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July 12, 2015 10:09 pm

Grassroots Groups Can Lead the Fight for Israel

avatar by Fiona Sharpe

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A recent event of Sussex Friends of Israel's "Pies Against Lies" initiative, launched to counter Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protests at the Israeli-owned Ecostream store in Brighton, England. Photo: Oren Teichmann/Sussex Friends of Israel.

A recent event of Sussex Friends of Israel’s “Pies Against Lies” initiative, launched to counter Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protests at the Israeli-owned Ecostream store in Brighton, England. Photo: Oren Teichmann/Sussex Friends of Israel.

Grassroots organisations in the U.K. came to the forefront last summer at the height of the Gaza conflict. It seemed that new pro-Israel, anti-establishment groups were popping up daily.

These groups formed out of a frustration and perception that the mainstream communal leadership was not listening. People saw Israel being bashed in the media 24/7, they wanted an outlet for their support for Israel and could not find one.

From this, online “Friends of Israel” groups were set up. These gave people a forum not only to express their support for Israel and their disgust at the media but also their exasperation with the leadership. Such was the noise they generated that eventually the main leadership organisations held the infamous JFS Town Hall Meeting.

Grassroots is about being heard; it’s about direct action, about standing up and standing proud. While many groups were formed last year, I believe that it’s older, more established groups, such as my own Sussex Friends of Israel and our colleagues at North West Friends of Israel, who gave people the impetus to stand up and shout instead of waiting for others to take a lead.

Both our organisations came out of a direct response to the BDS/PSC movements. We stood out of the streets of Brighton and Manchester, defending Israel and trying to educate people for a number of years. We were not told what to do or how to do it and at the time received no support from the mainstream organisations.

We have been around longer, learnt from our experience and have shown ourselves to be responsible and professional in our dealings with local councils, the police and other authorities. We have organised large successful demonstrations in our home towns and in London.

And yes, we now have efficient, effective and mutually respectful relationships with the mainstream organisations. For example, we worked successfully with the Jewish Leadership Council to stop the anti-Israel conference that was scheduled to take place at Southampton University.

It is important that we do not loose our grassroots edge. That is what allows us to push the leadership when we feel they are not representing our communities, allowing us to be more vocal and less diplomatic than they can often be. And we will continue to do so. But if the Jewish community is to continue to thrive in the UK, it is vital that we work together to provide a strong front against the challenges that face us.

Fiona Sharpe is co-chair of Sussex Friends of Israel. This article was originally published by TheJC.com

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