To coin a thought – people possess an infinite capacity to amaze and astound. Who could ever have predicted that in the middle of 2010 considerable numbers of well-respected figures, virtually all of them non-Jewish, from countries all around the world, would come together to defend Israel against the insidious and growing campaign to delegitimize her waged by her enemies and supported by numerous international institutions.
Who are these people, prepared to take so unfashionable and therefore so courageous a stand?
The "Friends of Israel Initiative" is led by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. The list of members includes Peru's former president Alejandro Toledo, former Italian Senate president Marcello Pera, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, British historian Andrew Roberts, Northern Ireland's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lord Trimble. With a working budget of almost £1 million a year, FII has been funded by a dozen private donors from Spain, America, Israel, France, Italy and Britain.
It was in May 2010 that José Maria Aznar brought together a high level group in Paris to launch a project aimed specifically at asserting Israel's position as a legitimate democratic sovereign nation, an integral part of the Western world and of fundamental importance to its future. Although the FII acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is important, the members of the group are even more concerned about the rising tide of radical Islamism and the prospect of a nuclear Iran, both of which threaten the entire world.
The Mexican newspaper El Financiero defines the purpose of the Initiative as to "reaffirm Western values," and counteract "anti-Semitic criticism of Israel." According to Spain's ABC News Internacional, the Initiative is founded on the conviction that "the campaign against Israel corrodes the international system from within, beginning with the United Nations."
The Friends of Israel Initiative is committed to act consistently and diligently in its effort to disseminate its members’ vision of Israel as a democratic, open, and advanced nation like any other, and that it should be perceived and treated as such. Israel, the organisation maintains, is a sovereign democracy which like all the 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. "Israel is an inextricable part of the West," they maintain; "we stand or fall together."
Earlier this month (July) José María Aznar wrote: "It is easy to blame Israel for all the evils in the Arab world, and some are even ready to sacrifice the future of Israel if a new understanding with the Muslim world were to be achieved in return. However, to weaken Israel is a serious mistake since it is our first line of defence in the region; if Israel fell into the hands of its enemies, the West as we know it would cease to exist.
"To defend Israel’s right to exist in peace and within defensible borders requires a moral clarity that has mainly gone lost in Europe - this spectre is also looming over the United States. The West is what it is, thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish part of those roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost too. Today, to defend Israel is to defend the West. With this initiative we aspire to make that reality ever more patent."
Last Monday (19 July) saw the Initiative open a front in the UK. At the invitation of the Member of Parliament Robert Halfon, and hosted by the Henry Jackson Society, the FII was launched in Britain's parliament building, the Palace of Westminster. The next launch will be in Washington in September, followed by Rome and then another event in Paris.
In advancing its campaign the group is casting its net wide. It appears to recognise that radical Islamism poses as great a threat to the moderate Muslim world as to the West. The group is considering visiting Arab countries in the coming year, as well as addressing the United Nations and the European Parliament. There has already been contact with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The reach will then be widened to embrace entertainment (including a possible visit to Hollywood), science, and other areas beyond politics.
Yes, a strange phenomenon indeed, when liberal opinion throughout the western world seems determinedly blinkered about the threats posed by rampant Islamism, a movement dedicated to eliminating the western way of life, and not least its democratic foundations. And even if more moderate liberal opinion acknowledges something of this, it seems incapable of taking the next logical step of acknowledging that Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, supported and supplied by Iran and Syria, are part and parcel of that Islamist front, that Israel is a first line of defence against it, and that the Western world as a whole – including Israel as an integral element of the West – should oppose it wherever it exists.