Israel is not without friends. Despite the burgeoning of so-called anti-Zionism within Western liberal opinion (anti-semitism as such is considered not politically correct), who could have predicted that 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?
More than two years have gone by since the Friends of Israel Initiative (FII) was launched. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the enterprise has received little publicity, and is not yet on the political map. It deserves to be better known.
Who are these people, prepared to take so unfashionable and therefore so courageous a stand?
The "Friends of Israel Initiative" is led by former President of Spain, 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, and Northern Ireland's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lord Trimble.
Other members of the Board of FII include former Czech President Vaclav Havel, Spanish former industry minister Carlos Bustelo, French entrepreneur Robert Agostinelli, and Professor George Weigel. 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 defined 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 FII 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.
The FII has been officially launched in France, the UK and the USA. At the launch in Washington in September 2010, José Maria Aznar explained more fully the motivation behind the new organisation.
“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 – an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, on her right to exist. A "soft war", where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGOs to present Israel internationally as an illegitimate state, a barbarian state, a state that should be isolated and converted into a pariah state.
“We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk – not only for Israel and its people, but for all of us. Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.
“Let me be clear. We certainly don't want 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.
“Letting Israel be demonized will lead to the deligitimisation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.
“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, standing up for our values, and supporting their right to exist as a normal country, a fellow democracy and a noteworthy ally in our great western alliance. I hope that you will share our vision, and will help us in bringing reason and decency back to the discussion concerning Israel.”
These are sentiments that ought to command widespread support within the Western community of nations. They combine reason with the most basic appeal of all – self-preservation. Yet the message has evoked little response from opinion leaders the world over.
There are none so blind as those who will not see.