Paul Calvert spoke with Michael McCann, the director of the Israel Britain Alliance, about the need for a balanced debate and narrative of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Paul Calvert with Michael McCann
Paul Calvert with Michael McCann

Paul: What is the Israel Britain Alliance?

Michael: Put simply it's an umbrella advocacy organisation, which encourages Christian groups, Jewish groups, and settler groups to come together and show their support for Israel. We know that there are literally thousands if not millions of people across the UK that support the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel Britain Alliance acts as a way that people can contact their politicians, raise issues of concern about how Israel is treated on an international stage, and crucially bring information to MPs about the contribution that Israel makes to our world and has been making to the world since its rebirth in 1948.

Paul: When were you started as an organisation and why were you started?

Michael: I was a Scottish Labour politician, so after the referendum a number of us lost our seats, but I was always standing up for Israel in Parliament because I thought they got a very rough end of the stick; there was never a balanced debate or narrative. As a result many MPs have got a jaundice opinion about Israel and what it does and doesn't do. So after the election in 2015 people asked me if I would be prepared to look at the issue of advocacy and find out how we can balance a narrative and make it fair.

Israel isn't perfect. It's the only democracy in the Middle East, but neither is any other democracy perfect. Britain's not perfect, France isn't perfect, and the United States isn't perfect. The bottom line is it has to be seen through that prism. That is my chief responsibility, to make sure people see Israel in it's true light, and not in the manufactured light that people who want to boycott, divest and sanction it do, when they try to explain their cause to Members of Parliament.

Paul: Does Britain have a good relationship with Israel?

Michael: Britain has a very strong relationship with Israel on a number of different fronts. Obviously there is an historical one with the Balfour Declaration. Another Scottish politician, Arthur James Balfour, wrote the letter to Lord Rothschild, who then passed it to the Zionist Federation, saying effectively that they believed in a national homeland for the Jewish people. Then we had a crucial role in the development of the new modern State of Israel and we have got massive trade links with Israel. We share security information to ensure that we are using the most up to date technology we have available to protect our population. In many respects the Anglo Israel relationship has never been stronger, but we want to strengthen it even further.

Paul: Is there understanding about Israel and Palestine and the conflict?

Israel Britain Alliance

Michael: I have got to be honest with you, this is rather sad. If you asked 10 politicians in the House of Commons how the whole conflict had started between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then very few of them would be able to give you an historically accurate opinion. That is one of the reasons that we exist, so that when we are explaining the story, that Israel narrative, then people get the truth and not the fiction.

Paul: What sort of work do you do in Parliament?

Michael: What I have a knowledge of, is as a former Member of Parliament, I know how Parliament works; I know how the procedures work. Therefore, I work alongside other groups like Labour Friends for Israel, and Conservative Friends for Israel, and we ensure that when we are putting information out, that it is accurate and gets to the people that need to understand more about the Middle East. When people are making decisions, we want them to do so from an informed basis and not just listening to the propaganda of one side, which is often the case before the IBA existed.

Paul: Even when the BBC says something it isn't always correct, so do you bring the correct version?

Michael: The BBC quite frankly have got a greater responsibility, for example, when terrorists murder Israelis in Israel, with knife attacks, car rammings and more recently two police officers were murdered near the Temple Mount, they don't describe it as terrorism or murder. They describe it as two police officers were killed. It's extraordinary that the language that's used when something happens in Israel differs from language that is used anywhere else in the world. The BBC quite frankly have not behaved fairly or dispassionately in this subject and that is something that we may be addressing in the future as part of a campaign strategy.

Paul: You have a pledge, what is that and who signed it?