A CALL FROM THE DESERT
In 1982 we had a visit from Mr Timothy Chirwa, town clerk of Blantyre in the East African republic of Malawi. Mr Chirwa spent three days in Glasgow and announced that a Public Relations department along the lines of ours was one of his town's priorities.
The town clerk said they did have newspapers and a radio station but they did not always accurately reflect his council's views and objectives, a comment which occasioned no great surprise to his Glasgow hosts. He thought it would be a good idea if I could go to Blantyre to help them set up a public relations department, a suggestion that was greeted with some enthusiasm by some of my political masters, notably the Tories, but regrettably it never happened.
A couple of weeks earlier I had received a visit from Dr Harford Onoh, Deputy High Commissioner for Nigeria who wanted to know how to set up a newspaper like The Bulletin. I don't think that ever happened either.
In 1988 I was asked to advise the town of Bhopal in India how to improve its image as it had understandably been badly tarnished by the leak four years earlier of poisonous gas from the Union Carbide factory which killed more than 3000 people in the world's worst industrial disaster. I forget what my advice was but I doubt if it did any good.
Other people tried from time to time to entice me away from the City Chambers. A firm of executive search consultants asked me to apply for a job with Rolls Royce at Crewe. I told them I already had the best public relations job in Britain and that during the war I was sometimes stranded at Crewe station with all my army kit and had to lie on a cold, hard wooden bench all night waiting for a train and I resolved that if I survived the war I would never again set foot in Crewe...and I never have.
The last issue of the Sunday Standard, an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s by the Herald group to run a Sunday newspaper, contained a story that I had turned down a highly-paid job with an international conglomerate which offered unlimited expenses and an opportunity to travel the world. The company also had their own executive aircraft. I was quoted as saying I got dizzy looking off the pavement.
I couldn't understand how the Standard had got this story as the negotiations had been made in the closest secrecy. It turned out that a reporter had been listening carefully to my conversation with a friend in a restaurant.
An invitation from the township of Dimona deep in the heart of the Negev desert of Israel, near the biblical town of Beersheba, caused a minor uproar. In August l986 a letter arrived at the town clerk's office from Mr Eli Allali, Mayor of Dimona, saying, We have heard of the impressive success of Glasgow District Council in projecting to the citizens of Glasgow and to the world at large the new image of the city as it restores its position as one of the leading conurbations in Britain.
We understand that Mr Henry Diamond has been responsible for publicising the city over the past decade, including the Burrell Collection and the Glasgow's Miles Better campaign and we would ask you to permit us to invite Mr Diamond to visit Dimona for a period of at least a week and to relay to us how your success was achieved so that we may learn from this and employ these lessons in the work we have now commenced.
Mayor Allali said Dimona had been built 30 years earlier and was known as the Flower of the Desert but had sadly lost much of its initial attraction. He added We have now embarked on a massive programme of renewal and revitalisation and are seeking to project this to our citizens and the wider public. Mr Diamond is familiar with our country and would we believe make an excellent ambassador for your great city.
It would be nice to be able to claim that my brilliant work for Glasgow had penetrated deep into the heart of the Negev desert but the truth is that two Glasgow men who had known me for years were responsible for the invitation. Mark Goldberg, chairman of the Glasgow-based Goldbergs department store group and Geoffrey Ognall, chairman of Legal and Trade Financial Services, were joint chairman of the Joint Israel Appeal Project Renewal Dimona Committee formed in 1986 to establish a partnership between Jews in Britain and Dimona. The project was modelled on a highly successful renewal project in the southern town of Ashkelon. In fact there were a considerble number of renewal projects throughout Israel heavily supported by British Jews.
Mayor Allali's invitation attracted considerable publicity and was approved by my council's Policy and Resources Committee, which remitted it to the Personnel Committee to decide if I was to be granted paid leave to go to Israel.
The day the committee met a letter appeared in the Glasgow Herald from a Mr Jim Lister of the West of Scotland Friends of Palestine pointing out that Glasgow was an anti-nuclear city and should not support Israel's 'aggresive policies' in the Middle East. Mr Lister also referred to Israel's trade relations with South Africa which were anathema to Glasgow's Labour group who strongly condemned aparthied.
The convener of the Personnel Committee, Councillor Maria Fyfe, (now Member of Parliament for Maryhill, Glasgow) took fright at the possibility of breaching the council's policy and continued the proposal until the invitation was looked at again. I thought it was rather odd for an important council committee to be panicked by a grossly-biased letter in a newspaper, even the Herald, but all kinds of odd things influence politicians.
The resultant headlines read PR CHIEF'S ISRAEL TRIP SPARKS ROW (GLASGOW HERALD) and ISRAELI TRIP TURNS OUT TO BE BAD PR FOR LABOUR (THE SCOTSMAN).
Surprisingly little was heard of the matter after that and the council finally agreed that I could go on paid leave to Israel. Pat Lally, the council leader, told reporters, "The local council in Dimona have no say in the nuclear policy of their central government just as we don't in this country. We have one of the biggest stockpiles of nuclear arms in Europe on our doorstep and there is little we can do about it."
Israel's policies continued to disturb Labour groups in Britain and in 1989 Manchester City Council's ruling Labour group vetoed an official visit to Israel by their Lord Mayor, Councillor Pat Conquest, who pointed out that she would have meetings with both Jews and Arabs but it didn't influence her colleagues
Although I had been authorised to spend a week in Dimona I was there two weeks because I also took a week's holiday I was due. Mayor Allali and his council proved to be very good hosts and I had a series of discussions with councillors and other officials.
One afternoon during a visit to Jerusalem I was standing in Jaffa Road trying to find on a map the street in which Radio Israel was located a passer-by asked if he could help. I tried to tell him my problem in Hebrew and he said, "Excuse me, sir. You English? I didn't want to argue the point so I just said ken, yes.
"You speak English, please," he said. "Your Hebrew hopeless!"
When I came back to Scotland I made a full report to Mark Golberg and Geoffrey Ognall. There was one vital flaw in my plan. There was no one in Dimona to do the things I had suggested.
My son Michael was wandering about Australia at this time but he returned shortly afterwards. After seeing more than once what the rest of the world had to offer he did not care for the idea of living and working in Glasgow. I told him about Dimona and he said he was willing to give it a try. I told Messrs Goldberg and Ognall that Michael was interested in going back to Israel and after a couple of interviews he was appointed co-ordinator of the Joint Israel Appeal's renewal programme in Dimona. His job was to progress the programme but of course he did a lot of PR work, too, as he had picked up quite a few of my techniques over the years.
Michael worked with the JIA until 1992, receiving wide praise for his work. His PR efforts reached newspapers in Britain and America. Jenni Frazer, the London Jewish Chronicle's resident correspondent in Israel, wrote a big piece in April 1991 about Dimona in which she said, "Much of the dramatic improvement in Dimona's fortunes can be credited to the work of the Joint Israel Appeal and its representative in the town, ex-Glaswegian Mr Michael Diamond." Michael now works for Ben Gurion University at Beersheba liaising with supporters of the university world wide.