Thousands of Israel’s supporters flocked to London’s Embassy this week to show solidarity with the state and stress the Government’s right to defend her citizens against rocket attacks.
A day after hateful chants of ‘From the river to the sea’ were heard during a massive pro-Palestinian demonstration in the capital, crowds amassed on both sides of Kensington High Street holding banners calling for peace for both Israelis and Gazans.
The event – organised by the Zionist Federation with the backing of 50 organisations across the communal spectrum – was the first time that Israel’s supporters had flooded onto the streets since Operation Protective Edge was launched two weeks ago.
“While Israel is under attack from Hamas rockets, drones and tunnels, it is so important to see this show of tremendous support here in London for the millions of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, who have to live in reach of bomb shelters, and for the defense forces who are risking their lives to protect them,” Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub told the more than 4,000-strong gathering.
As flag-waving crowds sung ‘Am Yisrael Chai’, Labour MP Louise Ellman explained that a ceasefire remained impossible while the barrage continued, while ZF chairman Paul Charney – who recited prayers for Israel’s fallen soldiers as news emerged that 13 had been lost in one day – insisted that “the road to peace does not run through Hamas”. He added: “If these so called pro-Palestinian demonstrators really cared about the Palestinians they would be standing alongside us here today”.
Amid evidence of an anti-Semitic backlash against British Jews since the start of the conflict, the Board of Deputies Vivian Wineman called on all communities in London to stand together in “importing peace” rather than conflict. Many of those attending the rally fell to the ground as the noise of the siren that warns of these incoming rockets was replicated in the capital.
Student Natanelle Rajwan, 21, said the event created “a real feeling of unity”. “Civilian dying in Gaza is extremely sad and it’s absolutely not what we want but Israel needs to defend itself against these attacks. The only reason more Israelis are not dying is not because of Hamas but because of the Iron Dome. Otherwise there would be many more casualties.”
Also joining the throngs was David Freitas, part of a group of Christian supporters from Brazil now living in London. Chanting ‘Brazil for Israel’ and carrying the flags of both countries, the English teacher said: “Israel has so many enemies and we have to say to the whole world we are together.” Another supporter from Germany added: “It’s an amazing turnout. I hope this sends a clear message to Israelis that they are not alone.”
Rabbi Yosef Vogel, of the Centre fort Jewish Life, described the rally was “a powerful expression of the unity of our people”.
Live music and singing rang out throughout the two-hour event while flags were enthusiastically waved from taxis and motorbikes organised by Yids on Bikes and Jews on Bikes. A few cars carrying Palestinian flags also drove through the road at various points, past Israel’s supporters and a counter-demonstration numbering less than 100.
The main rally was also addressed by former Sderot mayor David Bouskila. Among his compatriots present was former IDF artillery brigade member Erez, who recently moved to London. “The Israeli people really need to see this amazing show of support. I hope it will reinforce the feeling we’re all tied together regardless of where we are in the world.”
Referring to the various demonstrations for Gaza in London, he added: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but people should make sure they’re not blindfolded. The Palestinians need to understand they’re in charge of own of destiny and to make sure they’re not being fooled by those using them as propaganda.”
Alan Aziz, ZF Director, said: “Despite the short-notice, the pro-Israel community came out in strength today. While Israelis have become used to seeing the world ignoring the threats they face and jumping up to condemn for seeking to defend themselves, today thousands of people came out to show them that they are not alone.
“The ZF would like to thank the many organisations and individuals who contributed to the success of the day.”
While the event was largely peaceful – with no arrests – some hateful chanting was heard from a few pro-Israel people on the fringes of the event. There were also reports of one man being assaulted by pro-Palestinians. Police confirmed that a man was treated by London Ambulance Service at the scene. On Saturday, at least 15,000 people marched through the capital to the Embassy to demand an end to the military operation. Diane Abbott and George Galloway were among the speakers at the event, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.