The second battle of Dundee

Meet Dr. Albert Jacob, a 'reluctant politician' who rallied against what he considered an 'evil twinning.'

dundee feat 88 298 (photo credit: )
dundee feat 88 298
(photo credit: )
In 1054, in the first Battle of Dundee, a Scottish king named Macbeth was attacked by Malcomb Canmore's savage group of Northumbrians. A furious battle ensued and Macbeth was run off - or beheaded, as Shakespeare wrote in The Tragedy of Macbeth. The second battle of Dundee began in 1980 when Dr. Albert Jacob, a mild-mannered physician now of Beersheba, took on the combined forces of the Dundee city council, maverick local politician George Galloway, Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization and 22 Arab nations that backed the PLO. Jacob didn't need Shakespeare. He wrote the book himself: The Day It Hit the Fan: Memoirs of a Reluctant Politician. In his younger days, Jacob had served in the cavalry, in the esteemed 17th/21st Lancers. An admirer of General Edmund Allenby - Beersheba's local cavalry hero - Jacob doesn't run from a fight. "Once a lancer, always a lancer," he says. "The traditions of courage and steadfastness are so imbued in cavalrymen that they're a part of their character. The 17th Lancers insignia is the skull and crossbones. They fought in the Crimea at Balaclava - Tennyson wrote the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' about them. Many times during this [campaign] I took risks. My knees were shaking. I'd remind myself I was a lancer." At stake in the second battle of Dundee was a propaganda move by the PLO - "Yasser Arafat's personal army," as Jacob called it in his book - to twin the Arab-controlled city of Nablus (Shechem, the site of Joseph's tomb) with the city of Dundee. Behind the scenes, the twinning was being promoted by George Galloway, at that time the 21-year-old vice-chair of Scotland's Labor Party. Ostensibly, the purpose of twinning cities is to confer economic and cultural benefits on both cities. But as Jacob came to see it, the real goal was to confer legitimacy on Nablus, which he saw as little more than a terrorist-controlled village. Twinning with Dundee would give Nablus the sheen of normalcy, all the while promoting Arab national interests to the detriment of Israel. Jacob came to the attention of the press in 1978, when a casual comment found its way into a news report. "I lost my political virginity right then," he recalls. Galloway had invited a PLO representative to speak to the Labor Party, and a reporter asked Jacob, a leader of the local Jewish community, what he thought of the Arabs who wanted to talk peace with Israel. A political neophyte, Jacob responded not with canned dogma but what he honestly believed: "There may be peaceful Arabs who want to make peace with Israel. But they won't be found in that crew." Jacob became known as a good interviewee, a man who'd speak honestly and colorfully. When the battle over twinning broke out in 1980, Jacob was the man the media wanted. In early October 1980, a local reporter called. "What do you think of the proposal to twin the city of Dundee with Nablus?" he asked. "That was the first I'd heard of it," Jacob says, but he ventured a mild analysis: Dundee already had four other twins, and it didn't seem prudent to add any more. "There's a Scottish saying, 'I no' so green as I'm cabbage looking,'" adds Jacob. "I wasn't actually that na ve. I knew the twinning was a gimmick to promote the PLO, a move to diminish Israel. The question was how to deal with it," he says. The twinning issue picked up momentum. On both sides, interested parties jumped in, and reporters phoned. It wasn't smooth going. At one point, Jacob found himself castigated as an "Uncle Tom Jew" after he shook hands with Galloway's PLO representative. "I was angry. I could see what was happening. The twinning with Dundee would be first, then other cities would be forced to follow - first in Scotland, then all over Britain. Then the PLO could claim, 'The people of Britain support the PLO.' This wasn't good," he says. On November 18, at a packed council meeting, Jacob made a clear presentation, listing his reasons for objecting. Among the factors he cited was safety. An important facet of the twin city scheme was youth exchanges. That couldn't happen in this case, he said. He implored the council not to damage Dundee's good name by linking it with a terrorist-controlled village. "Then I sat down," Jacob recalls. "I was relieved it was over." It wasn't over - actually, it was just beginning. The council approved the twinning proposal and, since no country of "Palestine" exists, the PLO flag was flown at the entrance to council chambers. That was too much for Jacob, who objected. This had the effect of turning the battle intensely personal. Jacob's father also lived in Dundee. One morning he woke to find the words "HITLER WAS RIGHT" painted on his back door. Then Jacob's daughter Debby brought home a Jewish Society poster from school that had been defaced with the words "KILL A JEW TODAY!" Police were notified and reports filed, but the situation escalated. One day the entire back wall of the Dundee synagogue was covered in graffiti, slogans and swastikas. Local Nazis had joined the fray, although snide suggestions also circulated that the Jews had done it themselves to provoke outrage. A community protest meeting was convened. There, the community voted overwhelmingly to annul the twinning but, of course, this had no legal impact. The machinations of George Galloway - now a rabble-rousing MP - were apparent. "Gorgeous George," as Jacob calls him, enjoyed significant support and Jacob was chided not take this so seriously. "Don't worry," one friend said. "George is his own worst enemy." To which Jacob replied, "Not while I'm alive, he isn't." The protests continued, as did the harassment. A Nazi poster - a swastika with the words "WE FIGHT BACK" appeared, as did others: "DON'T BLAME THE ARABS, READ THE PROTOCOLS"; "THE HOLOCAUST: SIX MILLION LIES"; and "NO MORE JEW WARS." Again and again the shul was defaced. For eight long years the battle flared; but for the Jacob family, life went on. Jacob's mother passed away, as did his father - but only after thugs broke into his home, robbed and beat him. One afternoon, Jacob arrived at the shul to find the words "JACOB MUST DIE" painted in huge letters on the wall. "I laughed," he says. "It was just a statement of fact. Of course I must die. Everyone does." Time took its toll, and passions waned. The twinning agreement with Nablus still stands. By 1990, the Jacobs' long-standing commitment to make aliya - first made in 1977 - was coming close. He could retire, draw his pension and move to Israel. Albert and his wife, Renee, spent six weeks in Israel looking for a retirement job and a house, and found both in Beersheba: work at a clinic, and a home in the Neve Noy neighborhood. When they returned to Dundee, they learned that two young men had been arrested for writing the graffiti. After all the hearings and reports, one young Nazi was fined 200 pounds, the other even less. "What can you do?" sighs Jacob. "At least when I left, there were no loose ends." Jacob, now 75, worked five years as a physician in Israel before retiring again. His two children are grown - a daughter in Aberdeen, a son in Texas. He's had time to rethink the battle. What did the "reluctant politician" learn? "One of our big problems was a lack of good public relations," he says. "We needed more people with facts who could speak effectively. We should have been more organized. If we'd had a strong response at the very beginning - two years before the actual proposal - it never would have happened. We weren't equipped to counter this kind of propaganda." Dr. Jacob's book The Day It Hit the Fan concludes shortly after the Jacobs' aliya in 1991, but the wheels of the Dundee city council grind on. In 2004, the council voted 21-5 to approve adding the city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as another twin. At the time, Mr. Letford of the council argued, "I would not say their culture is perfect, but then neither is any culture, including our own. Adding Dubai is a tremendous move forward." Letford also noted that Dundee's rapidly growing Muslim community was "very disappointed" that the council's vote had been divided. You can almost hear Lady Macbeth: "Out, out, brief candle….."