This is my latest column for Jewish News:
I’m normally an even-keeled, optimistic and positive person. But two events during the summer set me on a rollercoaster of emotions. In terms of Israel-related matters, it is these two episodes that defined 2010 for me. Fortunately, I was left on a pleasantly ascendant curve.
I had an early-morning radio slot on BBC radio on May 31st, so I followed the breaking news about the flotilla confrontation on my iPhone as I travelled into the capital. I quickly became astounded at how many people were feverishly condemning Israel before even a handful of facts had become clear. Things got far worse as the day progressed. The poison directed at Israel increased by the hour. This was groundless hatred: people were still in the dark about the full story. It was obvious that this was not an incident many were going to wait for facts about before drawing their own conclusions.
An unpleasant irony developed: the IHH members onboard the Mavi Marmara had failed in their attempted lynch of the Israeli commandos, but in the wider world a lynch mob had formed and it was hitting Israel with everything it could. Even as the truth of what happened emerged, supported by powerful video evidence, many of that mob refused to change their tune.
I became more upset than ever that week. I had witnessed anti-Israel hatred before, not least during the 2006 Hezbollah war and then Operation Cast Lead. But I had resisted the temptation to jump to extreme interpretations of what motivated people to be so uniquely and bitterly hostile to Israel. I liked to believe such people were usually not antisemitic. I believed they were simply misguided and ill-informed – a quick lesson away from a fairer approach.
Yet here they were, watching videos of a mob trying to club Jews to death and the reaction was… to condemn the Jews. My optimism diminished as I found it hard to not conclude this was Jew-hatred, pure and simple. I feared for Israel and I feared for Britain. If someone would have told me that less than two months later I would find renewed hope for both countries I would have struggled to believe them.
In July I spent several days on a vigil outside Downing Street. It was organised by the magnificent Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) to draw attention to the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit. The brief of the organisers for those attending was that we should actively engage with passers-by and inform them of Gilad’s plight. I took up this challenge with trepidation, but I was pleasantly stunned by the positive responses I mostly received from the great British public.
I particularly remember the lovely posh old lady from Southampton who I spoke with. She had never heard of Gilad but as I told her about what has happened to him she was appalled and upset. A tear ran down her face. However, she was no defeatist. Her sadness soon turned to steel. She asked for a broad handful of leaflets and told me was going to hand them out back home in Southampton.
With that she marched off to the train station, a new convert to the cause of not just Gilad, but Israel. Her reaction was mirrored by most of those I spoke to that week. There are more of these ‘fair play’ folk than you might think. Specifically, I believe there are more non-Jewish people who are sympathetic to Israel than some of us might think. The problem is that for the most part such people exist quietly and haven’t been mobilised, while the opposite is true of those who hate Israel. Groups like the PSC energetically recruit and then encourage supporters to make noise far beyond their number.
So my quest for 2011 is to find more of these quiet, decent people and add their voices to the chorus of support for Israel. I recently joined the Advisory Board of StandWithUs UK, so that group will be my vehicle for that search.
StandWithUs is exactly the sort of organisation that this country has been crying out for. For too long the pro-Israel movement in Britain has been misdirected and ineffectual. If you want to start changing that then please stay tuned for some important ventures in 2011.