In the Wake of Flotilla Incident, Business as Usual for Israel Haters in Great Britain
Not a week goes by in Great Britain without a noisy and often malevolent demonstration against something Israeli, including this week's tsunami of unprecedented Israel-hatred after the “Gaza flotilla” incident. But let’s go back in time a little bit.
I will hold readers in suspense about an extraordinary event that occurred on April 28 in Manchester, but suffice it to say that the most bizarre and far-fetched of demonstrations took place not long ago at the Natural History Museum in Kensington, London.
We have a reliable rubbish collection service in London called Veolia; they seem to work 365 days a year and even pick up our trash on holidays. They are a vast improvement on Onyx, the previous firm, and I always smile when I see their trucks around the city.
On a recent busy Saturday, outside the Natural History Museum where the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was taking place, a large demonstration -- roughly a thousand people -- was taking place. Families trying to enter the museum were stopped by activists holding leaflets and banners about the criminal, genocidal behavior of “apartheid Israel.”
Alongside the banners, signs told all of us to “Boycott Veolia.”
As it happens, Veolia is a French company participating in the building of a tram system in Israel. It is also a sponsor of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, and other Israel-bashing activists with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon converged on Kensington to chant and distribute leaflets condemning the excellent trash collectors.
What I found disturbing about the demonstrators was their visceral anger. One man started screaming at me when I said there were fifty-odd Muslim countries in the world and just one Jewish state. He went into a paroxysm of rage, calling me an Islamophobe and racist.
A few days later the same young fellow was busy shouting and jumping about outside Ahava, the Israeli salon and skin product manufacturer. Its main London spa is in Covent Garden; a tiny group of stalwart Israel supporters led by Jonathan Hoffman, vice chair of the Zionist Federation UK, assembles there every other Saturday to counter the large crowd that gathers to denounce the “genocidal apartheid state.” Some of the pro-Palestinian protestors can barely contain their rage and they try to stop tourists and Londoners from entering the store.
What is irksome is that the Israeli woman who runs the Ahava shop complains every other Saturday to Jonathan not about the loud, drum-pounding, hateful anti-Israel demonstrators but about the “noise” the small contingent of Jewish activists makes. Her beef is that she “loses business” during the two hours of the rally, 12 noon until 2 PM. She bitterly moaned to me that her “massage clientele” go crazy from the noise generated by Hoffman’s megaphone.
So she gets mad at a tiny contingent of brave Jews taking on a murderously hostile crowd of Israel-haters? Bizarre. I mention this because even the most courageous of pro-Israel British non-Jewish commentators have noted in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident that Israelis are not exactly the most gracious or diplomatic when abroad.
This leads me to the issue of the Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall,” which my parents used to call the remnant of King Solomon‘s Temple. A Daily Telegraph reader from Jordan is reported to have made a formal complaint to the British Advertising Standards Authority about a tourism advertisement placed by the Israelis encouraging Britons to visit the Holy Land. According to the aggrieved reader, the ad featured “the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the Occupied territories of the West Bank.”
The ASA upheld the petition, sparking outrage in the usually shy and retiring Anglo-Jewish community. The usually phlegmatic Chief Rabbi’s office called the decision “ludicrous, shocking and offensive.” In any event the adjudication stands until formally challenged, and in the United Kingdom Israel may no longer show the Western Wall or Dome of the Rock unless it is meticulously explained that these locations are not in Israel but in disputed territories. The Israel boycotters score another victory.
Finally, to end the suspense: on April 28, prior to the Gaza flotila incident, the deputy Israeli ambassador to the Court of St James, Talya Lador Fresher, was scheduled to give a talk at Manchester University. She duly arrived and began her presentation, but loud protests erupted. (It should be noted that an appearance by the envoy in February had to be canceled after some three-hundred Action Palestine society members scuffled with Jewish students and police.)
The atmosphere at her talk became toxic and she left the building, only to be pursued by a crowd of furious opponents who jumped onto her car, attempting to smash the windshield. She was then escorted by a university guard into his office who took her to a security van only to have the crowd run after her yet again. She took shelter in his office until an embassy vehicle arrived. Jewish students were praised for protecting her, but she said she would not wish such an ordeal on any diplomat.
Now that the Gaza flotilla incident has sparked a whirlwind of unbridled Israel-hatred, the incidents I describe will no doubt increase in ferocity. Britain was a hotbed of Israel-hatred even before the flotilla, but now at least I hope the woman at Ahava will start to appreciate the courage needed to stand up to Hamas and its followers in Covent Garden and beyond.