle — operates on a budget of less than £50,000.
The £2m-£2.5m total pales when placed next to what American communal bodies have at their disposal.
In 2005 the Anti-Defamation League, which placed advertisements in The Times and The Guardian after the UCU vote, spent $54m (£28m), with $42m on programmes, $3.6m on management and administration and $8m on fundraising.
The annual budget of the 175,000-member American Jewish Committee is around $40m, while the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the lobby and education organisation, has seen its membership double since 2000 from 55,000 to well over 100,000, while its budget has also doubled to more than $50m (£25m) annually.
Board of Deputies chief executive Jon Benjamin said: “When something comes unexpectedly, you may need more staff, there will be the cost of advertisements, research, leaflets and web design. These are things you don’t necessarily budget for unless you have an emergency fund.
“Perhaps it is something that the community needs to think about. It is all very well pointing the finger, but all of these organisations are at full stretch.”
He said it was not possible to have staff just sitting around in case something happened. “But equally we have to try to be prepared. The only answer is some sort of fighting fund. The response is to seek funding from people who are Israel-focused, as individuals. However, if that is going to happen, it’s probably sensible to ask the wider community to contribute beforehand.”
Jon Mendelsohn, treasurer of Labour Friends of Israel, would not confirm the LFI budget figure obtained by the JC. He was more pessimistic about the possibility of a fighting fund, saying: “I don’t believe it will happen. It would be nice to think so but it would be down to a few individuals. What we must do is raise our game and do better as organisations. We must meet new people, make new partners and supporters.”
But check out the lead article on the front page. A certain comrade Greenstein gets a mention.
The Unison motion, moved by its Wolverhampton branch, was warmly welcomed by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. It had “recognised that a campaign of boycott is necessary”. The PSC also praised elements in the motion demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the territories and the right of Palestinians to return to their pre-1948 homes.No, not inexorably, but a little scroll down the comments to this Socialist Unity site page suggests that we mustn't be complacent about antisemitism in the movement. If it gets a foothold, all the work on the boycott resolutions by principled anti-racists will unravel. There are antisemites out there who, mindful of the fable of the boy who cried wolf, are ready to exploit the Palestine solidarity movement for their own ends, whatever they are. I'm sure they can make anti-zionist noises but a glance at their targets shows that their enemy isn't zionism at all.
The motion sparked an impassioned debate at the conference, with the chairman appealing to speakers not to shout into the microphone.
Proposing the motion, Tracy Morgan said boycotting Israel was “controversial” but not an end in itself — it was a move “towards ending the occupation”.
Her most outspoken supporter was Jewish anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein, who said: “I went to Israel at 14 and came back in 1969 convinced that what Israel was doing was inexcusable. As with apartheid South Africa, we have to give support to the oppressed, not to the aggressor.”
Before the conference, 33 union members announced strenuous opposition. “In Britain, a boycott-Israel movement would, inexorably, become an anti-Jewish movement,” they said, in a letter to The Guardian.