Nathalie Biderman (L) (Europe Near East Forum ) and Daniel Shek (BICOM) at AIPAC's Washington conference.
Photo: Dennyse Tannenbaum
A leading media analyst has told the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference that the mainstream European media is beginning to question whether Israel has a right to exist.
Speaking during last weekend’s event in Washington, Daniel Shek, chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM), claimed that the questioning of Israel’s legitimacy “is moving at a pace that is very worrying - to the mainstreaming of the debate.”
“I think it’s the single biggest challenge for the Jewish community within the United Kingdom and for Europe in general,” Shek said.
High European participation
Shek attended the pro-Israel lobby organisation’s three-day event along with dozens of European delegates from Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Belgium.
Europeans at the conference participated in a series of forums on strategies to organize the pro-Israel community in Europe and attended detailed policy briefings with top AIPAC legislative staff on the rise of Hamas and new threats from Iran.
Delegates from Europe found inspiration from AIPAC, widely viewed as a successful model for affecting US public policy regarding Israel, said Nathalie Biderman, director of the Europe Near East Forum for France think-tank.
AIPAC helps pass more than 100 pro-Israel legislative initiatives a year through more than 2,000 meetings with members of the U.S. Congress, according to AIPAC statistics.
The privately-funded lobby has doubled its national membership in the past five years, topping 100,000.
AIPAC’s influence was underscored by the seeming multitude of government leaders in attendance at the conference, the biggest in its 52-year history.
This year, half the Senate, a quarter of the House and many White House administration officials, including vice president Dick Cheney, participated.
More than 4,500 people came, including diplomats from more than 50 embassies, with Muslim nations, such as Turkey and Pakistan, also in attendance.
US Vice-President Dick Cheney addressing AIPAC's policy conference
While European leaders here praised AIPAC’s effectiveness, they said that its usefulness as a model for Europe is limited.
“We are taking what is replicable and changing many things because our cultures are different,” said Biderman, whose organisation is built upon the AIPAC model.
France, with around 600,000 Jews, has the largest Jewish community in Europe and its relationship with Israel is strong, but its views are underrepresented among news outlets which have become increasingly hostile to Israel, she added.
The same is true elsewhere on the continent and in Britain, according to Europeans at the conference.
European Jewish communities must step up efforts to send a message that “just because Israel is strong does not mean that Israel is always wrong,” Shek said.
Britain’s close relationship with AIPAC has intensified in the last year with the recent launching of a new AIPAC outreach effort in Europe and Canada.
AIPAC is assisting BICOM with developing grassroots networks in Britain and with organizing pro-Israel events similar to AIPAC’s conference, but on a much smaller scale, Shek said.
“Europe is a very different place than the United States,” he said. “We have different tools but similar goals.”
BICOM also plans to concentrate on long-term measures to cultivate relationships and influence decision-makers and media leaders in Europe.
“There is stronger motivation now than ever for communities to stand up for Israel and stand up for their own,” Shek said. “We want to invest today in things that will matter in five to 10 years.”