It was after lunch several Fridays ago that I politely declined an offer to have a beer with a friend and told him I had to go elsewhere instead – a counter-demonstration organized by British Israel Coalition outside the Israeli Embassy in High St. Kensington.
The demonstration, organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to mark “The March to Jerusalem,” attracted around 600 indoctrinated supporters, many of whom are under 25, as well as a couple of Neturei Karta figures, all holding banners and various flags, chanting racist slogans which call to “burn Israel,” and to “liberate Palestine with blood and fire.” One banner had a swastika superimposed on a Star of David.
Clearly these were people who were not interested in a peaceful two-state solution, but in the destruction of Israel. On our side there were just under 20 people, most of them my parents’ age and above. Among them, a man on a wheelchair and few Christian supporters of Israel.
A young Jewish schoolgirl who passed by the area with her mom on their way home was shocked by the vile nature of the demonstration, but also by the lack of supporters for Israel. She immediately burst into tears and refused to leave the premises. The question asked therefore is simple: Where are the so-called leaders of the Jewish community? Why haven’t any well-funded organizations such as the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Union of Jewish Students take an active role? Surely dozens of supporters could have attended the counter-demonstration and helped us make a stronger case for Israel and the Jewish people.
It was close to Shabbat, some might argue. Even so, many could have come and left, reaching their homes before Shabbat begins. Many non-Jewish organizations could have been alerted and encouraged to support well ahead of time. Sadly Shabbat is not the problem. The apathetic approach of the community is. At times, when they respond, they argue that countering these demonstrations gives the extremists the publicity they look for. But this is a wrong and dated approach.
The reality is that the level of hostility against Israel has reached an all-time high in the UK because it is not being countered strongly and effectively. Let us be honest: There is a growing bias in the media against Israel, there are more and more anti-Semitic incidents recorded (and probably many more not recorded), universities host extremists speakers who preach hatred against Israel and Jews, and in local politics we have people like George Galloway who are being elected on racist and divisive campaigns while a Labour candidate for London Mayor claims that Jews won’t be voting for him because they are rich.
Following the counter-demonstration I was invited to a Shabbat dinner in Chabad House in central London. As usual, during the meal the rabbi gave a short Dvar Torah, and this week’s lesson couldn’t be more relevant.
It was in 1974 and soon after the Yom Kippur War that Rabbi Yisrael Lau (later to be chief rabbi of Israel) came to Brooklyn to visit the Rebbe. During their conversation the Rebbe asked him what the Jewish people in Israel were saying these days. Rabbi Lau replied that Jews were asking “what will be?” The Rebbe grabbed his arm and said: “Jews don’t ask what will be, they ask what we are going to do.”
The lesson derived from it is that those who ask “what will be” are apathetic to the situation in which they are in, while those asking “what are we going to do,” take a proactive stance. Therefore, we should have a clear plan how to counter these anti- Israel demonstrators, how to stop the delegitimization of Israel in the UK and in Europe and how to make the case for Israel as strong as possible in the media and in the eyes of the public.
Leadership of a community is not just about releasing press statements and attending receptions and gala dinners, it is about the strategy, presence and the action taken to protect the interests of the community. Just like we needed Moses to lead us from Egypt into the promised land, we need an active and strong leadership for the Jewish community in the UK.
Tal Ofer is a London-based Member of the European Jewish Parliament.