Sunday, October 26, 2008

Excited About Israel: Tel Aviv Here I Come

This afternoon I fly to Israel for a five day visit. It's being arranged by Conservative Friends of Israel ( who every year take several groups of MPs, candidates and journalists there to learn more about the country's culture, politics and economy. I am immensely looking forward to it and hope to see all aspects of Israeli society - the good and the bad. Of course you can't see everything in five days but if our itinerary is anything to go by we aren't getting much free time!

Over the next five days I guess this blog will take the form of a more conventional diary, as I doubt whether I will have a lot of time to keep up with UK politics, although I shall certainly try. I'll be using Twitter a lot rather than writing loads of posts a day I should think, so do keep an eye on the top of the screen, or simply sign up to my Twitter feed at

I thought my days of getting excited about a foreign trip were long gone, but I do feel a tremendous sense of anticipation as we drive towards Heathrow. My only trip to the Middle East was 17 years ago when I went to Beirut. I had the chance to join a two week trip to Arab countries last summer courtesy of the Conservative Middle East Council but work commitments prevented me going.

Finally, a plea. Whenever I write about Israel it provokes some vile comments, even if what I write is balanced. I am a critical friend of Israel. I'll write it as I see it - both the good and bad. Feel free to disagree with what I write, but please do it in a calm, rational manner. I am going to be very censorious over comments that are anonymous and vicious. You have been warned.

Declaration of interest: I am not a politician so there is no reason for me to have to do this, but I know what people can be like, so let me declare that this whole trip has been arranged by the CFI and they have paid for my flight and accomodation.


Anonymous said...

Hope you get good weather. CFOI sounds like propaganda organisation though.

Anonymous said...

Iain, have a safe journey and a great time.

I went to Israel to work on a kibbutz for 6 months in 1965; as a born&bred London Jew, my first impression was that suddenly I was no longer part of a special or minority group - we were all the same! a most disorienting feeling for a few days. I wonder if you, as a Gentile, will feel part of a special or minority group in a land full of Jews?

Anyway, although it is over 40 years since I was there, I'll bet it is still noisy! Remember the old adage: gather together 5 Jews and within 4 minutes you'll have 3 committees going, all arguing with each other.

Anonymous said...

Once you have got past the interrogation at security, you will have a great time. Israel is one of the most interesting, diverse places I have ever visited - astonishing to see so much in such a small country.

Anonymous said...

As long as you're not staying on a yacht!

Anonymous said...


Take care i hope and enjoy. I just hated the tension and the number of people carrying guns when I was on holiday there.

M only advice is to keep your wits about you and stay sharp.

Helen said...

Not to mention the other old adage: three Jews means four parties. Have fun.

Anonymous said...

Iain, hope you have a safe trip.

Visits like this hopefully lead to greater understandings and maybe even form part of the groundwork for a wider peace.

p.s.try not to worry too much about Gio and the fireworks.

Anonymous said...

try to see what your hosts don't want you to see and ask questions they don't want you to ask of people they don't want you to meet and try to find time to have an enjoyable visit - though suggest you try to stay away from yachts

Anonymous said...

just heard that there is to be a general election in israel so be interested in your comments on differences/ similarities with uk elections

James Higham said...

Tel Aviv based?

Anonymous said...

I wish you would find time to ask why you call yourself "a friend of Israel".

Friendship is a delicate affair and never taxed with too many demands.

You are wasting your time and spoiling your reputation for impartiality by claiming a friendship with Israel.

By accepting their hospitality you are like Mandelson on Deripaska's yacht.

Bad mistake, Iain.


Anonymous said...

"Tel Aviv Here I Come

Ooh, you are awful...but I like you.

Anonymous said...

Have a great time. You're quite right to not publish vile comments, it's your blog after all.

Look forward to reading your dispatches!

Anonymous said...

Last and only time I went to Israel the plane was struck by lightning on the approach and I landed at Tel Aviv to be met by a taxi driver holding up my name on a card who then drove me in a battered taxi through the desert at high speed with one headlamp on while a storm raged overhead. We slewed off the road into a ditch and how we got to Haifa in one piece I do not know.

Hope yout flight is a bit better

I only stayed for 16 hours and 8 of those I was asleep. Lovely people though and lovely food. Most surprising and gratifying thing I saw was the number of Israeli Muslims apparenlty living happily and peacefully among equally happy and peaceful Jewish and Christian neighbours.

Anonymous said...

Some twenty-five years ago the YCs sent a delegation to Israel. Beforehand, they were given a Foreign Office Briefing and also arranged a meeting with the London Office of the PLO.

One of the itmes they received in their briefing pack from the PLO was a Year Planner! A Terrorist Organisation publishing a Year Planner!!!! (Red Dots for bombings, blue stars for Rocket Attacks, Green Lines for Miltary attacks, Black Dots for Assasinations)

Anonymous said...

Have a gud un buster -Hammers unlucky. Don't dare avoid yachts - we want tall tales!

Anonymous said...

This is remeniscent of sponsered trips to Socialist paradises for the faithful. Gives them something to identify with, crude but effective.

Who funds the CFI generosity?

Anonymous said...

I notice that palestinian Football team are being allowed home matches now.

Go on Iain, admit it, you're off to watch West ham gain a possibility of a team they can beat?

Anonymous said...

Iain enjoy,come back and tell us about it.

Anonymous said...


The Conservative Friends of Israel is a group which promotes better understanding of Israel by Conservatives.

There is also a Conservative Friends of Bangladesh group and Conservative Friends of Turkey group and many others besides these.

I don't know about you, but one of my best friends is the one I can trust to tell me the truth even if they know it is not what I want to hear.

Israel is a democracy, an ally, free-trading and very, very vulnerable on many fronts. It sometimes does itself no favours by the way it acts and reacts, but to refuse to be "a friend" because of this is foolish and pointless.

If you are one of those who believes Israel has no right to exist, please say so. I for one do not hold that view and as a consequence, believe it is important to be critical, but friendly. To do otherwise would be dishonest.

Anonymous said...

"I am not a politician."

From where the rest of us sit you look suspiciously like one. You may not be an elected official, but your raison d'etre appears to be to influence political behaviour and discourse in the Conservative interest.

Daleblog bingo: I score 50 points if the inevitably dismissive rebuttal to this comment uses the word "risible".

Anonymous said...

Well, John Moss, I would suggest that CFI is not doing a very good job of promoting understanding if it states Israel is a democracy. The ultimate arbiter in Israel is Jewish religious law, called halacha, and not the wishes of the people, demos. A democracy is defined as a country where the wishes of the people are paramount. That is not true in Israel, which is a theocracy with elections, and in that respect just like Iran.

Israel can do without misrepresentation. It is not vulnerable, and its being free-trading and an ally is neither here nor there. For me Israel is a small and normal country, and the question of being a friend of Israel no more arises than the question of whether one is a friend of Denmark or of Bolivia.

Ditto the question of whether Israel has a right to exist, which you say it does. Your statement consists of words strung together that have no meaning, like Chomsky's statement that “green ideas sleep furiously”. Why would I or anyone say that Israel has no right to exist, or that you or I have no right to exist, or that I am a friend of Israel or am not a friend of Israel?

But we all know why these statements are made and insisted upon by pressure groups.

I had rather hoped that Iain would remain above such things, and pay his own way when visiting Israel if he feels a need to go there.


Anonymous said...

And John omitted to mention that there is a Labour Friends of Israel too.

Abe Bird said...

When you talk Israel talk Israel and not Iran. Israel is a democracy and I would say more democratic than Britain. Where else you can see but in Israel, citizens going to meet with the enemy in the middle of war and are not charged for treachery? Lord Haw-Haws flourish here.

The ultimate arbiter in Israel is the state civil law. There is no place for the Halacha laws but on matrimony laws and only applies for Jews. Christians and Muslims are being judged according to their religious laws on matrimony issues. In any case, people can prefer to apply to the state court in any case.

A democracy is defined as a country where the wishes of the people are paramount. That is true in Israel. There is no any a theocracy with elections, but pure politics, as in Britain, sort of thing.

There is no question of Israel right to exist. Israel exists and it is a fact. The other fact is that there are some Islamic forces that want to destruct Israel, no matter what are Israel's rights, but this is a Strategic-Political issue that Israel is dealing, with and without the help of other states. In a long run Israel is a stable and strong country and in times of crisis knows how to defend herself from the outrageous extremist Islamic forces. I want to relax you and hint that Israel has profound ability to protect herself in various scenarios and against any enemy.