Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lorna gets on her BICOM

EX-MP starts in new job soon.

NOW let us hear it for another Labourite. Former National Union of Students' president Lorna Fitzsimons, who became MP for her home town Rochdale when Labour won the 1997 general election, but lost her seat to a Liberal Democrat last year, largely because of her loyal support for Blair's Iraq war.

The all-party commission on antisemitism which reported recently -all of whose members also happen to have supported the war - was told that some Muslims had campaigned in Rochdale to oust Ms.Fitzsimons as a Jew (which she is not) and a pro-Zionist supporter of Israel (which she certainly is). The ex-MP herself says there was an "antisemitic smear" that she was Jewish.

If that's true, then as a Jew I take strong exception. We had enough to put up with being saddled by the media with Dame Shirley Porter and Edwina Currie (an Anglican convert, noch!) without having to accept Lorna Fitzsimons, thankyou!

But looking at the website of the militant Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which boasted of its part in unseating Ms.Fitzsimons, I found it attacked her political record in voting for the Iraq war and denouncing critics of the war. While noting her membership of the Friends of Islam, it questioned her claimed commitment on the Kashmir issue, as compared to the trips she made with Labour Friends of Israel.

Apparently some more conservative Muslims (and probably not just Muslims) also felt uneasy with Ms.Fitzsimons' demeanor on personal moral issues - the kind of simulated lightweight trendiness that may have won votes in NUS might not go down so well with folk in Rochdale.

Rochdale had a Liberal MP for some years, in the imposing shape of Cyril Smith, definitely no lightweight, so if enough Muslims and others stayed away from the polls or defected it was not so surprising the Lib Dems got the seat back.

Since losing her seat, Lorna Fitzsimons has set an example to those of us who face redundancy and have to make career changes. If you were worried that she might be signing on, or thought she might be doing a bit of cleaning or typing on the side, or simply spending more time with her family, you should know that she has been working as a "consultant", and assisting at the Defence Academy, where officers go for post-graduate study. But now, as she looks forward to her 40th birthday, Lorna Fitzsimons is about to start a brand new job, and one which should be a labour of love, though we'd guess that's not all she will be working for.

Back in July the Jewish Chronicle reported that various organisations were being assembled behind Bicom, the British Israel Communications and Research Centre, to implement a multi-million pound campaign promoting the cause of Israel. "We must also now focus on educating Britain's leaders about the importance of the shared values between both countries. We hope that our plans will set an agenda for the entire pro-Israel community," said Bicom chairman, Poju Zabludowicz.

Now it reports that Lorna Fitzsimons (photographed with new hairdo, in the embrace of the Israeli ambassador) is to be the new chief executive of Bicom, replacing Danny Shek who has gone off to be Israel's ambassador in France. "It will be an honour and a challenge", says Ms.Fitzsimons. (Jewish Chronicle, September 29).

Don't know about the honour but she is certainly in for a challenge if she thinks she can make Israel popular again under its current leadership. Even tagging opponents as "antisemitic" is starting to lose effect with overuse, which is worrying for those of us who are concerned with tackling real antisemitism, as opposed to blurring distinctions by using it as a handy label to silence debate.

The same issue of the Jewish Chronicle reports that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is enlisting advertising companies to embark on a new tack in Hasbara, or PR work in which everyone is supposed to engage. Instead of arguing about how the State was established in 1948, or what happened since the 1967 war, "they will point to Israel's cutting edge technology and vibrant night life". (Israel to be 'rebranded', JC September 29).

So not only will Israeli weapons and security technology exports be boosted, but the out-of-town buyers (who used to typically be Latin American dictators putting their anti-Jewish prejudices on hold) can be promised a great time on their next shopping visits. (Ehud Olmert has recently been reported holding secret talks with the Saudis, so - never mind Iran - British Aerospace had better watch out!). I suspected all along that Tel Aviv had a hidden motive for bombing to wreck rival Beirut's night-life.

Lorna Fitzsimons is due to start work in her new job on October 9. The Israeli Foreign Ministry is holding a seminar on its strategic concept next month but will spend a year getting staff to internalise it. Then, in 2008 if all goes according to plan, it will launch "Brand Israel". And there was me thinking that was the slogan it accused opponents of having.

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