Friend of Israel, friend of Palestine, friend of Peace

Terry McCorran speaking at UNISON fringe, Brighton 2009
Terry McCorran speaking at Unison conference fringe meeting, organised by TU Friends of Israel, Brighton 2009

NIFI Co chair Terry McCorran explains why he is committed to Northern Ireland Friends of Israel.
When I was growing up, the Middle East was on the news almost as much as Northern Ireland. As a child I was interested in how this little Jewish state survived despite being surrounded by much larger enemies.
But it was only as a trade union activist that my understanding of the issues deepened.
My work as a trade union shop steward and my love of sport, particularly judo, rugby, football and boxing, brings me into contact with all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. I am friends with and work with  many people who I would disagree with on the most fundamental issues confronting Northern Ireland.
Terrible things have happened here, but it never occurred to me that boycotting one section of the community or demonising an entire people was the way forward.
As a trade unionist it shook me to the core to hear from conference platforms calls to boycott Israel when other issues around the world were being passed over in silence. How could trade union leaders vote year in and year out to condemn the US boycott of Cuba, but never call for a boycott of the USA, yet call for the boycott of Israel?
I have sympathy for the humanitarian plight of the Palestinians. But in my support for a secure and confident Israel I believe this is the best hope of achieving a two state solution, allowing Jews and Arabs to live in security and peace. I make no apologies for being a friend of Israel and I do not hide from my Jewish friends that I am a friend of Palestine.
I am very concerned that Palestinian solidarity groups in Northern Ireland seem blind to the nature and aims of Hamas. They would rather turn a blind eye to the Hamas charter which calls for the destruction of Israel and says that Palestinian justice will be achieved by killing Jews everywhere. My mind boggles that politicians from Northern Ireland and other commentators can speak and write on the issues without once mentioning the Hamas charter and pretending that Iran hasn’t called for Israel’s obliteration off the face of the earth.
Palestinian solidarity activists talk about Hamas’s “democratic mandate”. True, Hamas won an election. But from the first day after the election Hamas has shot its opponents and thrown them off  rooftops. Being democratic requires more than winning votes. Hitler led a coalition of democratically elected parties in 1933, but would people today talk about his “democratic mandate”?
However painful it is for Israelis and Palestinians I do believe that making peace comes from talking with your enemies. In Northern Ireland the parties had to sign up to the Mitchell principles and commit to non violence to allow the peace process to begin in earnest. So Hamas must accept it is committed to a permanent peace which accepts Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state alongside Palestine. Talk by Hamas leaders of a convenient cease fire if Israel withdraws to 1967 borders, without any commitment to a permanent resolution, wouldn’t convince me if I was an Israeli.
I see NIFI’s task to ensure Israel’s case is put in Northern Ireland both reasonably and fairly. We want to reach out to everyone who is prepared to listen respectfully to Israel’s point of view and I have been overwhelmed by the extent of support we have generated already. We’re not into flag burning or harrassing foreign workers, like what happened to the Israeli workers at Castlecourt, and perhaps we will receive less media coverage as a result. But our message is clear and is winning support: being a friend of Israel does not mean you are an enemy of Palestine.
The terrible impact of conflict on the people of Palestine and of Israel shows to me that a solution giving both peoples security and justice is deperately required. That will not come from boycotting the Israeli people but by encouraging positive dialogue, cross community initiatives and confidence-building measures, from which painful compromises on both sides will need to be made.
With all our experience of peace building in Northern Ireland, what a shame there are  many here who believe boycotts and villification of Israel are the ways to achieve peace. I am delighted to be involved with an organisation like NIFI which is seeking a different way.