The Article, May 17, 2021
“None of these Left-wing anti-Zionists acknowledged the legitimacy of the Jewish State, because they do not accept its existence. Like Hamas, they see a return to the 1967 borders as merely the first step to the destruction of what they see as a “colonial settler state”.”
Every time conflict flares up between Israel and the Palestinians, anti-Semitic violence and hatred returns to the streets of Britain. We saw this during the last three Gaza crises in 2008-9, 2014 and 2019. In December 2019, anti-Semitic graffiti appeared all over Hampstead and Belsize Park. Now it is happening again. Yesterday North London heard a motor convoy of thugs with loudspeakers yelling abuse at Jewish residents and calling on supporters of the Palestinian cause to “rape their daughters”.
This is how the sequence of events unfolded. On Saturday, a large demonstration against Israel took place in Kensington High Street. The organisers boasted that 150,000 took part — far too many to gather safely in such a confined space; they could have stayed in Hyde Park but their target was the Israeli Embassy. Some of the protesters were evidently intent on violence and nine officers were injured, mostly by missiles thrown at them. Some climbed up scaffolding on nearby buildings, ignoring police warnings. But for the large police presence, an assault on the Embassy might well have taken place. The atmosphere was menacing rather than peaceful. A video of protesters shouting anti-Semitic abuse was described by Michael Gove as “deeply concerning”.
Similar pro-Palestinian rallies took place across the UK and Ireland. The one in London was addressed by the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and former Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott. Both were calling for Israel to stop bombing Gaza; neither said anything about the reason for those airstrikes: nearly 3,000 rockets fired by Hamas at Israeli cities.
But these tribunes of the Left did not stop at calling for a ceasefire — they demanded an end to “the occupation” and “the settlements”. These words are ambiguous: many advocates of “Palestine” see the whole of Israel as an “illegal” settlement that has occupied “their” land since 1948. They certainly don’t accept the jurisdiction of Israeli courts over Palestinians. The adjudication of a long-running dispute in East Jerusalem, which has been appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, was the pretext for the violent protest on Temple Mount that led to police entering the al-Aqsa mosque. That in turn led to violence in mixed Jewish and Arab communities elsewhere in Israel and gave Hamas a casus belli. Among the organisers of the rally in London are the “Friends of al-Aqsa”.
Inconveniently for them, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, so the speakers condemned the “siege” rather than “occupation” of Gaza. But they know that no Israeli government will withdraw from Jerusalem or the Golan, which were annexed decades ago. Their demand amounts to a call for endless conflict. None of these Left-wing anti-Zionists acknowledged the legitimacy of the Jewish State, because they do not accept its existence. Like Hamas, they see a return to the 1967 borders as merely the first step to the destruction of what they see as a “colonial settler state”. There is no possible solution that would appease them except capitulation — which is tantamount to demanding that Israel commits national suicide.
For British Jews, such threats to Israel are also a threat to their own families, friends and identity. It is important to understand the extreme nature of these demands because it helps to explain what happened next. On Sunday, a convoy of cars waving Palestinian flags drove around St John’s Wood, Hampstead, Golders Green and other parts of North London screaming threats of violence against Jews. Four individuals have so far been arrested and can expect to be charged with racially aggravated public order offences. But the damage is done: once again, a brazen attempt to intimidate British Jews in broad daylight, whipped up by one-sided media coverage and hostile agitation legitimised by senior political figures.
Footage of this incident, which immediately went viral, was so shocking that even the Prime Minister condemned it. The reaction from the Labour Party, however, rang hollow. In the past week, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has repeatedly condemned Israel. So has Sir Keir Starmer, who is MP for Holborn and St Pancras, home to many Jewish families. A week ago, the Labour leader tweeted: “The violence against worshippers during Ramadan at the al-Aqsa mosque was shocking.” As Melanie Phillips pointed out, it was the Palestinian “worshippers” whose violence prompted the police to intervene. What was really shocking was the use of the mosque, Islam’s third holiest place, as an arsenal for rocks to be thrown down on Jews praying at the Western Wall. Israeli police may have overreacted but for Starmer (a former DPP) to issue such a one-sided and ill-informed tweet was irresponsible.
Now Sir Keir has condemned the “disgusting” outrage in his own back yard: “Anti-Semitism, misogyny and hate have no place on our streets or in our society.” But his statement is bound to be seen as hypocritical by many of those whom it is intended to reassure. Labour sides with the Palestinians against Israel, just as it did when Corbyn was leader. As long as the policy remains unaltered, Starmer’s protestations of friendship to the Jewish community are meaningless. In his statement, Boris Johnson at least had the sensitivity to mention Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks — a Jewish festival that began last night. Sir Keir might have done the same, having made a point of mentioning Ramadan in his tweet denouncing Israel. He chose not to do so. Nor has he distanced himself from Saturday’s speeches by Corbyn and Abbott. Perhaps his invidious attitude has something to do with the fact that he faces an uphill struggle to defend a by-election in Batley and Spen, an area of West Yorkshire with a large number of Muslim voters. It is hardly surprising that Labour is often known as “the Muslim party”.
The consequences of Labour’s uncritical endorsement of the Palestinian cause for the Anglo-Jewish community are dire. It isn’t “only” fear and distress, but physical violence too. A rabbi in Chigwell, Essex, was set upon outside his synagogue yesterday by two youths who damaged his car and beat him, accompanied by anti-Semitic abuse. We can expect to see many more of these incidents unless the Labour leadership disowns not only anti-Semitic violence, but also the one-sided view of the Middle East conflict that fuels it.
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