It was after lunch time several Fridays ago that I politely declined an offer to
have a beer with a friend and told him I had to go elsewhere instead – a
counter-demonstration organized by British Israel Coalition outside the Israeli
Embassy in High St. Kensington.
The demonstration, organized by the
Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to mark “The March to Jerusalem,” attracted
around 600 indoctrinated supporters, many of whom are under 25, as well as a
couple of Neturei Karta figures, all holding banners and various flags, chanting
racist slogans which call to “burn Israel,” and to “liberate Palestine with
blood and fire.” One banner had a swastika superimposed on a Star of
Clearly these were people who were not interested in a peaceful
two-state solution, but in the destruction of Israel. On our side there were
just under 20 people, most of them of my parents’ age and above. Among
them, a man on a wheelchair and few Christian supporters of Israel.
young Jewish schoolgirl who passed by the area with her mom on their way home
was shocked by the vile nature of the demonstration, but also by the lack of
supporters for Israel. She immediately burst into tears and refused to leave the
premises. The question asked therefore is simple: Where are the so-called
leaders of the Jewish community? Why haven’t any well-funded organizations such
as the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Union of Jewish
Students take an active role? Surely dozens of supporters could have attended
the counter-demonstration and helped us make a stronger case for Israel and the
It was close to Shabbat, some might argue. Even so, many
could have come and left, reaching their homes before Shabbat begins. Many
non-Jewish organizations could have been alerted and encouraged to support well
ahead of time. Sadly Shabbat is not the problem. The apathetic approach by the
community is. At times, when they respond, they argue that countering these
demonstrations gives the extremists the publicity they look for. But this is a
wrong and dated approach.
The reality is that the level of hostility
against Israel has reached an all-time high in the UK because it is not being
countered strongly and effectively. Let us be honest: There is a growing bias in
the media against Israel, there are more and more anti-Semitic incidents
recorded (and probably many more not recorded), universities host extremists
speakers who preach hatred against Israel and Jews, and in local politics we
have people like George Galloway who are being elected on racist and divisive
campaigns while a Labour candidate for London Mayor claims that Jews won’t be
voting for him because they are rich.
Following the counter-demonstration
I was invited to a Shabbat dinner in Chabad House in central London. As usual,
during the meal the rabbi gave a short Dvar Torah, and this week’s lesson
couldn’t be more relevant.
It was in 1974 and soon after the Yom Kippur
War that Rabbi Yisrael Lau (later to be chief rabbi of Israel) came to Brooklyn
to visit the Rebbe. During their conversation the Rebbe asked him what the
Jewish people in Israel were saying these days. Rabbi Lau replied that Jews were
asking “what will be?” The Rebbe grabbed his arm and said: “Jews don’t ask what
will be, they ask what we are going to do.”
The lesson derived from it is
that those who ask “what will be” are apathetic to the situation in which they
are in, while those asking “what are we going to do,” take a proactive stance.
Therefore, we should have a clear plan how to counter these anti- Israel
demonstrators, how to stop the delegitimization of Israel in the UK and in
Europe and how to make the case for Israel as strong as possible in the media
and in the eyes of the public.
Leadership of a community is not just
about releasing press statements and attending receptions and gala dinners, it
is about the strategy, presence and the action taken to protect the interests of
the community. Just like we needed Moses to lead us from Egypt into the promised
land, we need an active and strong leadership for the Jewish community in the
UK.Tal Ofer is a London-based Member of the European Jewish Parliament.