Friends of Israel boys proudly display the Magen David banner before the Israel vs Northern Ireland match.
This proverb dates back to the 11th century and its meaning is actually "A friend who helps out when we are in trouble is a true friend - unlike others who disappear when trouble arises". And, indeed, Israel does require friends in today's world. Friends who support the country and comprehend the complexity of the situation in which this minute country finds itself. The targeting of Israel as the big bad boy in the Middle East is so often done by those who do not grasp the numberless impediments in finding a path to peace over endless barriers of misunderstanding and misconceptions.
The odd ray of sunshine can light the path when we discover those who stand behind us, and the dark stains of hatred and blame spread across the world by media coverage are alleviated by their warmth and support.
Having grown up in Northern Ireland, which was rent apart by hatred brought about by religious fanaticism and a belief in the right to lands of forefathers, there was little time for anti-Semitism and also not many Jewish citizens. However, Belfast did produce some notable Jews – Chaim Herzog, our 6th President was born there. When asked a leading question regarding our religious beliefs he would reply that we were Jewish, and at times the next question would be: "But are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?" I remember this with humor, but indeed there was little humor involved in the hatred and actual murder which shadowed city streets and indeed cut off Catholic areas in Belfast from Protestant ones, even the construction of a protective wall along the main Catholic district on the Falls road that had to be manned by the British army. Eventually, good sense, realization that such a situation would never benefit citizens of any belief, peace and prosperity (well, until the economic crash of 2008) reached Northern Ireland as a result of the historic compromise reached by pro-British Unionists and pro-Irish Nationalists to share power locally. Then life became livable for those who had been devastated by the situation. So, who better to understand the complexities involved in Israel's tenuous situation vis à vis world opinion than those who lived and worked for change throughout the troubles.
In March of 2009, the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel was launched, and, combining the support of local political leaders from both sides of the fence (so to say) they have already made an important positive impact. Their aims are to build understanding based on cultural, economic and political ties; to become involved meaningfully with those working towards a just and democratic resolution of the conflict between Israeli Jew and Palestinian Arab. By taking examples of reconciliation carried out in Northern Ireland between the Catholic and Protestant communities and their leaders, they wish to encourage the same aims between Jews and Arabs – and vice versa. They support Israel as a Jewish state and believe that a secure Israel is a vital component of achieving peace in the region.
The association has been the brainchild of Steven Jaffe, born and raised within Belfast's Jewish community and Terry McCorran, a trade union branch secretary from Northern Ireland. Honorary presidency was awarded to Lord Leonard Steinberg also born and educated in Belfast, and known for his benevolence to Israeli charities. Terry believes in the positive work that trade unions have done to help the peace process in Northern Ireland, and how they should do the same with Israel and Palestine instead of listening to the pro-boycott activists who were only attempting “to drive a wedge between the two sides”. Hundreds of people have attended their meetings and the Israel/Northern Ireland football match which was played in Belfast on August 12 and which was attended by our ambassador and other Friends of Israel supporters who provided a warm and cheering audience. Ambassador Prosor also spoke to a full house attendance of the Friends of Israel members and other dignitaries at a special meeting during his visit. And in spite of the attempts made by some to boycott Israeli goods, the Northern Ireland Government is to send a trade delegation to Israel next year.
Let us wish them continued good work – they are proving themselves to be "friends indeed".
As a footnote I must add that when I went online to check the web page they have launched: 'Northern Ireland Friends of Israel' (www.nifi.org.uk) I was amazed at the amount of other pro-Israel activists there are in Great Britain. There is even a site “Arabs for Israel” as well
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