Israel Loves Iran: a peace movement is born in Tel Aviv

As Israel's leaders continue the drumbeat for war, protestors take to the streets.

If recent statements by Israel's leaders are anything to go by, a strike on Iran seems almost inevitable. Now, the drumbeat for war has led to the emergence of a nascent anti-war movement in the country.

Over the weekend, about 1,000 protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv to urge the government not to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. While the demonstration was relatively small, it appears to be in step with the public mood across the country.

Israel Loves Iran, a Facebook group spreading a saccharine message of peace, has become a media sensation over the last fortnight. Attracting more than 40,000 followers, the group states: "To the Iranian people, To all the fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters. For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I'm not afraid of you, I don't hate you." A YouTube video posted by one of the creators, graphic designer Ronnie Edry, has notched up well over 30,000 views.

While the campaign has garnered the usual criticisms about "clicktivism" which makes little real difference, it is an important attempt to humanise the other side (sadly unusual in the Middle East), and an expression of the fact that much of the Israeli public do not support their government's stance on this issue.

This is borne out by recent opinion polls, which show that a majority of Israelis oppose an attack on Iran. This month, a poll by Tel Aviv University's Guttman Centre found that 63 per cent of Israelis strongly or moderately oppose unilateral attack by Israel on Iran. Another poll, by Dahaf (an Israeli pollster), found that just 19 per cent supported a unilateral strike, while 42 per cent said they supported an attack only if it had US backing.

Whether Israel's leaders take heed remains to be seen; even if the movement continues to gain traction, it seems unlikely.

Tel Aviv: Protesters hold anti-war banners. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.