A group has been launched in Northern Ireland with the aim of advocating on behalf of Israel.
The organisation is the brainchild of the DUP, and is being led by its North Antrim MLA David McIlveen.
It is made up of a six-strong committee, and had its first meeting last night in Stormont Parliament Buildings, with Mr McIlveen saying he aimed to have around 100 members sign up initially.
Among those attending were the First Minister Peter Robinson and the deputy Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Eitan Na’eh.
It is intended to mirror similar groups in Westminster, which already operate under the auspices of the Tories, Labour or Lib Dems.
Asked what it will do, Mr McIlveen said: “I’ve tried to shrink it down as simply as I can to three As. The first one would be advocate, obviously, on behalf of Israel...
“The second one would be to argue. So, whenever we feel there is an unfair portrayal of Israel being presented whether that be in social media or mainstream media, that we do our part to try and argue against it.
“And then the third part is action. That’s where we’ll be trying to use our elected representatives, particularly at ministerial level, to try and ensure that there is as good a relationship with Israel at a business level as we possibly can.”
The hi-tech nation is “probably one of the research-and-development capitals of the world now”, he said, adding that once the group is up and running they would be looking into the idea of taking trips out to the country.
Although it is an initiative of his own party, Mr McIlveen said that anyone – ranging from representatives of other parties to members of the public – were welcome to join if they wish.
He has been a regular visitor to Israel privately himself, and said: “You do open your eyes to the fact it is at times a very different country to – at times – what it is perceived to be. I think we can use this group, I hope, to maybe just get the true message out, to get the facts out, about what actually is going on over there.”
He said he is a firm supporter of a two-state solution to the conflict with its neighbouring Palestinian territories, saying those who recognise Israel’s right to exist and want to live peacefully within Palestinian borders have “no quarrel from me”.
Asked about the widespread Israeli settlements within the Palestinian West Bank, a major source of tension in the Middle East, he said he had met Israelis who feel they were essential, and others with military backgrounds who feel they are “far too expensive to keep”.
“I think that’s a matter for the Israeli people to decide,” he concluded.
See Morning View, page 18