Yesterday I walked the long 500 yards from my home with a few other people to witness both the Pro-Lieberman protest and the Anti-Lieberman PSC protest.
As I arrived there were about twenty protesters from both groups. On the one side, a protest organised hastily by the British Israel Coalition (BIC) and on the other, one organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
We decided that we did not want to join either group, as both are as deluded as each other.
Why, as a committed Zionist did I not join the Pro-Israel protest, you may ask?
Because I see a strong difference between Hasbara (defending the State of Israel) and Zionism (the fulfilling of the Zionist dream, as enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence) – both have purposes and both actions I do and will perform, however, I will not defend a man who’s values stand contrary to those defined in Israel’s founding document. Israel was founded as a Jewish and Democratic State, free for all of the people inhabiting the land, including minorities. This is something that Mr Lieberman opposes, and is why I cannot support this man, despite him being the democratically elected Foreign Minister of Israel. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the British Israel Coaltion see this difference. For the BIC is it pretty clear cut, you are either with them or against them.
My opposition to Avigdor Lieberman does not mean that I automatically fall into the PSC/Anti-Israel camp, I oppose the PSC/BDS just as much. I feel that their constant attempts to delegitimise Israel, and supporters of Israel does nothing for the Palestinian cause, nothing for British community relations and ultimately is a loose association of people from the peace movement, fanatical Muslims, and antisemites.
If there was a Zionist Anti-Lieberman protest I would have joined that, as this man does not speak for my Zionism.
Neither of the protest groups were presenting a coherent message of two free states, for two free peoples. This is the message that was lost and has been lost now for a long time in the discourse that takes place.
Anyway, an hour or so in and most people had arrived. With the British Israel Coalition you had a pen of around seventy people, and across the road, and outside an additional twenty. Most had Israeli flags wrapped around themselves. In the PSC area (as they decided not to use the pen given to them by the police, but to occupy a small green area nearest the entrance to the Hotel) you had about sixty protesters.
From then on you could easily have mistaken this for a football match. Both groups ceased even mentioned Avigdor Lieberman and just started chanting at each other. This is when my shame began. From where I was sitting, I could hear both sides pretty clearly and some of the slogans both were shouting at each other were disgusting. I expect such explosive language from the PSC, as many are rooted in the far left and it is no secret that the far lefts vocabulary is colourful, at all protests. Shouting (their most common slogan) ‘From the River to the sea, Palestine will be free’ clearly expresses a sentiment that Israel should not exist, and that the Jewish people do not have the right to a homeland at all. This is offensive and antisemetic. The Jewish people, as with all others, including the Palestinians, have the right to self-determination, and anyone who refuses a people that right is bigoted.
What shocked me was the behaviour of many in the Pro-Israel pen. You had chants fairly regularly proclaiming that “There is no such thing as Palestine”, you could hear clearly a protester shouting at a young Pakistani man filming the protest “go home to Pakistan you Paki, this is not your country” you had more chants calling the PSC “Islamist Fascists” and the people with megaphones were evoking anti-fascist language. Claiming that we (the Jews) should “Drive these fascists out of Hendon”. The language was emotive, aggressive and embarrassing for me as a Jew and as a Zionist.
The key problem here, and the problem with the British Israel Coalition is either a)They do not actually organise/have any control over these protests. b) They purposely want to intimidate anti-Israel protesters, almost as if it is a tit-for-tat game.
You cannot organise such protests/campaigns unless you have a coherent message and proper stewarding to ensure the highest standards from participants. I do not think that the BIC care about standards. They just want a crowd with pitchforks.
I’m going to ‘out’ my favourite person in the BIC. The person shouting racist abuse at the young Pakistani man was standing right next to Jonathan Hoffman. Jonathan Hoffman is the leading light of this coalition of nutters. He is also the Co-Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation. At no point did Jonathan Hoffman intervene or try to tone down the protester standing next to him. He stood by, waving his Israeli flag, shouting other stuff, which although not racist, I do not find particularly inspiring. It is fair to say that he is one of the leaders of the UK Zionist right, one of the figureheads of the staunch Zionist Israel can do no wrong crowd, but he showed a complete lack of leadership by not intervening. I am not sure what is worse, someone shouting such abuse or no one intervening.
At the end I saw the worst part. The PSC group were going to leave, and march to Hendon Central. The Pro-Israel group followed them, kettled them and forced the police to give them an escort to the station. This is not how Jews should behave, we do not behave like thugs.
The only real positive is that in Hendon, one of the most Jewish and Zionist areas in the country, people did not come out in mass numbers to support the BIC. The BIC (and Avigdor Lieberman) are out of step with British Jewry, out of step with British Zionists and the poor showing yesterday showed that cannot claim to be the ‘Fastest growing Pro-Israel movement in the UK’.
Anyone there will know that Liebermans presence was not required. These two groups came as a reaction to each other – not to defend any principle. Ultimately, yesterday was shameful for all. Now time to reflect.