The day I stood up for my people

Nine years ago in the midst of the Lebanon war of 2006, I had left my office in Melbourne city and was making my way to the train station to begin my afternoon commute home. It was a crisp winter’s day with deep blue skies deceptively giving off the impression of warmth. As I neared the entrance of the concourse that would lead underground to my train, I noticed a bunch of people gathered around a table chanting and handing out flyers to the busy traffic of pedestrians passing by.
As I got closer, the chants become clearer. Down with Israel! Stop Israeli aggression! I rolled my eyes and thought to myself as I hurried past them - just another anti-Israel protest. But halfway through the concourse, I stopped. I realized that I had a choice. I could carry on and chalk it off as typical of the anti-Israel crowd, or I could actually do something about it.
It’s easy to confront anti-Israel sentiment from behind a computer screen, but quite another to do it in person. So with a certain feeling of nerves and my heart beating a little quicker, I turned back and approached the table. What met me was a mixture of students and older people. Putting on a blank expression, something I do remarkably well, I approached one of the older gentlemen, took one of the flyers he was handing out, and asked him what the protest was about.
He told me in a confident voice that he was protesting Israeli aggression. Oh, I said, what did they do? They launched an unprovoked attack against civilians, was the reply. I see, I said, but I thought Hezbollah fired missiles into Israel, violating the UN resolutions. He appeared to be confused. Well…he then continued, it’s part of the colonial expansion against the Arab people. But Israel pulled out of Lebanon – and it was even verified by the United Nations, I said.
I could see a glazed look in his eyes and also that he did not really have a reply. Now at this stage other members of the table had begun to gather around me. So what would you do, I continued, if your country was attacked by a barrage of missiles and your soldiers killed? Would you sit back and chant kumbaya, or would you respond? It’s different, a few of them now told me. Israel has been invading and oppressing them for thousands of years. But the State of Israel has only been around since 1948, I said. Do you even know where Israel is on a map?
Again, no one really answered me, until one student clad in black, wagged her finger at me menacingly and said: I know things. And you don’t know what I know. To which I replied: Yes, I do know what you know - and you know absolutely nothing. I then took the flyer that was given to me, tore it into small little pieces and dropped it in their donation box. I then turned around and continued down the concourse towards my train.
Now, it’s true that my protest made zero difference in the world. Central Command in Israel did not receive an urgent email saying that they have a supporter in Australia. The Prime Minister of Israel did not convene a hastened cabinet meeting to discuss my protest and arrange a meeting with me.
But nevertheless, it made a difference - to me.
In the diaspora, as Jews, we can at times think we are detached from the reality of events in Israel. Sure, we follow the news and we talk to our families who live there and we monitor closely what goes on. But as the events in the past few months have shown, we are not quite as detached as we might think we are.
As the wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic protests sweep the globe, culminating in terrorist atrocities such as the one we just witnessed in Paris, we can no longer remain detached from these events by virtue of the fact we don’t live in Israel. Recent surveys show that half the Jews in Britain are no longer sure if their future lies there. Jews making aliya from France are at its highest levels ever. The luxury of distance no longer gives the power of immunity.
As Jews we are indeed in the front line of a wave of terrorism that only seems to be getting worse.
So as I stood at that table all those years ago, protesting against those who probably viewed me with contempt and with hatred, I felt nervous, yet also proud. Standing there surrounded by those who wished that I, like my homeland, would disappear, I felt that in my own small way, I wasn't just standing up for myself, I was standing up for Israel, for my people and for all those who couldn't stand up for themselves.
I may not be a citizen of the State of Israel…yet, but nevertheless, I am one of the Children of Israel and of the Nation of Israel and I will be one forever.