Our last days in Israel have been spent in Jerusalem.
During this time our idyllic location and relaxed and extremely enjoyable socialising has been marred by the thought that soon we shall be returning to blighted Blighty.
Returning home after a vacation has its compensations: seeing family and friends and reconnecting with communal life.
This time it’s not just the awful Manchester weather that gives me a sinking feeling in my gut, but the sense that I am returning from a war zone, where I feel safe, to one where I feel threatened.
War zone? UK a war zone? What is the man talking about!
Well, I happen to be a Jewish man, and the news from the UK for Jews is ever spiralling downward from inconvenience, through trepidation, past intolerable into fear.
Exaggeration? I’m sorry, but my parents, and grandparents were witness to this in the 1930s when blackshirts strode arrogantly behind a British aristocrat, Sir Oswald Mosely.
The unthinkable is becoming reality and ‘overreaction’ is not paranoia but a deep understanding, knowledge, analysis and experience of history which, for most Jews, is engrained in their genes throughout the millenia.
So, whence comes this fear?
The reaction to Israel’s response to continuing rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza has torn the thinly-disguised veil from the face of antisemitism in the UK.
Whilst the mainstream and social media stoke anti-Israel sentiments, even among the most fair-minded British citizen, with hostile, misinformed and downright viciously biased reporting, on the streets, those already inclined to use anything Israel does in self-defence as a trigger for violent protest have been empowered to expose the real motivation behind their obsession.
Antisemitic banners and chanting go unchallenged at protests across Britain; Israel and its supporters, and all Zionists, are called and labelled ‘Nazis’.
Enter the emboldened BDS (Boycott Sanctions and Divestment) brigade, and those too cowardly, just as in the 1930s, to stand up to them.
In Manchester, for over a month, a rag-bag of ‘protestors’ have picketed the Kedem store on King Street in Manchester. The Jewish community, and other supporters of Israel, soon established a counter-protest. The owner of the store is Israeli. The company he owns is wholly British, provides employment for British people, pays British taxes, and all its products are completely sourced from Israel behind the ‘Green Line’.
So why picket it? Why block a popular thoroughfare, jostle and bully anyone who is making the free choice to enter the shop? What has this to do with Gaza? Or settlements?
This Satruday eight protestors were arrested. As far as I could see from videos of the event posted on social media, none of those arrested were of an appearance which might suggest they were Muslim. The violence and the refusal to obey the police came from Left-wing agitators for whom anything associated with Israel is anathema.
The owner of Kedem produced evidence to show that produce was not from settlements, and there was no connection to any settlement whatsoever. He presented this to the leader of the protest group, but it made no difference. The shop-owner, in his desperation to save his legitimate business, made a fundamental error: that error is the belief that ideologically inspired prejudice is subject to reason, logic or facts. History tells us otherwise.
But how soon anti-Israelism descends into its close associate anti-Zionism, which, in turn morphs into its alter ego antisemitism. Many of the counter-demonstrators have reported antisemitic abuse, antisemitic chanting, the ubiquitous Nazi analogies. The Kedem protests are merely an extension of the frequent ‘Free Gaza’ demos, and, indeed, banners and slogans at Kedem are witness to this.
Previous protests outside shops selling Israeli goods have had the pretence that they were only targetting ‘settlement’ goods. The next stage was anything Israeli.
The Tricycle theatre in Kilburn in North West London recently decided to give in to the potential threat of demonstrations outside its premises by attempting to blackmail the London Jewish Film Festival (held at the theatre for the last eight years) into traducing the State of Israel by refusing their £1400 of funding as a prerequisite for continued hosting.
After a storm of protest, and much more damagingly, a number of patrons withdrawing funding, they withdrew their ultimatum. No doubt, this will result in accusations of the power of Jewish money.
So a lose-lose situation for British Jews who, like Israel itself, are damned if they roll over and die and damned if they fight back. And if you think I just created a strawman, a casual stroll through the hashtags on Twitter will disabuse you.
So, as we descend through anti-settlement to anti-Israel, what do we see in Birmingham but a kind of retail pogrom where about 100 people – yes 100 – entered a Tesco store and proceeded to trash not only any Israeli goods they could find, but also anything their deep research and understanding of the conflict indicated was complicit in Israel baby-killing, like a stack of Coca Cola cans.
Terrorised shoppers cowered in disbelief.
Then, on Saturday, the farce of Sainsbury in Holborn, London where, purportedly, although it is far from clear, as a precaution, an employee, maybe the manager, decided to remove all kosher goods – read that again, kosher, not necessarily Israeli, not settlement but, yes, Jewish goods. The precaution was deemed necessary as a nearby ‘Gaza protest’ provoked fear that a Tesco Birmingham retail pogrom would descend upon the good shoppers of Holborn and nearby Gray’s Inn.
There is even an unsubstantiated report that the shelves were cleared by an employee who told a shopper that it was in sympathy with Gaza.
However, this defensive action, which included closing the store, has illicited a storm of protests from angry Jews who, rightly, have identified a new low in the UK where Jews are denied access to kosher produce because protestors, including a local MP, are promoting BDS.
On social media, a recorded phone conversation between Jonathan Sacerdoti, a prominent Jewish Middle East analyst and a delegate to the Board of Deputies, has gone viral.
In this phone call Sacerdoti asks the store’s representative whether, if he were to threaten halal goods, would they be removed from the shelves? The answer was not clear, but the poorly-briefed and defensive employee appears at first to say, ‘no’.
Thus we have descended all the way from protests succesfully closing shops associated with ‘settlements’ to the clearing, albeit reflexively and only briefly, of Jewish goods, per se.
What next for the UK? Targetting kosher restaurants? Kosher grocery stores?
This tweet of mine found resonance with a number of people in the last 24 hours:
‘First they came for the West Bank goods then they came for the Israeli goods then they came for the Jewish goods then they came for the Jews’