I touched down at Heathrow at a little after 1 in the afternoon on Tuesday, knowing that I would be back at the airport precisely 24 hours later. I'd been invited to London by the Zionist Federation, a venerable institution now undergoing a certain reinvigoration, which had organized a lecture to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War.
I'd imagined that my talk would be one of a series of such events arranged by the Anglo-Jewish community, an opportunity to recall Israel's near-miraculous confounding of President Nasser's plans for our elimination and to inform another generation - Jews and the rest of the Brits - about the circumstances of that defining conflict.
But I was mistaken. Despite the snowballing campaign in the UK to delegitimize Israel, and the consequent imperative for Israel's diplomatic representatives and the Anglo-Jewish leadership to seize any and every opportunity to promulgate a nuanced narrative, there was no such communal celebration and education program.
There had been a ceremony to mark the coincidental 25th anniversary of the shooting at the Dorchester Hotel of ambassador Shlomo Argov on June 3, 1982, the act of terrorism that precipitated what we must now learn to call the First Lebanon War. But this was a low-key, formal commemoration. The embassy had planned no major '67-related event.
A respected former cabinet minister flew in on the same day as I did to give lectures about the Six Day War anniversary, but it turned out these were private briefings to a select few.
There had been talk, I was told, of bringing in a real heavy-hitter who would draw crowds in the thousands. Henry Kissinger's name was mentioned. Nothing happened.
There had been vague talk as well, I was told, of organizing a rally in central London to mark the occasion. And a rally is indeed being staged in Trafalgar Square this Shabbat. Along with senior politicians from our neck of the woods, members of the British Parliament will be speaking, members of the European parliament, a Nobel peace laureate. Buses have been arranged from no fewer than 15 cities across the UK.
But this rally is being held under the headline "Enough! End the Israeli Occupation. Justice for the Palestinians."
The politicians from our region include the Palestinian Authority's Minister for Information Mustafa Barghouti and, in a "video message," his boss, the PA's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Advocates have been distributing flyers at all manner of recent gatherings around town to maximize attendance. According to the flyer, several Jewish groups - Jewish Socialists' Group, Jews Against Zionism, Jews for Justice for Palestinians - are among the participating "coalition members."
The "Palestine Solidarity Campaign," another of the coalition members, is also publicizing a series of 1967-related lectures and events, including a "walk to end the Israeli occupation" at the end of the month, an International Solidarity Movement training day, boycott-related gatherings and conferences, and a campaign to pressure Arsenal, the London football club that has a tourism sponsorship agreement with Israel, to "stop supporting Israeli apartheid."
Some hardy pro-Israel activists are desperately trying to organize a last-minute counter-protest to Saturday's rally. They hope they might bring out 50 people. A "symbolic" effort, it has been called.
BEFORE I gave my talk on the Tuesday evening, an enterprising ZF activist had helped set up a BBC appearance. I was the studio guest for an hour-long World Service phone-in marking the anniversary. Not, heaven forbid, the sole guest; I was "balanced" by a Jordanian newspaper editor, down the phone from Amman.
The program was handled fairly by its presenter, who read out e-mails from around the world and brought a diverse array of voices to air.
We had a caller from Damascus - who told the presumably millions of listeners that his country was fearful of more of the kind of aggression that had seen Israel seize the Golan Heights in 1967. But I got the chance to say that Israel had and has no expansionist agenda and that if President Bashar Assad genuinely shifted toward peace he would find a willing partner in Israel.
And a recorded clip was broadcast from longtime Jerusalem Post reporter Abraham Rabinovich, recalling the eve of destruction atmosphere in Israel prior to a war in which our very survival was at stake.
We had a caller from Belgium, Egyptian-born, who was one of several to issue variants of the accusation that Israel had deliberately masterminded the conflict to grab more and more Arab territory. But, although I wasn't given the opportunity to interrupt and rebut every time I wanted to explode at the inaccuracies and verbal injustices, I was again able this time to try and correct the distortions - and to stress in this case, for example, that Israel had shown itself prepared to relinquish every last inch of the Sinai it had captured in 1967, in the cause of peace with Egypt.
My colleague/antagonist in Amman used his initial airtime to insist that a viable peace proposal is on the table now, in the shape of the Arab League initiative, and that the onus is on Israel to seize the day. I tried to highlight that Camp David 2000 underlined Israel's abiding desire for peace and its extraordinary readiness to compromise, to dismantle the overwhelming majority of the settlements, but that, for a start, the Arab League initiative has not, in fact, been accepted by the dominant Palestinian leadership - Hamas.
Our exchanges, civil at first, gradually became more heated; I wound up interrupting him several times, my years of ingrained British civility overwhelmed by the sense that Israel so rarely gets a fair hearing and my determination to make sure it didn't get bashed on a show in which I was participating.
WHEN YOU visit a country intermittently, you sometimes see more clearly than its permanent residents how the tone of its dialogue is shifting. And this latest brief trip to the country of my birth gave me the feeling that those radical anti-Israel activists who used to be branded "loonies" are closing in on the mainstream.
It has been a few weeks now since the National Union of Journalists voted to boycott Israel, a motion followed by the vote at the University College Union to consider a similar move, with other unions potentially set to follow suit.
One Jewish academic returned to his college after the UCU vote, fuming at the action, to discover that none of his colleagues there had a clue about what had been enacted ostensibly in their name. Plainly, many ordinary members of both unions are unaware of the votes and would oppose them if canvassed. But the activists are already moving on, seeking fresh arenas in which to battle Israel, working their way into key positions in unions most of whose members are busy doing their jobs rather than pushing anti-Zionist initiatives. And each successful anti-Israel rally, nasty newspaper op-ed and hijacked union vote brings in another small segment of the wider public, and draws the isolation of Israel another few paces from fringe sentiment to conventional sentiment.
That these two unions are at the forefront of the campaign is especially pernicious. Journalists are charged with finding and disseminating information - empowering their publics by informing them. Academics, similarly, are engaged in voyages of research and discovery, of clarification and revelation. And yet here they have voted for measures designed to achieve precisely the opposite effect - to shut down avenues of enlightenment.
The activists who have led these campaigns recognize that their ability to demonize Israel depends on the limiting of access to information on our conflict. For the more people really know about what is going on, and the wider and more diverse their sources of knowledge, the more accurate their judgments can be - and in the case of the Israeli-Arab duel of narratives, the wider and deeper the sources of information, plainly, the better for Israel.
The success of these activists has been fueled in part by the misrepresentation of our reality, the imbalances, the absent context, in so much reportage. Now, by instituting boycotts and the severing of direct contacts, they are working to rule out the possibility of other narratives being heard, and of personal interactions breeding greater, more nuanced understanding.
MY TALK for the Zionist Federation, at St. John's Wood synagogue in North West London, was one of the bleaker speeches I've ever given, focusing most heavily on the dangers posed by Iran - to Israel, but also beyond Israel.
It is plain that Britain's tolerant, fundamentally decent ethos is threatened, too. Iranian-inspired, British-born suicide bombers struck London in a quadruple coordinated blast two years ago, and other plots by home-grown Islamic extremists are being uncovered all the time.
The ultra-courteous, usually decent and fair-minded British, understandably, find it difficult to believe that other nations are preaching murder as an imperative to their citizens, urging them to kill and be killed in the name of God. And the idea that terror recruits would seriously believe that, in killing themselves and as many infidels as possible, they guarantee entrance to paradise, with dozens of virgins awaiting them, seems just unthinkable to many Brits, absurd.
The trouble is that, after ruling out the death-cult fundamentalism that is the genuine cause of international Islamist terrorism, the British are trying to find what they think is a more reasonable explanation for such murderous malevolence. And from there, it is but a short step to the assertion now guiding so much British reportage and political thought: that one need only solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to reduce, if not resolve, the otherwise unfathomable Islamic extremist determination to engineer indiscriminate killing the world over.
The fact that terrorism has been a key factor in thwarting the efforts to solve our conflict, rather than a consequence of that failure, is obviously not the kind of truth Israel's strategic detractors would acknowledge. But in the absence of a galvanized Israeli diplomatic PR presence, and with the Anglo-Jewish leadership traditionally preferring to work behind the scenes rather than publicly rock the boat, hardly anybody else is articulating such truths either.
I TRIED to advance some of the key arguments on the BBC show, and at the ZF event - which was, of course, a case of preaching to the converted. I also tried to explain the accelerating effort to delegitimize Israel in the context of Iran's Islamist ambitions, with the Six Day War an appropriate starting point.
The spectacular Arab military failure of 1967, and the subsequent failure to wipe out Israel even when it was woefully unprepared six years later, helped persuade Anwar Sadat that Egypt would be better off reconciling with Israel than nursing defeat after defeat in efforts to eliminate it. Peace with Jordan and the illusion of a possible peace with Yasser Arafat in the mid-1990s persuaded many, even most, Israelis that the rest of our region had absorbed that message too.
The Iranians have managed to reverse the momentum. Similarly concluding that Israel cannot be uprooted by conventional war, their strategy has not, however, been one of grudging reconciliation. It is rather, a multi-pronged effort to remove us by other means.
Directly, of course, Iran now seeks a nuclear capability to achieve its leadership's publicly declared goal of our elimination, and would not need to press the button to devastate Israel economically and psychologically.
It has already targeted Israel indirectly, via Hizbullah, Hamas and other terrorist groups - dragging us into asymmetrical conflicts, where we are fired upon from civilian areas, and must wrestle with our moral standards, and international condemnation, every time we fire back.
It sponsors terrorism against us - terrorism that was intended in the second intifada to cause us to flee en masse; a campaign that floundered in the face of extraordinary Israeli public resilience, and the belated construction of a physical barrier to the suicide bombers.
And underpinning all of this is the effort at discrediting us, even among what should be allied nations - nations like Britain that share our democratic values and abhor the absence of freedoms, the religious coercion, the human rights abuses, and the other dominant aspects of the ayatollahs' regime.
But thousands of miles from our region, nations like Britain can only identify with our values, and our cause, if it is conveyed to them accurately. And when, to give just one example, the British media fails to stress to viewers and readers the asymmetry of Middle East coverage - including the fact that the open society of Israel allows free access to reporters not only when we are hit, but also when we fire back, whereas the closed societies around us do not allow the camera crews to document their aggression, only their victimhood - the picture is skewed, and the viewers and readers, under-informed Jewish readers and viewers among them, form skewed assessments of their own.
So we are blamed when we respond to unprovoked missile attacks. We are blamed for purportedly provoking terrorism by failing to end the Palestinians' suffering. And when that terrorism comes to the UK, it becomes Israel's fault, rather than that of the bombers and the Islamic fundamentalists, inspired, financed and armed by Iran, who dispatch them.
ON THE Wednesday morning, I gave two other small talks, one to a group of MPs, before the final stop of my whirlwind Brit trip. I'd been invited, out of the blue, to attend a televised hearing by a cross-party panel, the Iraq Commission, led by various senior politicians, tasked with producing a blueprint for Britain's future involvement in Iraq. I'd told them I was no expert on Iraq, but would be pleased to discuss Iran's destructive ambitions regarding Israel, the region and beyond.
After I'd set out these concerns, and warned of the consequences for Britain of an increasingly emboldened fundamentalist Iran, the first question I was asked was whether Teheran was not understandably fearful of the potential aggressions of other regional players. Perhaps, it was posited, Iran needed reassurance, rather than concerted international pressure, to persuade it that it had no need for a nuclear capability.
I was taken aback, I confess, by this line of thinking, but did my best to respond and, during the half-hour or so that I spoke, argued that the international community, having already failed on several occasions to honor its post-World War II commitment to prevent further genocide, was now facing a declaredly genocidal regime, a sovereign nation avowedly seeking the elimination of another, and that rather than meriting empathetic consolation, it should be pressured to change course, and its leadership prosecuted for incitement to mass murder.
For Israel's sake, and for Britain's, I hope others are emphasizing the same message, and that it gets through.
BACK AT the airport, waiting for El Al at Gate 56, I opened that day's Times, to read on page 8 that "Muhammad is No. 2 in boys' names" in Britain "and is likely to rise to No. 1 by next year"; that there are now 1.5 million Muslims in Britain (compared to perhaps 300,000 Jews) and that "the Muslim birthrate is roughly three times higher than the non-Muslim one."
There were more such statistics in the new issue of Time Out, the determinedly in-your-face London weekly listings guide. "Islam is the fastest growing religion in the UK," it reported, noting that 607,083 Muslims were living in the capital when the last census was carried out in 2001.
The Time Out cover this week is green. Islamic green. Its headline text is written in Arabic, with an English translation in small lettering at the bottom of the page: "Is London's future Islamic?"
Inside, the editor's note laments that "a misunderstanding of the Muslim community still lingers in London" and asks, "What is the root of this suspicion? What can we learn from Islam? If the capital becomes a predominantly Muslim city in years to come, what would this actually mean? Would you be enriched or enraged?"
The cover story itself purports to answer some of these questions. A curious concoction headlined, "Why London needs Islam," it reads so risibly at some points as to have been written tongue-in-cheek but, in the main, seems to be meant entirely seriously.
It urges Londoners not to buy in to a racist representation of all Muslims as terrorists - so far, so admirable - but, rather, to "recognize both what Islam has given this city already, and the advantages it would bring across a wide range of areas in the future."
In public health, it goes on to specify, a Muslim-dominated London in which alcohol was forbidden would prevent thousands of deaths and alcohol-related crimes. In ecology, the Islamic obligation "to look after the natural world" would likely yield "more public parks under Islam" and more recycling. On interfaith ties, the article argues, "it is reasonable to assume that under the guiding hand of Islam a civilized accommodation could be made among faith groups in London."
And on "race relations," the article concludes: "Under Islam all ethnicities are equal. Once you have submitted to Allah you are a Muslim - it doesn't matter what color you are. End of story."
I exchanged Time Out for flying out. "Ladies and gentlemen, El Al flight 316 to Tel Aviv is now ready for boarding."
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