AS the tensions in the Middle East escalated, a leading Israeli diplomat took time out to visit members of a local synagogue on Monday last week.

Gideon Meir, the newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Italy gave a speech on his country's public diplomacy at Stanmore Synagogue in London Road.

Accompanied by a representative of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, Mr Meir, was speaking just before the conflict between Israel and Lebanon broke out.

He was keen to impress upon his audience the fact that his homeland was presented unfairly in the press.

He said: "We think the press are biased against Israel.

"People from the opposite point of view think that the press are for Israel."

He described the Palestinian administration, run by Hamas, as terrorists and said: "They use their civilians as human shields.

"They do not care about human lives, but we do."

Speaking to an audience of more than 100 people, the synagogue's new minister, Rabbi Mendel Lew, said: "Jewish historical documentation and teachings inspire us to keep an eye out for our neighbours and friends and to fight our corner in every way.

"I find that each one of us, as individuals, are at the forefront of Israel.

"It is important for us to look after our own because we will defend Israel and we will defend ourselves. We are one big family."

Mr Meir used examples from different news channels to illustrate his claim that Israeli soldiers were being depicted as Nazis and said that yesterday's victims are being portrayed as today's agressors.

He identified ways in which Israel's international image could be improved and said it was vital to convince the Israeli government that public diplomacy was a key part of the nation's national security.