Monday, September 17, 2012

“Tomorrow in Jerusalem “

Last Thursday evening I attended a packed meeting in Hendon organised by the three Barnet Borough MPs, Matthew Offord, Mike Freer and Theresa Villiers to allow residents to hear and then question the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the Middle East Alistair Burt MP. Mr Burt is very familiar with North London having started his political career as a Councillor on the London Borough of Haringey in the days of the loony left. I suspect the Middle East is a piece of cake compared to morass of 1980s Haringey politics but I do not envy him either job.
Over nearly two hours Burt explained the current Government’s policy on the Middle East and answered a couple of dozen questions from a well informed and not exclusively Jewish audience. Burt came across as a Minister in full command of his brief and as reasonable, controlled and informed. As a former member of the Conservative Friends of Israel (an organisation he had to resign from when appointed a Minister) he approached the subject of the Middle East from a position of a long term supporter of the State of Israel
As a loyal Conservative I support the vast majority of the Government’s policy (except some of the daft stuff proposed by the Lib Dems) but on the issue of dealing with Israel even I wish our Government would throw off some of the shackles imposed by the traditionally Arabist minded civil servants and be a little more supportive. In particular it is high time that the British Government recognised that so called East Jerusalem is not occupied territory but is part of one city and that city is the legitimate capital city of the State of Israel. It is obvious that Israel will never surrender any part of Jerusalem, and neither should it. Just as Germans never accepted the division of Berlin and Cypriots will not accept the division of the city of Nicosia, to somehow suggest that the Biblical holy city of Jerusalem should have some sort of barrier built through it like Belfast at the height of “the Troubles” beggars’ belief.
Likewise the Minister maintained that the building by Israel of settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan was somehow an obstacle to Peace.  Anyone who has visited Israel is struck by a number of things but the first is the size of the Country. Israel is tiny; and with an increasing population has a need to expand to provide the promised home for all Jews; hence the settlements built on unused vacant land on the West Bank.
The main blockage to peace is not the settlements but the failure of Israel ’s neighbours, Egypt excepted, to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. This leads us on to the demonisation of Israel across the Islamic World and Alistair Burt was strong in his condemnation of this demonisation.
Of course here in the United Kingdom we have substantial experience of the demonisation of Israel, most notoriously by the Guardian newspaper and the anti-Israel bias of the BBC. The former BBC Middle East correspondent, the vile, Orla Guerin was quite rightly subject to formal complaint from the Israeli Government and was finally replaced by the more rounded reporting of veteran Jeremy Bowen after a visit to Israel by the BBC Director General Mark Thompson. The antics of the former Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone showed that on the left hatred of Israel still exists. Livingstone’s claim that he was not anti-semitic just anti-Zionist appeared not to be believed by many within and without the Jewish Community.
Of course whereas now we have the demonisation of the State of Israel, in the 1930s we had the demonisation of the Jewish people. Across Europe the far right and in the Soviet Union, the far left whipped their peoples into a frenzy of anti-semitism the like of which had not been seen since the Middle Ages, which lead to the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews.  In the UK despite the activities of Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts Britain escaped the worst excesses of anti-semitism and the Jewish community flourished and prospered. However it was not just Mosley in the East End stirring up anti-semitism amongst the white working class, in 1930s Britain there was a deep seated underlying hatred of Jews amongst some sections of the upper and professional classes. After the war when Britons learnt of the appalling nature of the Holocaust, anti-semitism was not in the slightest bit fashionable or indeed acceptable in polite society, but it never disappeared.
Locally there are still some who remember the great “Golf Club scandal“ of the early sixties when certain local Golf Club refused to admit Jewish Members, the late singer Frankie Vaughan being one of those blackballed. I was appalled a few years when discussing the Sternberg Centre planning application with a constituent from Squires Lane Finchley on the phone, to be told “these people are ruining Finchley“, when I asked “which people?” back came the reply “The Jews”. Some of the opposition to the development of the Etz Chaim Primary School in Mill Hill recently blatantly had nothing to do with planning issues and the antics of the so called Palestine Solidarity Campaign in disrupting cultural events, including last years Prom Concert by the Israeli Philharmonic and this years Edinburgh Festival reminds me of Nazi book burning. Attempts to intimidate politicians on the North London Waste Authority, whilst attracting some support from the left wing London Borough of Islington has failed to stop the Authority conducting a procurement process which includes the French owned company Veolia.
Veolia which is involved with excellent new light transit system in Jerusalem which is transforming public transport in that city whilst preserving the historic environment has been a particular target for attack but it is not the only business doing legitimate trade with Israel that has been targeted
The attempts to intimidate me over the North London Waste Authority procurement contract, which have included a series of politically motivated complaints to the Standards Board and an attempt to have me arrested at Camden town hall have just made me more determined to resist this new form of anti-semitism.
A Jewish friend of mine said to me only the other week that if you scratch the surface of some of the polite middle classes living in Barnet you find the anti-semitism just below the surface, sometime they try and dress it up as anti-Zionism which they do not consider the same as anti-semitism but you cannot dispute the fact that those who want the State of Israel to disappear inevitable want the Jewish people to disappear as well.      


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