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Israeli embassy embraces extremists to save flagging brand

An Israeli parliamentarian has vowed there will never be a Palestinian state and rejected Palestinian identity itself, speaking to an audience in London alongside a senior official from the Israeli embassy.

Member of the Knesset Amir Ohana, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, was joined at 29 September event by Rony Yedidia-Clein, a veteran Israeli diplomat and currentlythe London embassy’s director of public affairs.

A video recording of proceedings, posted on YouTube and posted below, sheds new light on moves by the Israeli embassy to work with extremists, as part of efforts to stem a growing Palestine solidarity campaign, and in particular, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The event, called “Debunking the Libels”, was organised by Campaign4Truth (C4T) and UK Likud Supporters. C4T describes itself as “a grassroots NGO whose mission is to analyse and promote understanding of major issues in the Jewish diaspora, Israel & the Middle East.”

MK Ohana was cheered as he insisted there will be no Palestinian state, describing the two-state solution as “no solution for anything”. Acknowledging widespread support for Palestinian statehood among “politicians around the world”, Ohana said: “now we have to change that.”

Israel has a “right to exist in its homeland,” Ohana declared, “which means the Galilee, the Negev, Judea, Samaria [the West Bank] and the entire land of Israel.”

The Israeli embassy would have known Ohana’s views prior to the event, as he is a well-known opponent of the two-state solution. Earlier this year, speaking of the Palestinians, he said “let them have their other 22 states” (a reference to Arab League members).

Just three months ago, Ohana called for the killing of Palestinian “inciters”, speaking to a rally of West Bank settlers. At the same gathering, he backed settlement construction, declaring: “from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] River, the land of Israel will be free.”

Going even further, Ohana said he tries “not to talk about Palestinians but about the Arabs”, adding: “They came only for the last 200 years, we have yearned to come back home for 2,000 years.”

Elaborating, Ohana referenced a notorious travelogue by Mark Twain, actually written in 1867, where – in Ohana’s words – the American described Palestine as “empty, really a desert, nothing.” Ohana added that “almost every” Palestinian family has their origins in Syria or Egypt.

Ohana – who has a close relationship with Temple Mount activist and Likud colleague Yehuda Glick – also told the London audience he has “no doubt” that “one day in the future…there will be a change” in the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Embassy official Rony Yedidia-Clein, who said she was “delighted” to be at the event, introduced Ohana with remarks of her own, and spent the rest of the event contributing answers and comments in response to audience questions.

Yedidia-Clein gave the impression of an embassy that has its work cut out, bemoaning the fact that “today it’s become almost a badge of honour for someone to call themselves an anti-Zionist, and a term of shame for someone to call themselves a Zionist.”

According to the diplomat, the embassy has been working to establish local “friends of Israel” groups, and she praised the work of “people in the room” who have “helped…us at the embassy” to set up 40 such organisations in the past two years, citing Inverness (see here) and Jersey (see here).

That figure was offered by someone off-camera called “Steven”, likely a reference to Steven Jaffe, a “Grassroots and Advocacy Consultant” for the Board of Deputies.

Ohana urged attendees to email him ideas for how to fight BDS. During his visit to London, he met with students at University College London, where – the MK said – it was suggested that the Israeli government could send a dozen “Israeli-Arabs” to speak on campuses during Israeli Apartheid Week.

One particularly noteworthy audience contribution during the evening came from Jonathan Metliss, who sits on the executive of Westminster lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel.

Campaign4Truth co-founders Sharon Klaff and Ambrosine Shitrit, pictured with Eric Pickles during a Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary reception in January 2016. (Source: Facebook)

Suggesting British Jews would flee the country if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister, Metliss said: “Look what’s happening in France! Don’t think it’s not going to happen here. I live in the West End, in Marylebone, let me tell you something, it’s Dubai high street down there.”

Campaign4Truth was founded, and is led by, Sharon Klaff and Ambrosine Shitrit. Klaff has previously (sarcastically) described Islam as a “Religion of peace”, that “calls for death of Jews”, and retweeted descriptions of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe as part of an Islamic wave of conquest.

Shitrit, meanwhile, was the subject of an article by Islamophobia monitoring group Tell MAMA, who highlighted tweets many deemed to be “anti-Muslim in nature”.

None of which, however, seems to have dissuaded the Israeli embassy from embracing these activists, a sure sign that apologising for apartheid is fast becoming the preserve of an extremist few.

Published first by Middle East Monitor.

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