My Word: Where has my Great Britain gone?

Perhaps the country where I grew up no longer exists.

london big ben parliament 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
london big ben parliament 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
My exodus from Great Britain some 30 years ago passed fairly quietly. A farewell party for family, an open house to part from friends, a surprise  dinner arranged by those who would soon seem a world away, and that was pretty much that. Not for me the humiliation of being asked to leave by the foreign minister at a day’s notice with the unsubtle understatement that British diplomats and politicians do better than most.
I was 18 and had been preparing for aliya all my teen years. Unlike the “spy who came in from the cold,” or at least the reported head of the Mossad liaison in London requested to leave her majesty’s realm, I celebrated my departure, accompanied by strains of Hallelujah, which had just won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel.
Of course, arrival in the Promised Land was not all I had dreamed of, but never did I think of returning. Israel was home. And over the years, I increasingly came to the conclusion that the England that I left – which gave me a decent education, good health care and a sense of fair play – no longer exists.
It recently struck me that when I grew up, the country was always referred to as Great Britain, whereas now it is routinely referred to as the United Kingdom. Where did the “great” go, I wonder, and “united” in what, I ponder. Perhaps all that is left is a unique sense of humor – essential for the Brits to cope with the violence and aggravation that seem to have taken over.
AND THEN I get back to the nitty-gritty of life in Israel – the country some of my teachers could barely name, referring to it as the Holy Land or Palestine. I’m not sure that Britain, or whatever it’s called now, has ever really forgiven us for ending the Mandate, expelling its soldiers and surviving the War of Independence (and a few other wars) against the odds.
Israel is certainly different. As US President Barack Obama came one step closer to implementing his health care reform, an Israel Radio presenter last week noted a certain quintessentially Israeli irony. The country has free health care at a standard that could make Obama sick with envy, but is embroiled in a religious war over the ancient graves at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital. A haredi minority maintains that a new, much-needed emergency room cannot be built over the ancient (and probably pagan) burial sites.
Attention has, naturally, focused on the struggle between religious zealots and the reasonable majority. What has been lost is the reason why Ashkelon needs a new ER.
The most compelling incentive to quickly build the emergency care center as close as possible to the main building is that it will be missile proof. Even last week – while the argument raged over the dry bones and Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat – rockets launched from Gaza fell on Ashkelon. A week ago, a foreign worker was killed by a Kassam at a nearby community.
I try to imagine the “honorable members of Parliament” in Westminster shrugging off a missile or two as a fact of life, in peacetime. If Israel is showing restraint – what the British might refer to as “a stiff upper lip” – it’s only because we’ve been socked on the jaw so often that we’ve grown a little numb. And that is, perhaps, the most shocking thing of all.
Obama – via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – essentially gave the Palestinians the go-ahead for the next intifada rather than “proximity talks” over construction in Jerusalem. Britain then hit while Israel was down. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, however unintentionally, signaled to the Arab world that Israel is – in effect – a fair target for stones, Molotov cocktails, missiles and whatever else they want to throw at us. Thank heavens Iran doesn’t have the atomic bomb – yet.
I understand that the British are miffed, to put it mildly, at the thought that UK passports might have been misused by another state, even if it was to rid the world of Hamas arch-terrorist Mahmoud al-Mahbouh.
But, as many true friends of Israel have asked, where is the outrage over Mabhouh’s ability to travel freely on his terrorist missions?
Britain has known terror outrages – I remember the regular pre-Christmas IRA bombing campaigns in the London of my youth. Closer still, I recall the 7/7 London Underground attacks perpetrated by al-Qaida nearly five years ago.
THE YEAR I graduated from high school was the first that more Muslim pupils than Jewish ones were coming in. One teacher asked that I refrain from telling the parents of new students that I was emigrating to Israel (let alone planning on immediately joining the IDF).
In the three decades since then, Israel seems to have become the victim of British appeasement of a radicalizing Muslim population, even though its extremists are in the minority.
In an election year Israel is a convenient punching bag: a country, as former diplomat Yehuda Avner has pointed out, without any natural allies.
Britain, as a Post editorial noted last week, has lost its moral compass.
Every time I am tempted to take it personally, I am supplied with fresh evidence that the formerly Great Britain has lost its way: Yes, there have been increased anti-Semitic attacks but there has been a growing number of incidents of mindless violence of all kinds.
Even the attempts to arrest senior Israeli figures, like Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, for war crimes are not directed only at the Jewish state. Columnist Charles Moore writing in the March 13 Spectator noted the recent case in which Ejup Ganic, a former vice president of Bosnia, was detained at Heathrow Airport pending possible extradition to Serbia for an alleged atrocity in Sarajevo.
“So our extradition law operates thus,” writes Moore. “A country which has highly political courts and in which the alleged crime was not committed and for which crime there is no proper evidence can nevertheless make us grab a respectable visitor to Britain, lock him up and order that he be sent to a terrible fate.”
Recently I received an e-mail from one young woman who is not willing to take the injustices lying down: “Being an Israeli student in the UK is anything but easy,” wrote Smadar Bakovic. Bakovic and her friends managed after intense campaigning to defeat the Student Union referendum calling for the twinning of Warwick University, where she is studying, with the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University in Gaza (IUG).
Bakovic was fighting a fashion. In December, the student union at the prestigious London School of Economics did elect to twin with the IUG “to show solidarity with the students there, who have had their campus bombed and their colleagues killed by the Israeli occupation forces.”
I missed which university raced to twin with the Negev’s Sapir AcademicCollege where a student was killed two years ago in a direct hit by aKassam, part of the barrage of missiles that ultimately led toOperation Cast Lead. And which British academic body rushed to identifywith the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, my alma mater, when in 2002seven students were killed in a suicide bombing at the Mount Scopuscampus cafeteria?
Looking back, I am not sad to have left Britain. I am sad at the disappearance of the Britain I left behind.