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40,000 British Jews rally to side of Israel Gwendoline Lamb was among an estimated 40,000 people to converge on London yesterday for the biggest show of Anglo-Israeli unity in history

British News

May 07, 2002

40,000 British Jews rally to side of Israel

GWENDOLINE LAMB rose long before dawn yesterday, dressed entirely in blue and white to match the Israeli flag, then began her 350-mile journey to Trafalgar Square.

She was among about 40,000 people to converge on London for the biggest show of Anglo-Israeli unity in history. She drove from Middlesbrough to Newcastle upon Tyne to board one of three coaches leaving the city to join the Israel Solidarity Rally, an unapologetic display of affection and loyalty for a country that many Jews see as vilified, terrorised and slandered.

Jews flocked from all over England and Scotland to Trafalgar Square in such unexpectedly large numbers that they had to cling from traffic lights, hang on to a statue of George Washington and climb the walls of the National Gallery to squeeze into the space.

A fearful mood has gripped Jewish people as anti-Semitic attacks increase and events such as the Jenin fighting fuel anti-Israeli propaganda.

Every coach had a representative from the Community Security Trust, which protects synagogues and schools, in case of anti-Semitic attacks en route. Even a sober, professional man such as Bryan Slater, 50, a Manchester lawyer, said: “The reason there weren’t little children here is that we were frightened of suicide bombers. I actually wondered whether I would come away with my legs still on my body.”

Families brought bags full of snacks and soft drinks, but there was no party atmosphere. The crowd arrived subdued and sombre, with occasional bickering between hawks, who seemed to be in the majority, and the occasional dove, expressing concern for Palestinian rights.

The crowd was so vast that speakers such as Peter Mandelson and Lord Janner of Braunstone could be heard by only a minority, but when Benjamin Netanyahu appeared, a respectful silence fell across the square.

Raising spectres of the most terrifying enemies of the Jews — Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden — the former Israeli Prime Minister compared Yassir Arafat to all of them.

For Israel to deal with Arafat was like saying: “The British people would have to come to terms with Hitler because Hitler is the German leader of the German people”, he said.

“Arafat is bin Laden with good PR,” he said. “What do you do with Saddam Hussein? Talk with him? Make concessions to him? You throw him out. Israel must and will throw out Yassir Arafat.”

Mr Netanyahu’s message visibly changed the mood of the crowd, as if a burden of fear and dread was being lifted.

Opposition to him came from a group of about 300 peace activist Jews, shepherded by police on to the steps of the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, who waved placards saying “Jews against occupation” and “Occupation not in my name”, and shouted “Shame” at the right-wing leader. The anti-Sharon group were booed and called “Nazis” by the main crowd.

The other opposition came from about 500 Palestine sympathisers, penned into an area at the end of The Mall, led by a black London Muslim who shouted anti-Israel slogans in rap rhythm to a drum beat.

“Who let the bombs out?” he chanted. “Bush! Sharon!” the crowd of veiled women, bearded Muslim men and Socialist Worker sellers cried.

One Arab, waving a Union Jack, said that he was a Palestinian refugee who has lived in England for two years.

“I love Britain,” Abed said. “It’s America and Israel that are the problem. Palestine is my country. They,” he said, indicating the thousands carrying Israeli flags in the square, “don’t have a country. My grandfather was born in Palestine. These people come from places like Lithuania.”

A little boy, his face contorted, screamed “Israel, you will pay, Hizbollah on their way” from the shoulders of a pro-Palestinian man.

From the safety of Trafalgar Square, with a huge police cordon protecting them, two children of Israeli supporters stuck their thumbs down at the Muslims.

The pro-Palestinians chanted: “Sharon and Hitler are the same, the only difference is the name”. They wore badges distorting the Star of David into a swastika.

Resting on a low wall in front of the National Gallery was Alfred Goldschmidt, 77, who escaped Hamburg in 1939, just in time to avoid joining his parents in Auschwitz. “Of course it’s offensive,” the grandfather of six from West Hampstead in northwest London, said, shaking his head.

John Gerwitz, 63, from Stanmore, North London, said: “Jews are very frightened. I was speaking to a concentration camp survivor who has advised her children to go to America. She said it started like this in Germany with synagogues being desecrated. She is perhaps overreacting.”

By the end of the rally, Ms Lamb, like tens of thousands of fellow Jews, was feeling confident, cheerful and defiant. As the crowd dispersed, she said: “This is wonderful, wonderful. Just look, this is to show people that we are not an insignificant minority as the BBC makes out. There are thousands of coaches on the Embankment. This is a peaceful rally to show that Jewish people throughout Britain are only decent, clean people who want a homeland.”

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