Large Rally for Israel in London; Increasing Sympathy for Israel's Plight

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

In perhaps the biggest-ever public gathering organized by British Jewry, tens of thousands gathered in London's Trafalgar Square last Monday afternoon for a pro-Israel rally.


Police said some 50,000 people attended the rally held on the British Whitsun bank holiday.


About 350 buses brought tens of thousands of Jews from all over Britain, including thousands of pupils, students and members of youth groups. A small pro-Palestinian counter-demonstration of 300 people was held nearby.


Security was very tight and London police used thousands of officers deployed throughout the square and the surrounding streets.


Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the rally that Israel should not allow a state under Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, and said if a state were created under his leadership, it would not be friendly and peaceful, but a terrorist state.


"We have to debunk the myths created by the totalitarian regime of Arafat," Netanyahu said. "Arafat must go because he did not turn out to be King Hussein, but Saddam Hussein."


Were it not for Britain's resistance against the Nazis, the course of history might have been very different, Netanyahu said. "But now Britain stands before another road, and it must choose between two opposing paths, the path of appeasing terror or the path or confronting terror," he said


British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who noted that the gathering was the largest in the history of British Jewry, said, "Israel will not stand alone."


The rally was also addressed by former Labor Party minister Peter Mandelson, and Conservative Party deputy leader and shadow foreign minister Michael Ancram.


"Violence and terror will only delay and obstruct the just outcome they seek," Mandelson said. "Politics, not violence, secures peoples' lives."


Mandelson added that a vision of peace benefiting all had sustained the peace process for years.


A small number of Jewish peace activists, including groups called Just Peace and Jews for Justice to Palestine, staged a small vigil opposing the main rally. The left wing Peace Now organization boycotted the rally, claiming that it was a show piece to support the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


An unusual coalition has been shaping up and gaining ground in Britain in recent weeks. Its members include right-wing extremists who contend that "Israel has got the right idea on how to deal with these Arabs," Protestants in Northern Belfast who express their support for Israel by waving Israeli flags against the Palestinian flags waved by the Catholics, and representatives of the two major British parties.


Some two weeks ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the bold statement that, "Friendship between nations is tested in times of crisis and trouble, and Britain will not walk away."


The British Trade and Industry Ministry decided not to change Israel's status as a preferred target market and columnists in major publications -- including The Spectator, The Times and The Economist -- have expressed understanding of and recognition for Israel's special situation, as well as support for its fight against terror.


Joining them are tabloids such as The Sun and mass- circulation newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, which have adopted a clear pro- Israeli line in recent months.


The Conservative Party which, with the exception of the Thatcher years, has tended to be lukewarm towards Israel, has changed its tune.


Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith, the head of the opposition, was warmly praised by the British Jewish community and Israeli representatives when he appeared three weeks ago in parliament armed with copies of documents that were confiscated by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield and showed that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and other senior PA officials had approved and funded terror operations against Israel.


Blair went even further later in the debate, blaming the PA for its "inability, or refusal, to control terrorism properly" and condemning what he described as its "revolving- door" policy of arresting suspected terrorists and letting them go shortly thereafter.


The change in the Conservatives' public stance toward Israel began about four months ago and was in line with the party's ideological stance on issues such as rule of law, fight against terrorism and support for democratic values.


Duncan Smith, who addressed the fundraising dinner of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) took a considerable risk when he confined his criticism not only to Palestinian terrorists "whose sole objective is to destroy Israel and everything she represents," but also blasted the British media.


"Surely it is time that our national broadcasters, not just, but including the BBC, stopped describing Hamas and Jihad with such euphemisms as radical and militant? Let us call things what they are: They are terrorist organizations."


Two weeks ago, at another CFI event, Duncan Smith raised eyebrows even more. "The Conservative party recognizes Israel's right to protect its citizens," he said, expressing support for Israeli military operations against the Palestinians.


He said he would work to root out antisemitism in Britain.


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