It was in May 2010 that former Prime Minister of Spain, José Maria Aznar, brought together a high level group in Paris to launch a project aimed specifically at supporting Israel as a legitimate democratic sovereign nation. A fundamental purpose of the initiative was to affirm that Israel is an integral part of the Western world and of crucial importance to its future.
Who are these people, prepared to take so unfashionable and therefore so courageous a stand? It is a glittering list of men and women in all walks of life, almost none of them Jewish, who have reached positions of eminence in their own fields.
The current list of members of the Friends of Israel Initiative includes three former Heads of State, four former Heads of Government, and seven former government ministers, as well as a former ambassador, State Governor, head of a national intelligence agency and military commander, together with people still active in the academic, journalist and business fields. A number of original members of the group have subsequently been appointed to official or governmental posts, and have therefore withdrawn for the time being from active involvement.
Founded out of a sense of deep concern about the unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel waged by the enemies of the Jewish state and supported by numerous international institutions, the key aim of the Initiative is to counter the growing efforts of bodies like BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and its followers to isolate the State of Israel and eventually overthrow it. The Friends of Israel Initiative is committed to disseminating its members’ vision of Israel as a democratic, open, and advanced nation like any other, and to insist that it should be perceived and treated as such.
The Initiative maintains that Israel is a sovereign democracy which like all others is, of course, capable of making mistakes. Nonetheless, it asserts, this should not be used as an excuse to question Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, or its basic rights as an independent state.
The body’s major project for 2015 was to prepare a full and carefully reasoned report aimed at changing the perception that many have about Israel. Sometimes, as the Prologue to the report explained, ”it is because people don’t know better; sometimes it is the result of extremely biased opinions in the media. We want to introduce some rationality when talking about Israel and because of that, this report highlights the many positive aspects of a dynamic, vibrant, and promising Israel, yet without keeping silent about some controversial issues. In any case, what we want is for the reader to feel and see the positive effect of having Israel, a strong Israel, at our side. Having a secure Israel means more security for us; having a prosperous Israel enriches us all. Thinking the opposite is simply wrong as this report demonstrates with clarity and simplicity.”
The document, entitled “Israel: A Vital Asset of the West”, was launched at a meeting in the UK’s House of Commons in November 2015.
The same year the Initiative sponsored a new major enterprise – the High Level Military Group (HLMG). HLMG consists of military leaders and officials from NATO and other democratic countries. Its mandate is to address the implications for western warfare of fighting enemies who disregard the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), but exploit other nations’ adherence to it.
A few months later the Initiative sponsored a new High Level Home Front Group (HLHFG), made up of top intelligence, counter terrorism and police officials from the US, UK, Spain, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and Colombia. Its remit was to evaluate the Israeli experience in preventing and stopping indiscriminate attacks in cities, as well as the recruitment of terrorists, so as to assist other nations facing similar threats.
At the initial launch of the Friends of Israel Initiative in Washington in September 2010, José Maria Aznar explained the motivation behind the new organization.
“Israel is under a new kind of attack,” he said. “Not conventional war as in 1948, ‘56, ‘67 or ‘73. Not terrorism as we saw in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. But a new kind of attack …to present Israel internationally as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian state, a state that should be isolated and converted into a pariah state…
“Let me be clear. We don't want in any case to defend any particular Israeli government or any particular set of policies or any particular party. Israel's institutions are mature enough to defend their choices. We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimising Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are…
“Is it craziness for a group of mostly Europeans and non-Jews, to say: Enough. Stop this nonsense of making Israel responsible for all the problems in the region, if not beyond? Enough of the short sightedness which refuses to see Israel as a corner stone of our Western civilization? Defending Israel today means strengthening the West...”
These are sentiments that ought to have commanded widespread support within the Western community of nations. They combine reason with the most basic appeal of all – self-preservation. Yet Aznar’s message evoked little response at the time from opinion leaders the world over, and the real achievements of the body he founded remain generally unrecognized.
An old English saying seems particularly appropriate: "There are none so blind as those who will not see."