Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Face to face with warmongers in Kenton

THE true character of Israel's military onslaught on Lebanon has started to break through the politician's claptrap, with scenes of a bombed Red Cross ambulance and the wrecked bodies of children shown last night on television.

Sides have to be taken, and leaders must be confronted. And if they say something like "of course I am against that sort of thing, but..." , don't let them get away with that "but".

SOME 300 British Jews, including well-known figures like film director Mike Leigh, writer Gillian Slovo and actress Miriam Margolyes, signed a paid ad in the Times on July 6 expressing horror at Israeli action in Gaza, supporting those Israelis protesting against it, and urging people to write to their MPs as well as the Israeli embassy.
(for full text and list of signatories see http://www.jfjfp.org/

The Jewish Chronicle has taken to referring to those behind such protests as "anti-Israel", which reminds me of the Un-American Activities Committee, and of the way right-wing British newspapers in the declining years of Empire used to call protests over colonial repression and torture "anti-British demonstrations". I suppose it reassures some JC readers that there's no need to trouble their brain cells or consciences over what Israel is doing, but these days being described as "anti-Israel" is becoming like an accolade.

Anyway, there were numerous Jewish people taking part in the "anti-Israel" demonstration in London on Saturday. The banners of the Jewish Socialists' Group and Jews for Justice for Palestinians were present. Jewish Socialist David Rosenberg got huge applause when he spoke at the rally, both when he said this wasn't a war between Jews and Muslims but a struggle for freedom and justice, and when he called for greetings to the demonstration that would be starting in Tel Aviv that evening. (This brought 5,000 Israelis, Jewish and Palestinian, together on another "anti-Israel" demonstration, i.e. against the war).
(for Dave Rosenberg's speech and text of leaflet distributed by JSG on London demonstration see http://www.jewishsocialist.org.uk/index.html )

Some people were much bolder and braver than me. Hearing that the Zionist Federation and the officially recognised Board of Deputies of British Jews were holding a "pro-Israel" rally on Sunday (variously billed as "Solidarity with Israel" and "For Peace, Against Terror"), they decided at very short notice to hold a picket outside the Jewish Free School in Kenton, a north-west London suburb, where this event was held.

Inside, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was telling his flock that Israel was being punished for ever having withdrawn from Lebanon, and for withdrawing from Gaza. Outside, a few brave women upheld Jewish morality and honour against this High Priest of bombing and terror.

"I think it was worth it as they could see there is an opposition - anything
to get them out of their ghetto and rattle their self-righteous, bigoted,
racist, denial", says Debbie, who organised the protest. "And the JfJfP banner made up for our smallness - it was enough to 'spoil' the scenery for them! One man told the press that we don't represent the Jewish community. I said HE didn't, (either). I was lunged at a couple of times but the police took them away".

'In the end there were five of us - all women - plus four small boys from the neighbourhood, two Pakistani and two Lebanese, who decided to join us - they were very helpful with handing out JfJfP leaflets, making placards out of cardboard which they fetched from home, and
trying to talk to people. - though one woman accused us of "exploiting
Lebanese children"!

'The police had set up a special barrier for us to stand behind, but in the
end decided to let us stand behind the school railings so we could talk to
people as they went in and came out. We were also allowed to tie the JfJfP banner to the railings - it looked very striking with its slogan "Jews for Justice for Palestinians: Israel: Stop the Killings - Negotiate!"

'There seemed to be thousands and thousands of people going into the school - a lot of them just ignored us, a few were quite polite and friendly, but - especially when they left at the end, when they were fired up with
nationalism - a large number were extremely hostile and really very
dangerous and we were very glad of the police presence.

'They tore up our leaflets, grabbed our placards and tore them to pieces, tried to tear down our banner (the police managed to prevent this) and I really think they would have torn us to pieces if the police hadn't been there - the police actually had to intervene twice to prevent physical attacks. They spat at us, called us "traitors" and accused us of being like concentation camp kapos and said they hoped we would rot or burn in hell. Two of us had come by car with another JfjfP signatory and a policeman had to escort us to the car (parked a few streets away) at the end because of the likelihood we would be attacked.

'On the other hand, there was quite a lot of press interest, and we gave
interviews to the Press Association and the Evening Standard. So on the
whole I think it was worth doing, though it was certainly not a pleasant

'By the way, we saw Paul Usiskin, the Chair of Peace Now UK, leaving the rally....

'One lady actually started crying at one point, not because she was
frightened but because she was so upset at the hate and nastiness .... she
kept asking them if they were happy that 10 times more Lebanese civilians had been killed than Israeli, and many of them said they were perfecty happy with this, and one man said "I wish it was 40 times as much" and another one said "I wish it was a million times as much"... '

In a surprise move, even the BBC reported on the picket. "A small counter-demonstration was staged outside the event by Jewish people opposed to military action in Lebanon".

Here's another account, by Naomi from Hackney:

'Along with a few other supporters of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), I turned up outside the Jewish Free School on Sunday July 23, venue of a rally called by the Board of Jewish Deputies. We were intent on countering the organisers' support for Israel's actions in Lebanon. We had cause to be grateful for a benign police presence as we five women stood behind some railings with our banner calling for negotiation, not occupation.

'For more than two hours we attempted to engage with the many hundreds arriving to endorse mass murder and illegal collective punishment. Our handwritten placards were ripped up and scattered on the pavement, burly men attempted to pull down our banner, middle-aged matrons gobbed in our direction, enviably bronzed teenagers swore, smirked and gestured abuse, bewildered small children followed their parents, learning hatred from the cradle.

'Are you comfortable knowing that Israel kills 10 Arabs for every Jew? "Yes!" they howled, grinning insanely. "We should kill more. British bombers killed more Germans than Brits. There are more Arabs than Jews. Let them die." Do you really believe that flattening Gaza and bombing Lebanon back to the stone age will bring about peace? "Israel has the right to defend itself," they spat. "They are all terrorists trying to destroy us. We have to smash them first. We have to destroy Hizbullah and Hamas."

'Don't you think it is time, after all these years, to negotiate and allow Palestinians the chance to build a viable state of their own? Don't you care that more and more desperate young Muslims will turn to terrorism because of Israel's actions? "All of biblical Israel is ours. They are all backed by Iran and Syria. The world is on our side."

'The ranting went on and on. Smash, kill, destroy. Was this the language of a peace-loving democratic state? Over the past four decades I've often tried to persuade British people that it is possible to look critically at Israel's role in the Middle East without being anti-semitic and that being Jewish does not entail supporting every Israeli action. But never before had I encountered right-wing Zionism in full spate. Call me naïve, but I found it terrifying and shocking and it reduced me to floods of tears. Was there no-one in this throng who could talk about Arabs as fellow human beings? Was no-one thinking about peace rather than war?

'Honestly, there was a mere handful of such people, a tiny minority willing to discuss a way forward which acknowledges Arab as well as Jewish rights. The majority want Israel to fight on regardless of the cost, while Bush and Blair give them every encouragement. Armageddon here we come.'

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