Israel, Zionism and the Media

Tag: Manchester

Big Tent for Israel – A Day to Remember

The Big Tent for Israel conference at the Mercure Piccadilly hotel in Manchester city centre on Sunday November 27th was an outstanding success for the organisers, the Manchester Jewish community and the inspiration behind the conference, Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag of the Whitefield Hebrew Congregation.

More than 700 people came from throughout the country to the event aimed at encouraging  grass-roots advocacy and activism to counter the delegitimisation of the State of Israel in the UK.

The Reut Institute in Tel Aviv has identified five streams of delegitimisation in public life: politics, media, churches, academia and trades unions.

The conference invited speakers, experts and trainers from the UK, Israel and the United States to facilitate discussion, learning and workshops in these five spheres.

The keynote speaker at the opening plenary was Israel’s Ambassador  H.E. Daniel Taub who thrilled the audience in a packed International Suite with a stirring speech outlining Israel’s many successes and achievements and castigating the lies of its detractors.

Well-known speakers at the many sessions included Douglas Murray and Lorna Fitzsimons of BICOM who delivered a rousing keynote finale in the closing Plenary telling the delegates that each and every one of them can, and should, contribute to advocacy.

Other speakers included Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute, Yakov Triptou of Israeli Trades Unions organisation, Histadrut.  Bishop Dr Doye Agama, Revd Steve Williams and the Revd Alan Morris were just three of many leading Christian supporters of Israel.

The Muslim community was also represented by two outstanding speakers: Mohammed Amin of the The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester and Kasim Hafeez. Kasim amazed and moved the audience with the story of his journey from anti-Semite to Zionist.

Other outstanding contributors were professor of international law, Prof. Ronnie Sabel of the Hebrew University, Marcus Sheff of The Israel Project, Andrew White of Beyond Images and Stuart Palmer –  an expert in Social Media.

The presence and participation of the British Jewish leadership organisations gave a huge boost and endorsement to the conference. These included Vivian Wineman and Jon Benjamin from the Board of Deputies, Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Leadership Council and Harvey Rose of the Zionist Federation. A video message from Mick Davis, head of the UJIA and the JLC was well received.

Local community leaders also featured prominently: Lucille Cohen of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region , Joy Wolfe MBE of Stand With Us UK, David Arnold of the Council of Christians and Jews and Doreen Gerson of Trade Union Friends of Israel all of whom were organisers of the event along with myself and Benjy Black.

There were also student and youth sessions and a special reception for students provided by the Israeli Embassy.

The event was a triumph for Debbie Marks of Qube Events who made all the arrangements for the venue and whose efforts brought great praise from the organisers and delegates.

The CST provided an amazing security regime and ensured the safety of everyone.

Reaction and feedback from the event has been very positive, and the organisers hope to use the conference to support grassroots activism in the community.

Some pictures have been posted here

Mike Leigh, Israel and the boycott

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18: Director Mike Leigh attends the 'Another Year' press conference during the 54th BFI London Film Festival at the Vue West End on October 18, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images)

I returned from Berlin this week to be confronted by the Jewish Chronicle’s front page about the Salford-born, eminent film director, Mike Leigh and his decision not to go to Israel to teach a masterclass in Jerusalem and Jenin.

I was somewhat disappointed that Leigh felt he had to make this decision. I don’t see Leigh as one of the self-haters or ‘as-a-Jews’ as they are sometimes termed. Here is a man who grew up in a very Jewish part of Manchester, was a member of Habonim and a Zionist. His mother spent her final days at the same Jewish care home as my own mother. He has always been regarded with pride by the Jewish community in Manchester and Salford.

So it is instructive to see how yet another prominent Jew has fallen out of love with Israel and has decided to publicly make a series of remarks which are gratuitous, hurtful and which completely misrepresent Israel, and characterise it in what is now a fashionable way for many in the media and arts who see the Middle East conflict, not for what it is, an existential struggle, but through the prism of their own political dogma.

I’ll take a while to dissect Leigh’s thought processes so we can better understand his decision.

The full article by Stephen Applebaum and Simon Rocker can be seen here.

Leigh calls Israel’s policies suicidal. In other words, he believes that the current government is taking Israel down a path towards some sort of disaster, even annihilation, perhaps. The recent loyalty oath law was, for him, ‘the last straw’.

So, it is the right-wing nature of the Netanyahu coalition and its policies which have led him to decide to become part of the boycott. He was already ‘uncomfortable’ about going, but this oath law really swayed it for him. Really? Not exactly the Nuremburg Laws is it.

We can see he was wrestling with his one-time Zionist credentials and his conscience about appearing to condone policies of a government at the opposite end of the political spectrum to his own views.

Now, I’m a bit of an old lefty myself, believe it or not, and during the 1980’s I decided I would not go to Israel because I disagreed with the settlement policy on the ‘West Bank’. I, of course, was, and remain a nonentity. My ‘boycott’ was personal. So I sort of understand where he is coming from as a public figure and a man of conscience.  If it is ‘your people’ that you violently disagree with, then you feel a moral obligation to make a stand which you wouldn’t make for a country that you don’t identify with.

My ‘boycott’, however, showed that at some level I did still identify with Israel, and that I cared enough to make my little stand.

Things changed for me when I studied the history of the conflict and the Jewish people. I was finally radicalised by the discovery that, Israel, an imperfect country, was not in a struggle for land and borders, but was being demonised and delegitimised in an attempt to utterly destroy it. I also saw that this was part of a globalised and sanctioned neo-anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism. I saw that, as a Jew (yes, that phrase again) I was a target and a proposed victim of this insanity.

I saw that little or no space had been left for measured criticism of Israel. I saw that Israel had become the Jew amongst world states. And I saw that the cheer-leaders for this demonisation were mainly Islamic states with appalling human rights records, no democracy, no press freedom or free speech, religious intolerance, misogyny, often barbaric laws, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

At the same time I saw an imperfect Israel where there is democracy, a free press, freedom of religion, a robust and independent judiciary and free speech. I saw a country which despite its history and its imperfections has some of the finest universities in the world, is a leader in technology, medicine, environmentalism.

There are many things to dislike about some aspects of Israeli society, there are many societal problems, there is discrimination, poverty, crime, zealotry. In other words, Israel is like many other western democracies.

I saw an Israel prepared to make concessions and sacrifices for peace.

My personal boycott of Israel ended. Mike Leigh’s is just beginning, but is he motivated as I was 30 years ago?

Let’s continue with Leigh’s interview and statements he made.

As a member of the Jewish youth movement, Habonim, he believes he was ‘duped by Israeli propaganda’. Strange this. He was in Habo’ more than 50 years ago when there was no ‘occupation’ and no Palestinian cause. So what was he being duped about?

It appears that these feelings are related to ‘religion’. He calls organised religion ‘bull****’

So now we have a self-confessed liberal left atheist. Fine. Nothing wrong with that, although he needn’t be quite so disrespectful of 2000 years of Jewish scholarship, learning and community, let alone his own ancestors. After all, were it not for this ‘bull****’ he would not be here at all enjoying his nice life as a successful film director.

Presumably it’s not just Judaism he would describe in these terms.

Then we cut to the chase in this interview:

While cultural talks went on “in the nice cinematheques of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, it is hell on earth in Gaza and I wouldn’t want to be there basically”.

Ah! Now we really see where he is coming from. He has bought into the ‘liberal left’ Gaza myth. The myth that Gaza is hell, and it’s hell because of the Israelis.

Mr Leigh, who insisted that all his work was “unquestionably Jewish”, was dismissive about rocket attacks on Israel. “I don’t want to know about rockets,” he said. “What I am concerned with is humanity, is life being lived properly. And you cannot deal with this issue from an Israeli perspective and not from a Palestinian or a Gaza perspective. You simply can’t. And if you do it’s totally unacceptable. And that’s the bottom line.”

Agreed! And what is that Gaza perspective? Gaza which Israel evacuated completely several years ago and which was then used as a base to attack Israel. He doesn’t want to know about rockets. What the hell does he think caused the Gaza ‘misery’ in the first place. Does he want to put his fingers in his ears and jump up and down whilst Israelis have to run to bunkers like his parents in the blitz, and for much longer?

Does Leigh not realise that what is motivating Hamas and Hizbollah, even Fatah and certainly Ahmadinejad is religion, which he sees as ‘bull****’? Is there no contradiction there? Or is only Judaism faecal?

It’s not as if the eminent film director has put together a cogent argument to boycott Israel.

Like so many well-meaning people of conscience with left-wing political views, Mike Leigh remains ignorant of facts and perhaps a tad intimidated by his fellow luvvies on the Left.

Along with Cameron and Miliband and Clegg and so many others, he sees the Palestinians as victims and the Israelis as aggressors when the truth is, and always has been, largely the opposite.

Leigh has been in a struggle all his life, it seems, a struggle between his Jewish identity and his liberal left political views. Over time, as he has become more and more detached from his roots, he has increasingly moved towards the camp of those other Jews who even more stridently confess their hatred of Israel and their compassion for its enemies.

When it comes to ‘bull****’ Mike Leigh should take a long hard look at the propaganda, not of Israel, but of those who are determined to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.

Maybe when Gaza really is a prison camp, but one for the remnant of Israeli Jews, he will realise that the ‘bull***’ was actually on the other side and he is buried in it.

Why everyone should make Auschwitz Pilgrimage

This is a transcript of my letter published today in the Manchester Jewish Telegraph:

READER Stewart Reubens wrote last week that he would never go to Poland and that visiting Israel was a better way to commemorate our survival.

He was responding to the Jewish Telegraph’s complaint that Britain was poorly represented on the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau.

While I would strongly agree that every Jew should visit Israel as often as they can, I have personal experience of the March of the Living.

I believe it is very important that our youth and, indeed, the older post-Holocaust generation should also visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.

If they can take in “the march”, so much the better.

In 1998 I flew with Manchester’s King David High School to Krakow and then went by coach to take part in the 10th anniversary of the march.

On my return I wrote in the Jewish Telegraph:

“I remember the soul-piercing sound of the shofar which began our march in Auschwitz. I remember walking with pride and defiance beneath those infamous words Arbeit Macht Frei amidst a forest of Israeli flags. I remember our young boys and girls from King David walking with thousands of young Jews and many adults like myself from all over the world in a river of blue coats which stretched in front and behind as far as the eye could see.

“I remember the impassive stare of the Poles who watched in silence. I remember the gates of Birkenau draped in a Magen David.

“I remember the clear, strong voice of Rabbi Israel Lau who told us we are an immortal people.

“I remember the words of Binyamin Netanyahu who proclaimed that we are the victors, not the vanquished and that we are invincible.

“I remember the cry in the voice of the cantor as he sang El Molei Rachamim when I thought my heart would burst.

“And I remember the Kaddish and the singing of Hatikvah in that place, in that hell.”

It isn’t about “survivor guilt”, Mr Reubens, it’s about survivor pride. We are still here, and all the Ahmadinejads, Hamases and Hezbollahs of this world cannot destroy us.

Their efforts to deny or belittle the Holocaust are best defeated by our honouring the memory of the victims; and where better than amidst the ruins of the instruments of their murder.

I returned from Poland with my spirit uplifted and with a bounce in my step. Never have I felt more Jewish than in Birkenau singing Hatikvah. Never have I been more proud to be part of the Jewish people.             

Thoughts on the Manchester Rally for Peace in Israel and Gaza

On Sunday I had the great privilege of being able to attend the Rally for Peace for the People of Israel and Gaza held in Albert Square with hundreds of people from the North West of England.

I think all those who attended would agree that the most inspiring, uplifting and moving speech was made by a non-Jew, Lorna Fitzsimons, former MP for Rochdale and now CEO of BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre), an organisation dedicated to tell the truth about Israel and its detractors and to counter the half-truths, lies and bias of the British media. She spoke of her recent visit to Sderot and her passionate support of Israel and the Jewish people. To hear such truth from someone not of a Jewish background drew the loudest cheers and many tears. Lorna proclaimed that it should not be left to the Jewish People alone to tell the world the truth but that it was the duty of everyone.

What a striking contrast, then, to those Jews of Jews for Justice for Palestinians who stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Islamists, left-wing agitators, Stop The War Coalition and others. As Joy Wolfe asked for one minute’s silence to remember the victims in both Israel AND Gaza, the counter-demonstrators, who had kept up a constant barrage of noise and abuse throughout, could be heard to chant ‘Kill The Jews’. What did the Jews in that counter-demonstration feel at that point, I wonder. Although these misguided individuals have every right to their beliefs and opinions and also to march or demonstrate in support of those beliefs, it is beyond appalling that they should associate with the Jew-haters, islamo-fascists and left-wing dupes and find themselves actually marching IN SUPPORT OF HAMAS, an organisation dedicated to kill every Jew in the world, including (well-meaning) them. Make no mistake; if they thought they were marching to show that Jews too feel for the people of Gaza and Palestine then not only should they have been with us inside Albert Square, but they were naive to the point of recklessness. How sad it is that our fellow Jews should send such a message to the world. Frankly, their behaviour is scandalous and I hope they learned a lesson that day.

In London and Manchester the calm, thoughtful and dignified rallies for peace and life were in stark contrast to the rabid behaviour of the anti-Zionists and Jew-haters who clearly showed just why Jews need their own state and a state that is militarily strong enough not only to defend itself but to have the strength of will to act in the teeth of world ‘opinion’. The prostrate leaders of the world’s democracies have shown themselves to be more concerned about potential insurrection at home from an enemy within than the pursuit of peace and the facing down of these jihadis and their deranged fellow-travellers.