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Reflections on Trafalgar Square
Last uploaded : Monday 13th May 2002 at 02:16
Contributed by : The Editor


News There has been much written in the past week about the Israel Solidarity Rally held in London’s Trafalgar Square on Monday 6th May. It was difficult to devise a ‘new angle’ and we were very nearly tempted to simply present a photographic essay without text.

However, two vignettes of the past forty-eight hours have provided the focus and inspiration needed for a special view on the rally, which, incidentally, was unforgettable to those of us who got off our behinds and took the trouble to attend.

On Friday night I had dinner with a Jewish friend who, though a member of an Orthodox congregation, has a marked disdain for events of Jewish interest and who refuses to buy ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ or 'be seen with' any Jewish journal. Several years ago, this friend asked me if I had a book ‘explaining Judaism’ that she could lend to her daughter, who was dating a Jewish man and finding herself drowning in ignorance in his company.

Over dinner, this lady (shall we call her ‘Ann?’) said she had been so thrilled to read in ‘The Evening Standard’ Norman Lebrecht’s long, cruel repudiation of the London Israel Solidarity Rally. I could feel my blood boiling, and told her that his article had enraged thousands of people whether or not they had attended the rally, and would likely have very serious consequences for him in the wider Jewish community.

Ann said that she thought it was ‘absurd’ for people to gather in Trafalgar Square ‘without good reason’ and that it was astonishing that Jews would do such a thing ‘without any cause to congregate.’ She said that a rally was meant to make a statement about something of importance. This dear lady, who, like so many British Jews I know, goes out of her way to avoid reading about Israel and who fills with ire when the plight of our brethren in the Jewish State is mentioned in company, (‘...can we PLEASE change the subject?!!’), told me with much passion that she could not imagine why a rally was needed when there is ‘nothing to say.’

Do I live on Mars?

Today, I was invited to tea with a Jewish neighbour. Her daughter looked at me with incredulity when I suggested that her very brilliant son seek a grant to do research at the Weizmann Institute. ‘The what Institute?’ she demanded. I repeated what I had said. ‘Where is that?’ asked this 100% Halachically Jewish lady. ‘Jerusalem,’ I replied. ‘Oh, no! I would never send my son there! I’d rather die than send my son to that place!’ When I told her I co-edit a Jewish website she was even more incredulous. ‘Why on earth would you want to do something like that?’ And yes, when the rally was mentioned – you guessed it – she said, ‘What rally?’ When I explained where I had been last Monday, she said, ‘Oh, how ghastly.’

It must be noted that these conversations could never happen in the USA or Canada. Even the most secular of Jews has a healthy feeling about his or her Jewishness, and even those who oppose Sharon’s policies have the highest respect for institutions as eminent as the Weizmann and possess a basic knowledge of, and a feeling of connection with Israeli and Diaspora history.

The self-hating Jew is, I am sorry to say, a curiosity unique to Britain. It is likely that the beleaguered community of France does not have this ‘I don’t want to hear about Israel’ attitude, and I do wonder if the dear lady who would rather die than send her son to ‘that place’ would have a different view were her son subjected to the attacks young French Jews are suffering at present. (What I find most disturbing about this lady is that she lives not far from the Finsbury Park shul that was so massively desecrated, and seems unaffected by this horrendous event.) The famous Anglo-Jewish agony aunt Dr Claire Rayner sputtered a stream of invective against Israel on national radio last month, an outburst that would be unthinkable in North America – not because a radio star would fear offending her paymasters, but because American Jews of all sects hold Israel with deep affection and regard.

The rally in Trafalgar Square attracted a wide spectrum of Anglo-Jewry. Frum young men mingled with secular youth in shorts and t-shirts, and I recognised a few secular Leftie chums who had held candles with me in the massive 1996 ‘Dar Shalem’ peace rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

I derive great pleasure from a good debate with the Left during the present crisis, and would never feel hatred towards them. But I have nothing but contempt for Jews who take no interest in the events in Eretz Israel, and who boast that they would never be seen reading a Jewish journal. Should – G-d forbid, the next pogroms come to Britain, what will these people make of it all? And, in the nightmare scenario of Jewish life becoming intolerable in the Diaspora, is it not an irony that their only refuge will be Israel?

Frankly, I would gladly offer a home to a Palestinian who evinces no malice towards me, but I am not so sure I would put myself out for the species of Jew who does nothing to help Israel, has only contempt for Israelis and who cares not a wit about their survival.


For a further view please read a speech that Rabbi Dr John Rayner was meant to deliver to the rally; he did not attend when he learned that British Friends of Peace Now would not be present. See 'Guest Opinions' below.

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