Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Sunday 31 October 2010

Methodist Boycotters Try Some Cyber Warfare – and Boycott Challenger David Hallam Holds Fast

You’ll probably remember that at their conference this summer – in obedience to a call from the World Council of Churches – Britain’s Methodists, on the motion of Rev Nichola Jones seconded by Dr Stephen Leah, voted to boycott Israeli goods from “illegal settlements” in the Disputed (aka “Occupied”) Territories. The Methodists, whose lengthy conference report on which the vote was taken heeded such serial Israel-defamers as Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Robert Fisk and Anglican cleric Stephen Sizer, but studiously ignored mainstream Jewish voices, also voted to review whether Zionism is compatible with their beliefs.

The Board of Deputies reflected Jewish communal opinion as a whole in observing:
“This outcome is extremely serious and damaging, as we and others have explained repeatedly over recent weeks. Israel is at the root of the identity of Jews and of Judaism, and is an expression of Jewish spiritual, national and emotional aspirations. Zionism cannot simply be ruled as illegitimate in the way that the conference has purported to do. This smacks of breathtaking insensitivity, as crass as it is misinformed. That this position should now form the basis of Methodist Church policy should cause the conference to hang its head in shame, just as surely as it will cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation to cheer from the sidelines.”
“In the Bible we learn of the Chosen People”, said Rev Jones.
Who are they and what are they chosen for? Genesis tells us again and again that God choose Abraham and makes a covenant with Abraham and his heirs. A covenant being a two-sided agreement with obligations on both parties, like marriage. God’s covenant with the Children of Israel, Abraham’s heirs, is that he will be their God and they will be his people if they walk humbly before God, obey God’s laws and are a light to the nations....Of course, Israel today is not the same as Israel in the Bible: in the Bible, Israel refers to the people of Abraham’s descendants, who are in covenant with God. Israel today is a modern, secular state, created in 1948”.
That, to most people’s ears, surely sounds like an endorsement of supersecessionist theology – avowing that Jews have been superseded as the Chosen People and a form of undermining the Jews' divinely-sanctioned entitlement to their ancestral land  – and yet another weapon of choice in the “soft war” (which I referred to in my last blogpost) being waged with odious intensity on all fronts against the Jewish State.

Dr Leah, who as well as being a Methodist minister chairs the York branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, is a lyricist on the side – his muse aroused by anti-Israel spleen, he penned alternate words to  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, making that familiar carol a vehicle of invective against the Jewish State. Regarding the Methodist motion, Leah remarked: “I personally would like to have divestment going a little bit further into the full boycott of Israel, but I know how much I can get away with in the churches sometimes.... Churches are paranoid about being critical of Israel sometimes, they want to be balanced all the time, we must put pressure on church leaders.” (Hat tip: Seismic Shock).

Just recently, Terry Gallogly, Secretary of the York PSC, and also an advocate of a total boycott on Israel including its trade union movement Histadrut, suggested that anti-Zionists answer in the affirmative a Jewish Chronicle website poll regarding the far-right ostensibly Israel-supporting English Defence League (EDL) in order that it would appear that the Jewish community approved of forging links with the EDL: "People might like to vote in this poll if only to embarass Hoffie [Jonathan Hoffman] and the Zionist Federation”, advised Gallogly conspiratorially. As far as is known, and despite his calling as a man of the cloth, Leah has yet to distance himself publicly from Gallogly’s immoral tactics (hat tip: Harry’s Place & Seismic Shock)

In the wake of the boycott resolution, a Methodist Friends of Israel group has been formed, and, pro-Israel Methodist minister David Hallam – who on his blog (take a look at his many interesting posts regarding this sorry situation )calls upon Leah to distance himself from Gallogly’s vote-rigging proposal – has announced his intention to mount a legal challenge to the resolution.

As was said of the Bourbons, the Methodist boycotters have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Despite the protests of anguish that came from many Jewish leaders – including the Chief Rabbi – and from mainstream Jewish groups (who, significantly, are not given to crying “wolf” often) they continue to revel in their shameful stance. That Mr Hallam is putting noses out of joint is evident from some of the remarks Methodist Church members have been making of late, attempting to justify their singling out of Israel for obloquy and punitive measures and mounting a cyber warfare against Mr Hallam that is not entirely free from ad hominem attacks. His opponents are insisting – despite online challenges from myself and others, including the Zionist Federation’s feisty co-vice-chair and a highly articulate Orthodox Jew from Jerusalem who has not held back with some home truths – that opposing Zionism is not antisemitic. They have gone onto the defensive, trying to redefine antisemitism so that it sits comfortably with their anti-Israel rhetoric and reviving old blogposts about Israel and Jews. They have also, in their desperation, invoked the example of some of their anti-Zionist Jewish heroes to justify their own standpoint.

Thus, a  Methodist minister in North Wales scrapes the bottom of the barrel when on his blog ( he posts a comment from a member of a marginal Israel-bashing organisation composed of “as-a-Jews” that hardly represents mainstream Jewish opinion regarding Israel. “As a Jew, I fully appreciated the Methodist’s resolution ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’. I’m increasingly distressed by the unceasing determination of my fellow Jews in Israel, and in our diaspora, to never accept any criticism of their ill-treatment of Palestinians — who have historically been displaced from their lands by the Israelis in the name of their claimed God-given right”, wrote the habitual Israel-basher in question, claiming that “Israel is actually creating a world-wide anti-Semitism from which I and my fellow Jews will ultimately suffer.”

Evidently rankled by the fightback on the blog from Zionists, including yours truly, one boycott champion, who really doesn’t seem to like Israel or its champions very much at all, invokes the views of that well-known Jewish loather of Israel, Professor Avi Shlaim. ‘I was thinking of injecting a little Robert Fisk into the ongoing conversation on Israel-Palestine - though after the recent hurling of comment grenades by Hallam’s Army, I use the word “conversation” loosely - and I would no doubt have to jettison it altogether were I to cite Fisk. So I’ll try a little Avi Shlaim ...’ is the opening jibe, prompting one commenter to remark “it looks very much as if you want to showcase the Jews who support your argument to prove you’re not anti-Semitic. It reminds me of how the Mediaeval Church would wheel out its Jewish converts to participate in “debates” wherein Jewish religious communities were harshly denounced”.

And then there is another Methodist minister who found my suggestion that the Methodist Church has been “hijacked” by leftists offensive, and took refuge in her own blog to have a conversation with the Almighty in which she observed:
“A very distressing and disturbed night. I have been following and participating in a blogged debate on the Church's report on Justice for Israel Palestine and the bizarre threat of one Methodist to take the Church to court over its contents.
There can be no doubt that the report has raised some emotive issues, but that is no excuse for the appalling lack of grace in some of the posts. When Christians slander one another, evil flourishes.
The charge being made against the Church and certain individuals is of Antisemitism.. a charge designed to raise the spectre of the Holocaust and shame us all into silence - regardless of what atrocities are currently being perpetrated. In a nutshell the argument is - Gentiles committed the holocaust therefore the Gentiles have forever forfeited the right to censor a Jew. Any and all criticism of Jews or of Israel by Gentiles is antisemitic.
This is, however, a shallow and dishonest definition of antisemitism. It mocks and makes a lie of the past by reducing it to a vacuous insistence that it is never politically, spiritually or socially 'correct' to criticize or question anything Jewish or Israeli....
It is not antisemitic to seek to be informed about the current plight of the ordinary Palestinian
It is not antisemitic to be offended by the wall
It is not antisemitic to question why human rights are being denied to Palestinians in Israel.
It is not antisemitic to ask what can we do to which might help Palestinians.
It IS antisemitic to not question or challenge any of these things, to hate the Jew so much that we would be prepared to stand by and watch whilst they perhaps commit crimes against You and against humanity which we know from our own bitter experience will only result in long-lasting spiritual, social and political damage.” (
In the face of all this, the admirable and courageous David Hallam is holding fast. All praise and all power to him. Make no mistake: in his intention to take the Methodist Church to court he deserves all the encouragement and support (moral and practical) that well-wishers of Israel can muster. Much rides on his legal challenge to the Methodist boycott. If that challenge succeeds, the ruling could mean the end of other anti-Israel boycotts emanating from England and Wales. I’m not a lover of alcohol – but I’ll gladly drink to that!

Postscript: for those who remain determined to boycott Israel, here's a must-see video (hat tip: Avraham Reiss)

Friday 29 October 2010

Unheavenly Twins – Ground Troops in the “Soft War” against Israel

It’s long been a fiction among antisemitic groups in his native Australia and elsewhere that media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s mother Dame Elisabeth (née Greene) is Jewish. We can no doubt expect the conspiracy theorists to be buzzing afresh with that line, in view of the robustly pro-Israel speech that Murdoch delivered before the ADL in New York on 13 October. How very true is Murdoch’s observation that: “We live in a world where there is an ongoing war against the Jews. For the first decades after Israel’s founding, this war was conventional in nature. The goal was straightforward: to use military force to overrun Israel. Well before the Berlin Wall came down, that approach had clearly failed."  As he continued:

“Then came phase two: terrorism. Terrorists targeted Israelis both home and abroad – from the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich to the second intifada. The terrorists continue to target Jews across the world. But they have not succeeded in bringing down the Israeli government – and they have not weakened Israeli resolve.
Now the war has entered a new phase. This is the soft war that seeks to isolate Israel by delegitimizing it. The battleground is everywhere: the media … multinational organizations … NGOs. In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.
The result is the curious situation we have today: Israel becomes increasingly ostracized, while Iran – a nation that has made no secret of wishing Israel’s destruction – pursues nuclear weapons loudly, proudly, and without apparent fear of rebuke.”
One frequently forgotten front in this “soft war” of isolation and delegitimisation is the practice of fostering anti-Israel public opinion by twinning towns, organisations and schools with Palestinian counterparts. It received an impetus with a scheme that commenced in 2005, when almost 20 British groups seeking to establish twinning projects, formal or informal, with localities and organisations in the Disputed Territories held a conference in London and, with encouragement from then Mayor Ken Livingstone, established the “Britain-Palestine Twinning Network”. The network (slogan "Political solidarity enhanced by grassroots friendships"), which holds its sixth conference on 27 November (theme "Building Bridges not Walls"), in that hive of anti-Israel activity, Bristol, helps groups to set up such links, share experiences, and avoid duplication.

The idea has taken hold in a number of countries, both in and outside the European Union and the British Commonwealth. For example, Dublin is linked to Nablus, as are Stavanger in Norway and Com in Italy;The Hague, Cologne, Assissi and Athens to Bethlehem; Graz in Austria is linked to Zababdeh; Alessandria in Italy to Jericho and Turin to Gaza; Barcelona is linked to Gaza; Arbizu, in Spain’s Basque region, is linked to in the Marda, West Bank; towns in France have established links with such places as Beit Sahour, Gaza, and Rafah as well as Bethlehem (a generally popular place for twinning, probably owing to its importance for Christians). The heavily Muslim suburb of Leichhardt in Sydney, Australia, has a link with Hebron, and Marrickville, also in New South Wales is officially twinned (since 2007) with Bethlehem, the Marrickville Council pledging to “support the people of Bethlehem in seeking peace and international understanding of their situation”. Dismissing claims that Hamas controlled Bethlehem, Marrickville’s Deputy Mayor stated: "But if you want to say who is truly in control of Bethlehem, which is unfortunately surrounded by Israel's so-called security wall, you could argue that Bethlehem is dominated by Israel more than anybody else. Marrickville Peace Group supported the move." There seem to be comparable developments in the United States.

These links entail delegations to and fundraising for the linked localities or organisations in Palestine, and vocal expressions of solidarity against Israel. Action Palestine, a pro-BDS student organisation that aims to establish a strong presence on university campuses in the universities, has also cooperated with the Palestine Twinning Network in addition to numerous other anti-Israel organisations. Schools – a crucial component in the battle for hearts and minds in this “soft war” against Israel, are also involved. Thus, it appears, St Gregory’s School in Bath is linked to the Ghirass Centre in Bethlehem; St Bede’s, a church school in Cambridge, to the Beir Zeit Latin School; St Augustine’s School in Costessey, Norfolk, to a school in Jifna; St Edmund’s Catholic Primary School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, to a school in Ain Arik; several schools in the London borough of Camden, including Hampstead Boys’ School, to schools in Abu Dis; and a school twinning project is aggressively underway in Wales with the enthusiastic support of Lib Dem and Plaid Cymru politicians.

In fact, the latest attempt to have a British town or city twin formally to a locality in the Disputed Territories is that of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) group in Aberystwyth, in west Wales – a resort in which numerous strictly observant Jews choose to spend their annual summer holidays, incidentally (but never mind their feelings or the money their shopping contributes to a depressed High Street, eh?). What this tiny PSC group lacks in numbers its all-female leadership compensates for in a rather unpleasant fanaticism, often holding regular demonstrations on a town centre corner, swamping tables in the local university’s café with anti-Israel propaganda each week, and writing frequently – upon the slimmest excuse and none – to the local press to slur Israel.

The Cambrian News (14 October 2010) reported (none too clearly, for literary merit, at any rate in English, is evidently not that paper’s strong suit) that the Aberystwyth PSC’s Secretary had written a letter to the Town Council saying: “During the last 12 months we were struck by the encouragement and support that the people of Aberystwyth have expressed for our campaign. What came through even more importantly was people’s eagerness to share their knowledge about the region, and the empathy the majority had with the Palestinians. We very much hope that you will look favourably on our proposal either: a) simply through a resolution to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, or b) to launch a twinning with a place of similar size in Palestine, whereby cultural and educational exchanges could be fostered.”

The newspaper reported that the letter was discussed by the Town Council’s General Purposes Committee, which has stated in its minutes: “It would be prudent to advise the writer that, historically, twinning had been established following a long-term local friendship group, and this was the way to go with this initiative”. The PSC’s letter had claimed that the Town Council in Llanidloes in mid-Wales had twinned with As Sadiwa in the West Bank, and would be “delighted to share their experience”. But Aberystwyth’s Town Clerk, upon investigation, found that the Llanidloes Town Council had rejected such a request. To which the PSC’s Secretary retorted, courtesy of the Plaid Cymru-supporting local paper, which stands ever-ready, it seems, to oblige anti-Israel activists in publicising their cause: “I always knew it to be a friendship link and not a formal twinning; I mentioned it only as another example of grassroots support for Palestine.” It would seem that “grassroots support” is an exaggeration – most shoppers who encounter her group’s street corner demos appear to hurry on past, shunning the leaflets thrust at them, the collection tins for the September Viva Palestina convoy, and the petition that sits atop a table. But in the war against Israel, as in love for Israel’s existentialist foes, all’s fair, it’s clear – and truth is an early casualty.

In 2009, just after Cast Lead, a much-publicised move by a Worcester councillor to have his picturesque medieval cathedral city twinned with Gaza was overwhelmingly approved by the Tory-run Council but was subsequently overruled. Twinning towns and cities can bring much cultural enrichment of a mutual kind, including educational visits and, no doubt, junkets for officials. Such twinning normally takes place between places that have some features at least vaguely in common – Britain’s premier naval city, Portsmouth, for example, has been twinned with its broad Israeli counterpart, Haifa, since the 1960s. But attempting to twin towns and cities for narrow political motives is mean, mischievous, and divisive, and should therefore be stoutly resisted.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

“If I Forget Thee ...”: Longing and Leaving for the Land before the mid-Nineteenth Century

Roman Emperor Constantine the Great’s proclamation in 323 CE of Christianity as the official state religion, and his persecution of Jews within his dominions, heralded the decline of the Jewish population in Eretz Israel (the mosaic pictured here dates from a synagogue there of the second century CE). However, over subsequent early centuries of the Common Era there was a flow of returnees, and during the ninth century the Karaites began to obey their own dictim “Be assembled in the Holy City and gather your brethren”. Solomon ben Judah, head of the academy in Jerusalem and Ramleh (1025-51), made aliyah from Morocco; he was one of several noteworthy arrivals in the eleventh century. The Crusades were not conducive to aliyah, but did not stop Jewish travellers journeying to Eretz Israel – in 1141 Maimonides’ father, Maimon ben Joseph, went there but left after six months.

The following letter of introduction from Salonika Jewry (regarding a recent Jewish guest from Russia) to Jewish communities with whom the man would be likely to stay on the rest his journey to Eretz Israel, dates from that century, around the time of the Norman Conquest of England:
”We send greetings to you and feel it is our duty to inform you about the request of Mr N. N. He is a Jew from Russia, and stayed with us here in Salonika, where he met his relative ... who returned recently from the holy city of Jerusalem, may it be restored by the Lord for ever. When he was told about the splendour of Palestine, Mr N. N. too became very desirous of going there and prostrating himself on the sacred spot. He asked us to give him these few lines in order to use them as a means of introduction.//Please help him to reach his goal by the proper route, with the support of reliable men, from town to town, from island to island. For he knows neither Hebrew nor Greek nor Arabic but only Russian, the language of his homeland.
At all times the house of Israel, our brethren ... excelled in the strength of righteousness and the power of charity, and you know their reward.
In the late twelfth century, as a result of persecution, an aliyah from North Africa took place. When Benjamin of Tudela reached Eretz Israel for a sojourn around 1170 he found about 1000 Jewish families there. The Spanish Hebrew poet and translator Judah Al-Harizi, who visited in 1218, wrote that in 1190, after repelling the Crusaders, Saladin invited the Jews to settle in the Land. Persecution of Jews in medieval Europe contributed to Jewish immigration. In 1210-11 “300 French and English rabbis” settled in their ancestral homeland, where they reportedly established synagogues and acedemies. Jehiel ben Joseph of Paris, who established a yeshivah in Acre, was one of a number of arrivals from England and France around 1260. It is said that the arrival of Nachmanides in 1267 prompted a steady stream of settlers in Jerusalem, leading to his title Avi ha-Yishuv (“Father of the Community”).

Aliyah ceased during the late thirteenth century owing to fierce fighting between Crusaders and Muslims. Rabbi Estori ha-Parchi, the first Jew to write a geographical account of Eretz Israel, arrived there in 1322. A disciple of Nachmanides noted, early in the fourteenth century, that “At present many have arisen willingly to emigrate to Eretz Israel”. Among the Spanish Jews who made aliyah about that time was the kabbalist Rabbi Shem Tov ben Abraham Gaon, who wrote his Keter Shem Tov in the land of his forefathers.

In 1428 a shortlived papal decree forbidding Italian ships to transport Jews to Eretz Israel temporarily impeded travel by pilgrims and intending settlers – the decree was renewed towards the end of the fifteenth century, and consequently Jews travelled overland to Turkey in order to circumvent it. Among the Italian Jews who went to Eretz Israel in the fifteenth century were Elijah of Ferrara, who penned an interesting account of contemporary aliyah, and his relatives. The Ashkenazi Joseph of Montagna reached Eretz Israel via Venice, and in 1481 became dayan in Jerusalem. During the same century olim came from North Africa, Yemen, India, China, and what are now Iran and Iraq. A spurt in immigration between 1488 and 1495 meant that by the latter year it was hard to find suitable dwelling in Jerusalem. In this letter to his father, the most important of the Italian scholars who made aliyah at that time, the distinguished Talmudist Rabbi Obadiah of Bertinoro, who took up residence in Eretz Israel in 1488 after three years of wandering, describes his experiences:
“On Tuesday morning ... we left Hebron, which is a day’s journey distant from Jerusalem, and came on as far as Rachel’s Tomb, where there is a round, vaulted building in the open road. We got down from our asses and prayed at the grave, each one according to his ability. On the right hand of the traveller to Jerusalem lies the hill on which Bethlehem stands ...
From Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a journey of about three miles. The whole way is full of vineyards and orchards. The vineyards are like those in Romagna, the vines being low, but thick. About three-quarters of a mile from Jerusalem, at a place where the mountain is ascended by steps, we beheld the famous city of our delight, and here we rent our garments, as was our duty. A little farther on, the sanctuary, the desolate house of our splendour, became visible, and at the sight of it we again rent our garments.“
Following the Turkish conquest of Eretz Israel in 1516, Jews from Germany and from Mediterranean lands – including refugees from the Iberian peninsula – as well as from the Orient – arrived. The last nagid of Egypt, Rabbi Isaac Sholel ha-Kohen, made aliyah in 1517. The Jews from Spain, many of whom, like the kabbalist Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi, settled in Jerusalem, made a particular impact on the community with their characteristic mores. Most, including such notables as Joseph Caro and Moses Cordovero, settled in Safed, which also experienced a significant immigration wave from Italy. This letter, dated 14 March 1535, was written from the holy city of Safed by an Italian Jew, David dei Rossi, to his family back home.
“What shall I tell you about this country, as so many people before me have reported its character and greatness in writing and orally? .... He who saw Safed ten years ago, and observes it now, has the impression of a miracle. For more Jews are arriving here continually, and the tailoring trade grows daily. I have been told that more than 15,000 suits have been manufactured in Safed during this year, besides fancy suits. Every man and every woman who works woollen fabric owns an abundant living.
.... There is nothing new in all the Galilee. There is no particular news in Jerusalem (may it be rebuilt and established speedily and in our days, Amen), except that they have brought water from a well which is on the road to Hebron into the fortress which has been built on Mount Zion. Powder and cannon have also been brought there to strengthen it. I have not been to Jerusalem so far, myself, because of my misfortunes. For on the 5th of Adar [10 February], I entered Safed, and a month later my son Elijah’s servant came, and there occurred that which occurred [his son en voyage had been captured by pirates, and was being held for ransom]. Our sister was in Jerusalem and Hebron for more than two months. You will hear from her own lips about whatever her eyes have seen. She brings with hera list of all the tzaddikim buried in the Holy Land. It has been handwritten for her by the scribes in Jerusalem.
....The exile here is not like in [Italy]. The Turks hold respectable Jews in esteem. Here and in Alexandria, Jews are the chief officers and administrators of the customs, and of the king’s revenues. No injuries are perpetrated against them in all the empire. Only this year, in consequence of the extraordinary expenditure caused by the war against Shah Tasmasp al-Sufi, were the Jews required to make advances of loans to the princes. Part of the money came from the taxes on the Jewsih quarters and part came from town revenues which the Jews tax-farm. Scholars, however, did not have to pay a penny except for the poll tax.
All articles of commerce are available in these regions. Fibers, spun and unspun, are exported from Safed in great quantities, also gallnuts, scammony, oil, honey and silk in smaller quantities. From the adjoining regions come crimson silk, Cordovan carpets, and all kinds of spices, including pepper, cloves, ginger, and cane-spices. Many people including Jews buy these goods as merchandise.
My daughter-in-law and my grandson Moses are here with me, and tomorrow we shall walk around Safed – God willing. My wife Sarah, since she has come to Safed, has recovered with G-d’s help. For the water and the air are unusually good. For this reason illnesses are few here, and therefore the art of medicine does not flourish here, and physicians do not earn much of a livelihood. Sick people eat cucumbers, both of the large and small variety, squash, and many kinds of fruit.
Now I bless you as long as I live... Remember me to all our friends and acquaintances. And may the Lord grant that we see each other in the joy of Judea and Jerusalem together with all of Israel our brethren in our lifetime, speedily, and in our days. Amen.”
Safed’s population, 10,000 around 1550, was estimated by the Yemenite traveller Zechariah al-Dahiri as 14,000 in 1567, and Safed’s importance as a centre of Kabbalah ensured its further growth owing to immigration. In 1577 it became the first city in the Ottoman Empire to have a printing press, thanks to Rabbi Eliezer ben Elijah Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague; the press produced its first Hebrew book the following year.

Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi, who authored Shitah Mekubbetzet, arrived in Eretz Israel in 1588 and became head of the Jerusalem community. Rabbi Isaiah Levi Horowitz, who wrote Shenei Luchot ha-Berit, arrived in 1621 and informed his sons that the Jewish community in Jerusalem was “multiplying greatly, literally by the hundreds, and constructing great buildings”. A new aliyah of Karaites occurred around that time, and Shabbateanism stimulated further immigration. The Jewish population of Jerusalem was said in 1741 to be 10,000, and the 1740s witnessed the re-establishment of the yeshivah at Tiberias, as well as an important influx of olim from Turkey, who included Gedaliah Hayyun, founder of a bet hamedrash in Jerusalem for kabbalists. Among other newcomers was Amsterdam’s rabbi, who settled in Safed, and the Moroccan author of Or ha-Hayyim, who founded a yeshivah in Jerusalem. According to Rabbi Joseph Schwarz’s Tevu’ot ha-Aretz, the most comprehensive work on the Land of Israel since the Middle Ages,
"the Mahomedans suddenly assailed the [Jerusalem] Synagogue on Sabbath, the 8th of Marcheshvan, 5481 (about 1st of November, 1721), set it on fire, and burnt up whatever was combustible, together with all the books and the rolls of the law, of which there were forty in the buildings, which latter also would surely have fallen likewise a prey to the fearful conflagration, had they not been constructed out of large and heavy stones. They also seized the officers and the most respectable members of the congregation, and threw them into prison; they then took possession of all the buildings, driving the Ashkenazim away out of them. These unfortunate people, driven to despair, fled precipitately, in all directions, some to Hebron, some to Zafed, and others beyond the limits of Palestine. Thenceforth no Ashkenazi durst to show himself in Jerusalem. The Mahomedans, the creditors of the congregation, took possession of everything: they made use of the outer court of the Synagogue as a dung and rubbish heap, so that there arose here by degrees a natural dung and rubbish hill. All the cellars and other subterranean structures, likewise, were filled up completely with dung and rubbish. "
However, led by Rabbi Israel of Shklov, few Perushim (“Separated Ones”), disciples of the Vilna Gaon, arrived in Jerusalem as early as 1722, and a significant number, led by Menahem Mendel of Shklov, in 1808. More followed, including Talmudist Rabbi Joseph Zundel of Salant, inspirer of the Musar movement. As is well-known, the end of the eighteenth century saw the beginnings of the aliyah of followers of the Baal Shem Tov, whose disciples Menahem Mendel of Peremyshlyany and Nachman of Horodenka started things off by arriving with their Chasidic followers in 1764, and settling in Jerusalem and Tiberias respectively. Chasidim led in 1777 by Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk and Abraham of Kalisz settled first in Safed and later in Tiberias, reviving the Galilee and so preparing the way for Jewish settlement of that region, while an influx of Chasidim in the early nineteenth century augmented Hebron’s Ashkenazi community, which had been pioneered by Chabadniks from Safed and Tiberias. In the first half of the nineteenth century there was an important aliyah from Germany and Holland, which included (in 1833) Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, mentioned above, whose work is better known to English-speakers as Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine (1850).

Judaism, Islam, Eretz Yisrael and Stones

I've just came across an interesting and intriguing article under the above heading by Israeli blogger Avraham Reiss, which, having obtained his permission, I'd like to share with you.

This is what he writes:

In a Jewish Chronicle blog post named “Palestine Campaign head visits anti-Israel protesters outside Ahava” RichMillet brings a quote from the Koran as follows: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim).” [ Sahih Muslim, 41:6985, see also Sahih Muslim, 41:6981, Sahih Muslim, 41:6982, Sahih Muslim, 41:6983, Sahih Muslim, 41:6984, Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:56:791,(Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:177) ]
I wish to juxtaposition this with the attitude of Judaism towards those same stones and trees, for the sake of comparison.
Throughout history, different nations have received different levels of public relations. To give just two examples from Jewish (biblical) history, let’s look at  Amalek (Exodus Ch. 17) and the Amorite (Numbers Ch. 21).
Most people can talk fairly knowledgeably, at least for a minute or two about Amalek; we read about him in the Torah every year on the Shabat before Purim, and again later on during the year. We are commanded to remember what he did to us, and to wipe out his name.
As for the Amorite, few can say much about him. As some American Jews summarize most Jewish Holidays and festivals: “they tried to kill us, we beat them, let’s go eat …”.
In actual fact the opposite is true. We know practically nothing at all about the Amalekite beyond what he did to us on a one-time basis at the time of our exodus from Egypt. I once spent an entire evening combing several Toranic databases looking for all available rabbinical material on Amalek, and all I came up with was the opinion that Amalek originated in the Arad area (in the Negev desert). [I once managed to dehydrate there while on military maneuvers. Amalek’s revenge?]
On the other hand, we know so much about the Amorites that I could write a book about them if I had to. I don’t have to, because it’s been done. One of the external additions to the Babylonian Talmud is named Tosefta  (lit. ‘addition’). It tells us many of the small things in the Amorites’ life; how the Amorite woman cooked in her kitchen, what she cooked (one example: a concoction of bread, milk and salt), and of their customs and superstitions.  I first heard of Tosefta when I was 11 or 12 years old, while reading Ripley’s famous “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”. He stated there that while the American Benjamin Franklyn was generally considered the inventor of the lightning conductor (discovered while playing with a kite in a storm), this wasn’t so, said Ripley: the principle of the lightning conductor is mentioned in the Talmudic Tosefta, written some 2,000 years ago, where it is written “he who throws pieces of iron amongst chickens, these are the ways of the Amorite. But if this is done because of thunder or lightning, it is permitted”.   The preceding sentence refers to the principle of the lightning conductor!
To read the rest of Avraham Reiss's piece, go here:

Monday 25 October 2010

Here Come the Girls!

In Trafalgar Square a gaggle of Western women of a certain age surrounded by Palestinian flags listen approvingly as Israel is vilified by a succession of speakers. In a sleepy town on the other side of the country a “peace choir” of female voices, with a hyper-active female conductor, holds regular pavement concerts flanked by pro-Palestinian placards and at Christmas includes in their repertoire carols with words altered to demonise Israel. In that and other towns across Britain women picket supermarkets and hand out leaflets demanding that other shoppers boycott Israeli produce.

In the United States, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a long established pacifist group affiliated to the Women’s Coalition for Peace (which is sponsored by the New Israel Fund) blames Israeli policy for causing an increased incidence of birth defects and leukaemia in Gaza, denounces Operation Cast Lead and Israel’s actions on the Mavi Marmara and accuses the IDF of “merrily” gunning down innocents. It claims that “the U.S. unjustly calls Hamas 'terrorist' and thus requires the Palestinian Authority Police to arrest or otherwise persecute Hamas affiliates... Hamas is being badly discriminated against by the U.S. and Israel because of its religious beliefs.” To read more go to

In Canada, notice of a conference held in Montreal from 22-24 October calls on “all feminists” to participate in a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Conference at which artists, academics, activists…and concerned individuals will converge upon Montreal for this historic conference, which aims to consolidate and push forward the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israeli apartheid… The Conference workshop ‘Israeli Apartheid as a Feminist Issue’…[will] explore ways in which feminist organizations in Quebec, Canada and beyond can contribute to the BDS movement”.

Tony Blair’s embarrassing sister-in-law Lauren Booth, as nauseating an apologist for Hamas and for Iran as you are likely to encounter in the female of the species – witness her regular appearances on Ahmadinejad’s propaganda news channel Press TV and her apparent call for Jihad against Israel at a rally in London some months ago – converted to Islam six weeks ago having visited the Fatima al-Masumeh shrine in Qom, and vows to fight on for Palestine and against perceptions that Islam is a violent religion:
Read more here here
and here

Sarah Colborne, campaign and operations director for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – who got a massive write-up on Al Beeb’s news website back in June after arriving home from the Mavi Marmara with what BBC hack Peter Jackson in a brazenly biased report described as a “graphic and disturbing” account of her experiences – appeared at Saturday’s demonstration outside the Ahava store in London to cheer on her rank and file, but icily refused to answer (“I will not engage with you”) when asked whether she condemns Article 7 of the Hamas Charter, which enjoins Muslims to kill Jews:

New Zealand anti-Israel activist Julie Webb-Pullman, one of six Kiwis in the latest Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza, is thrilled to attend a sit-down lunch reception (on 22 October) with Hamas’s President Ismail Haniya and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar.  Mind you, it was only after a complaint to female organisers of the reception that the Hamas leaders had so far met only male members of the convoy that Ms Webb-Pullman got to encounter her heroes up close and personal. Both Haniya and Zahar graciously put their signatures upon a local Islamic scarf she proffered - and back in the antipodes this revered relic will be auctioned to raise more money for Gaza. “Viva Palestina! Viva Ismail and Mahmoud! Viva Women!!!” the 50-something activist exults on the Kia Ora Gaza blog, as flushed with joy as a schoolgirl with a crush on a pop star.

Also enjoying the occasion was Pippa Bartolotti, a Green Party candidate from Newport in South Wales, pictured here holding the swastika-resembling flag of the fascistic, expansionist Syrian Social Nationalist Party (hat tip: Harry’s Place). On her blog she writes concerning Gaza: “News riddled with propagandist manipulation, secrets untold, deaths, murders and politics fudge the situation, but one thing is clear: the people living in Gaza are fenced in, denied everything but enough food to keep them just above malnutrition levels, and subject to ever changing sadistic laws which the Jewish population would find intolerable. In short Gazans are kept in a prison by the state of Israel, aided and abetted by the US and Europe.... my contribution to their plight is to draw attention to the moral decay of those who perpetuate this inhumanity.” Ms Bartolotti told Press TV: ““It’s only the people that are going to make a difference because the governments are pathetically weak. They’re in the pockets of Big Money and Big Money supports Israel”. See the video posted at Harry’s Place
and also her article at

How strange it all seems, that so many Western women invest so much time in excoriating Israel, a comparative bastion of female freedoms and the first country in the Middle East to give Muslim women the vote, while practically ignoring – or even excusing – the insults to and outrages upon members of their sex perpetrated in the Muslim world. Is it a modern version of Rudolf Valentino Seductive Sheik Sexual Fantasy Syndrome? I wish I knew. Such exclusive concentration on Israel’s misdeeds, real or imagined, wouldn’t be due to antisemitism or anything as crude and as ugly as that. Would it?

As Phyllis Chesler, who received an invitation to that Montreal Conference mentioned above, puts it: “Ah, for a minute there I thought the conference would actually address real apartheid, namely that which is practiced by Islam in terms of both gender and religious apartheid; and indeed, in Gaza and on the West Bank, where honor-related violence, including honor killings, normalized domestic violence, forced veiling, polygamy, arranged child marriage and Arab female illiteracy, is rife and rampant. No such luck.”

Read more:

Saturday 23 October 2010

A Brave pro-Israel Jewish Voice is Raised on Behalf of Christians Persecuted in Islamic Lands, of Israel’s Treatment of Christians, and of European Civilisation

Florentine-born Italian journalist and parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein, Vice-President of Italy’s Foreign Affairs Committee, is one of the public figures who earlier this year joined former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in launching the admirable and long overdue Friends of Israel Initiative. Ms Nirenstein, who is Jewish, takes more than a passing interest in the Middle East and antisemitism. She has participated in several conferences on antisemitism, contributed articles to a number of English-language magazines including Commentary, and written such books as Terror, the new anti-Semitism and the war against the West (2005) and Israel is us - a personal odyssey to a journalist's understanding of the Middle East (2009).

Just this month she organised a mass rally in Rome on the theme “For the truth, for Israel”, during which over sixty pro-Israel speeches were made by renowned individuals from across Europe drawn from a range of fields. This great and noble rally, which attracted some 3000 people, was billed as "the first European, bipartisan event aimed at restoring the truth regarding Israel, putting an end to the barrage of lies that are hurled at Israel every day and to the double standard used by the media and international organizations."

But Ms Nirenstein is not only concerned for the well-being of her co-religionists and of Israel. She has now spoken up on a topic which, shamefully, is apparently regarded as taboo in left-liberal Western circles – the appalling treatment of Christians by some Islamic regimes. “Islam does not like Eastern Christians: it has forced them to flee and now they account for only 6 percent of the population in the Mideast”, she said this week. She pointed out that, in contrast, the Christian population of Israel has increased – at present, Israel is home to 163,000 Christians, and it’s predicted that in fifteen years’ time this number will have risen to 187,000. “In Muslim countries, on the other hand, Christians are on the wane, but the 50 churches present in the Holy Land seem not to notice. They prefer to dump on Israel, where they enjoy full freedom of worship and expression”, she observed, in an obvious reference to Sabeel.

Ms Nirenstein also turned her attention to the Vatican Synod on the Middle East. She characterised a document – which speaks in the name of "us Christian Palestinians" and avers that “the military occupation is a sin against God and against man” - as “written in a tone of theological excommunication towards the State of Israel”. The document excommunicates Christians who support Israel, compares to South African apartheid the defensive barrier that has virtually halted terrorist attacks on Israel, appears to justify terrorism in speaking of the “thousands of prisoners who languish in Israeli jails” who are “part of the society around us”, describes “resistance to the evil of occupation as a Christian’s right and duty”, excoriates the West Bank Jewish communities, and in essence repudiates Israel’s right to exist. She pertinently asks, regarding Synod policy: “But if there are no sanctions against what Christians suffer in Islamic countries and if they continue to blame the Jews who have nothing to do with it all, how do they think they will be able—morally and practically—to sustain this?”

Nor is Ms Nirenstein reluctant to address the issue of Islam in Europe, a topic from which so many politicians and commentators resile. Referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s observation that Germany's “multikulti” approach to immigration “has failed, utterly failed,” Ms Nirenstein has said: “The point is that certain cultures very often have no intention of mixing in with ours, despite our actions and best intentions. Paris has become a city in which more than 200,000 people live in families where polygamy is common practice. In Italy 30,000 women have been subjected to genital mutilation and Islamic courts – ninety-odd in London alone – inflict sentences that are inconceivable.” Citing a number of worrying trends – including the fad T-shirt worn by young Muslims in Stockholm that bears the provocative legend "In 2030 we will take over" – Ms Nirenstein warned:

“When we are faced by a culture like that of Islam, there are forms of irreducibility that run up against legal and moral issues with a whole range of subtleties. For us, ‘immigration’ is a sacred term, filled of a sense of guilt, of generosity, of religion and liberal or left-wing overtones. But democracy is also a sacred term, our most important conquest: the masses of immigrants that do not share our democratic values put it in danger. And while we think that allowing immigration is a duty of democracy, we don’t understand that we are putting it at stake. Perhaps Chancellor Merkel—democratic German, pro-Europe, middle-class, complex-ridden and shy as every cultured German is—has succeeded in posing the question.”

Friday 22 October 2010

Muffling the Mufti's Malevolence – "an Arab-role-in-the-Holocaust-denier"?

You may recall my post back in July headed “It’s an Unfair Cop, Guv! – Mr Plod shows some muscle”, which told how the prominent pro-Israel blogger Richard Millett, having been recognised as a supporter of the Zionist Entity, was denied access to a talk at the House of Commons and escorted off the premises by police. In his latest piece Mr Millett draws attention to a talk on Tuesday of this week at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) by Professor Gilbert Achcar. Professor Achcar, who occupies the Chair in International Relations at SOAS – which I’ve seen described as the most anti-Israel campus in Britain – was speaking about his new book, The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, to what Richard Millett, who was present, terms “a very receptive audience of 200 students”.

According to Mr Millett, Professor Achcar made such “outlandish claims “ as:

1. The Arabs bear no responsibility at all for the Holocaust.

2. The Israelis have Nazified the Palestinian people.

3. This Nazification has come about by Israel's broadcasting of the Mufti’s connections with Hitler during WW2.

4. The Israelis must apologise for the Nakba if there is to be peace.

5. The Israelis are today still frozen with fear by the Holocaust.

6. Any anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Arab world is purely a result of Israel's aggression.

What hope is there [asks Millett] when students applaud nonsense like this?

Millett adds: “If it wasn't bad enough having Ilan Pappe lecturing students full time at Exeter University his ideological twin is now doing the same at SOAS. The Arabs had a significant enough role in the Holocaust which makes Gilbert Achcar an Arab-role-in-the-Holocaust-denier.”

To read more, go to

Thursday 21 October 2010

Some Old Salts of the Jewish Sort

It’s 21st October  – the day that used proudly, within living memory,  to be marked in Britain and the Empire as “Trafalgar Day”, and is still commemorated as such in naval circles, with Nelson’s flagship the Victory, in dry dock at Portsmouth, flying his immortal signal “England Expects ...”.  On this, the 205th anniversary of Nelson’s definitive triumph over the Combined (French and Spanish) Fleet off Cape Trafalgar near Cadiz, I’m taking a look at the Jewish angle to the victory that sealed Britain’s supremacy upon the seas for the next 100 years.  Some readers might think that this is scraping the bottom of the battle – whoops, sorry, barrel – but as I’m a self-confessed “naval history buff” I do want to address this subject just once.
While their co-religionists on the Continent saw Napoleon as the liberator who emancipated French Jewry and did the same for the Jewries of the countries which his armies vanquished, the Jews of England regarded “Boney” with as much loathing and trepidation as non-Jewish Englishmen did.  There were no ghettoes in Britain waiting to be thrown open by force of arms, no continental-style disabling legislation aimed specifically at Jews.  The discrimination that the Jews of England suffered was shared by Nonconformists and Roman Catholics as well – for in order to hold public office and officers’ commissions in the armed services, a man had to be an Anglican; in other words, he had to swear allegiance to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the nation’s established church.  There was no need of a Bonaparte to emancipate British Jewry – only of a Parliament that would be convinced, as Lord Macaulay was to put it in 1831 in arguing for the right of professing Jews to sit as MPs, that “The points of difference between Christianity and Judaism have very much to do with a man’s fitness to be a bishop or a rabbi.  But they have no more to do with his fitness to be a magistrate, a legislator, or a minister of finance, than with his fitness to be a cobbler.”
Jews had wait until 1858 to take their seats in Parliament, when they were at last excused the obligation to swear a Christian oath, but with the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1829 they were permitted to serve as commissioned officers in the Army and Navy.  This came too late for the 15 Jewish officers who (in the Duke of Wellington’s recollection) served under him at Waterloo: they had to adhere to Anglicanism in order to get beyond non-commissioned rank.  It also came too late for Royal Navy officer Sir Alexander Schomberg (1720-1806), portrayed, all gold braid and gold-blond hair, in a fine painting by Hogarth that hangs in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
Of Jewish birth, Schomberg had embraced Anglicanism with the encouragement of his father, a prominent London physician from Württemberg ambitious for his family.  As a frigate captain in 1759 he covered General Wolfe’s landing in Quebec, and from 1771-1804 he commanded the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland's yacht.  Since that position disqualified him from advancement to admiral’s rank (which he would otherwise have automatically achieved through seniority), he was for very many years up until his death the most senior captain in the Navy.  Knighted in 1777, he died the year preceding Trafalgar, but we may safely assume that many a Trafalgar participant was familiar with Schomberg’s A Sea Manual recommended to the Young Officers of the Royal Navy as a Companion to the Signal Book, published in 1789.
Familiar to Lord Nelson were the first specialists in bill broking in the City of London, Abraham Goldsmid (c1756-1810) and Benjamin Goldsmid (c1755-1808).  Of Dutch origin, they were the uncles of the financier Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, a famous communal figure who was a principal founder in 1828 of London’s University College, which unlike Oxford and Cambridge deliberately did not require students to profess Anglicanism  (and which is, ironically, now one of the most anti-Israel campuses in Britain). The Goldsmid brothers’ role as loan contractors during the wars with France, combined with their generous contributions to charity and their lavish entertaining, ensured their entrée into highly-placed non-Jewish society.  Abraham Goldsmid, who owing to money worries and other matters shot himself in 1810 (his depressed and gout-ridden brother is also said to have committed suicide, by knotting a silk cord on his bed post  around his neck) was a friend of Lord Nelson, often hosting the admiral, Lady Hamilton, and on at least one occasion the admiral’s country clergyman father, at his country house in Morden, Surrey.  At such gatherings Lady Hamilton sometimes played the piano, and John Braham, the renowned Jewish tenor, sang.  Benjamin Goldsmid was a notable philanthropist of the Naval Asylum, an orphanage established to maintain and educate the children of sailors killed in battle, and to celebrate Nelson’s victory at the Nile in 1798 he gave a very grand fete at his Roehampton home.
It was in Morden, close to Goldsmid’s property, that Nelson and Lady Hamilton acquired a house, Merton Place (which Goldsmid later acquired), where in the month before Trafalgar Nelson, walking in the grounds with a fellow-officer, talked of the relatively novel battle plan that he intended to use against the enemy, and which he did indeed employ on 21st October : that of “breaking the line”.  This meant that the British fleet would not lay itself in a parallel line alongside the enemy as in conventional engagements, but would assemble in two divisions and steer for the middle of the enemy line and cut through in two places thereby creating chaos – and achieving the “pell mell battle” that Nelson sought.
There was no need for Jews or other non-Anglicans to accept the Thirty-Nine Articles in order to serve in the army’s rank-and-file, in the militia, or below decks in the Royal Navy.  Although Jews were more familiar in seaport towns as purveyors of “sailor’s slops [clothing]” and other supplies, as moneylenders, and (at least during the wars with Revolutionary France and Napoleon) as navy agents, it’s known for certain that by the time George III ascended the throne  in 1760 there were Jewish seamen.
At Trafalgar such individuals included Benjamin da Costa, a midshipman on the Temeraire, Captain Eliab Harvey’s famous ship immortalised by the painter J. M. W. Turner Captain Harvey raced Nelson’s flagship, the Victory, for the honour of being first into action against the enemy, until sharply ordered by the admiral to drop astern.  Moses Benjamin and Joseph Moss served at Trafalgar aboard the Victory, John Benjamin on the Royal Sovereign (flagship of Nelson’s second-in-command, Admiral Collingwood), Henry Levi, Benjamin Solomon, Joseph Manuel and Nathan Manuel  on the Britannia (flagship of the third-in-command, the Earl of Northesk, but slow on that frustratingly almost breezeless day  to get into the thick of the fight), Philip Emanuel on the Colossus, and Thomas Brandon and James Brandon, who was killed, on the Revenge.
The 5th December 1805 was proclaimed a day of general thanksgiving for Trafalgar, and as a contemporary reported: “All the Churches and Chapels were crowded, all distinctions of sects were done away and Christian and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, all united in the expression of one feeling of piety and gratitude to the Almighty.”  The Chief Rabbi, Solomon Hirschell, and the Haham (spiritual leader of the Sephardim), Raphael Meldola, jointly prepared “The Order of Service and Special Prayer of the Hebrew Thanksgiving”, recited in all London synagogues.  Hirschell, whose normal vehicle was Yiddish, preached a commemorative sermon at the Great Synagogue that was subsequently translated into English and printed; Meldola delivered one at the Sephardi synagogue, Bevis Marks.
The admirals and captains who fought at Trafalgar were honoured with specially struck medals, among other marks of the nation’s gratitude – the Reverend William Nelson was awarded a peerage merely for being the slain hero’s brother, and, Collingwood, quite rightly, received one too.  The men who served in the lower ranks had to wait somewhat longer for a national token of their bravery.  When – in 1847! –  the authorities finally got around to awarding a medal to everyone who had served on that glorious day, there were a few of the Jewish sailors still alive to receive it: Benjamin da Costa, Thomas Brandon, and Joseph Manuel.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Blackballed by the Belfast Festival: pro-Israel scholar Professor Geoffrey Alderman

“He’s a Zionist – get him out of here!” A hiss of that sort, presumably, was the reason that a distinguished British historian had his invitation to speak at this year’s Belfast Festival removed – and at the eleventh hour! A case, no less, of belated blackballing and suppression of free speech  (hat tip: Jonathan Hoffman, over at blogs) that can best be described as shameful and squalid.

The Queen’s University of Belfast hosts the Belfast Festival, which last year, if I'm not mistaken,  featured Noam Chomsky as a speaker. In the lead-up to this year’s event, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor noted with pleasure that “The content and subjects [to be] portrayed address topics such as the feminism, teenage life and the war on terror. There is hard hitting drama, invigorating music, spectacular dance and a series of exquisite talks and tours. The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s truly has something for everybody.”

One of the speakers who were lined up to participate at the event is Professor Geoffrey Alderman, who has had an illustrious academic career.  The author of a number of pioneering works on the evolution of the Anglo-Jewish community, he is a regular columnist – pungent and pugnacious – in Britain’s leading Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle.

On 20 September this year Professor Alderman received an email from Graeme Farrow, Director of the Belfast Festival, inviting him to join a panel convened to discuss “Conflict in the Middle East”, and due to take place on the evening of Monday, 18 October – last evening, in fact. “I would be delighted if you would join our panel”, wrote Mr Farrow, and Professor Alderman was pleased to accept the invitation.

Imagine the professor’s bewilderment when, on the afternoon of Friday, 15 October 2010, he received a message rescinding the invitation. In his own words, as quoted by Jonathan Hoffman: ‘I was shocked to receive an email from Mr. Farrow informing me that “a mistake” had been made in extending the invitation to me and that although I could join the audience the event was to go ahead without my panel participation. In effect, I was being “disinvited.” In a series of email exchanges with Mr. Farrow I refused to accept this situation, and I have made it clear to him that I intend to travel to Belfast ... and shall expect to participate fully as a member of the panel. I am frankly appalled at the way I have been treated, for which I hold Queen’s University, Belfast, responsible.’

As good as his word, Professor Alderman travelled to Belfast yesterday. According to the Jewish Chronicle (18 October), Farrow explained that he had made “a mistake in agreeing to extend an invitation to you Geoffrey without consulting the academics in question”. The paper reported that 'following a meeting with Mr Farrow early this afternoon, Professor Alderman said he had given the organisers three options: to allow him to join the panel and if his fellow-panellists were to object, "they could stay away": to let him to take part while sitting on a separate table: or simply to call off the event.'

But his attempts to reach a modus vivendi were unavailing. The discussion proceeded without him. Significantly, the two panellists who took part – having not been subject to blackballing like Professor Alderman – are two academics not known for their glowing tenderness towards Israel. Baghdad-born Professor Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, who lived in Israel during his childhood and adolescence, ranks with Ilan Pappe as one of the most active serial defamers of Israel in British academic circles today.  An insight into his attitude may be read here:

The other panellist, Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards, of the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen's University Belfast, has authored such works as The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: a People's War and, very recently, Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement. She helped to found Conflicts Forum, advocates dialogue with Hamas, and on 2 September this year gave an interview on that theme to BBC Radio with not a hint of Hamas’s antisemitic Charter. In fact, Hamas almost came across as “Mother Theresa”, to invoke the words of that wonderful Latma song, “We Con the World”! For more about Professor Milton-Edwards see

Blogged Jonathan Hoffman last evening: "Professor Alderman is now sitting in the hotel in Belfast while the meeting proceeds at the University. He was unable to negotiate his presence on the Panel and unable to get the meeting cancelled in view of the disgusting violation of free speech. Please protest now about this outrage to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Peter Gregson: Executive PA: Mrs Fionnuala Newton - (0)28 9097 5134; Secretary Mrs Monica Salomeia (0)28 9097 3131
E-mail: "

Monday 18 October 2010

“We Who Have Urged Patience on the Jews ... Have No Right To Do So Any Longer, Least of All For What the Gangster Terrorist May Think Or Say”: Remembering the English MP who recommended rebellion against Britain to the Jews of Palestine

The deteriorating situation in Palestine since the Arab Riots of 1936, and the British Government’s appeasement of the Arabs by its dilution of its commitment to the Balfour Declaration, led the president and office-bearers of an organisation calling itself the Jewish Former Army Officers’ Association of Tel Aviv to write on 10 May 1938 to a non-Jewish British MP celebrated for his dedication to the Jewish cause.

Colonel Josiah Wedgwood (1872-1943), came from the famous Staffordshire pottery family, and was a naval architect by training. From 1906-19 he sat as a Liberal MP, and from 1919-42, when he received a barony, as a Labour MP. In contrast to, say, nineteenth-century prime minister W. E. Gladstone, who once described himself as “anti-anti-semitism”, Wedgwood was a genuine philosemite, who wrote: "The Anglo-Saxon, more than any other race, wants to sympathise with the Jews. . . no doubt we understand the Jew better than can those to whom the Old Testament is not familiar from infancy. To the foreigner the word Jew is a hissing in the street; to us the word suggests Solomon and Moses, and a thousand cradle stories. So often have we used their names for our own children that they seem now to be our fathers, especially our Puritan forefathers. . . Towards such a people one has a feeling almost of awe. . ."

While serving in a military capacity in South Africa during the Boer War he had befriended a Jewish storekeeper whose premises were destroyed. He lent the man money to rebuild, and discussed Jewish issues with him. In Parliament he first evinced his sympathy with Jews in a speech in 1909. During the First World War, in Gallipoli, he came into contact with members of the Zion Mule Corps and became one of the strongest exponents of the Zionist cause in Parliament. He helped to influence the British government’s issuance of the Balfour Declaration, and visited Palestine in 1926 and 1934. He published a collection of his speeches supporting Zionism as Palestine: The Fight for Jewish Freedom and Honour (1926). In his book The Seventh Dominion (1928) he advocated an independent Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan as an integral part of the British Commonwealth. And he came to admire Jabotinsky.

His reply to the Jewish army officers, written from the House of Commons on 30 May 1938, was a rousing, subversive, noteworthy document:
“Your letter of May 10th has given me much thought. I know all that you say is correct. But how to improve the situation troubles me. I am afraid that merely asking for justice, or asking my help, is useless. In my experience, especially in times of difficulty, Governments give way only to actions. Demands backed by nothing but a sense of justice play little part in modern history. The Czechs would be under Nazi rule today if they had not decided to fight and die. So would the Spaniards. The Arabs or those who are troublesome get their way in Palestine because they act instead of petition. I do not think reprisals in the form of murdering innocent Arabs is morally justifiable. When ordinary law breaks down, lynch law generally takes its place. That is better than murdering innocent people; but I cannot advocate that, nor can I judge of its necessity.
But I think you are morally entitled to arm yourselves and your outlying colonies, and to erect such defences as possible. This, I have no doubt, you have done. There remains some such passive resistance as Gandhi put into practice in South Africa and India. Such action needs solidarity and the will to suffer by going to prison. I think it needs also the social boycott and the giving up of normal relations with the Government. You cannot dine and denounce.”
Then came his recommendations for their response to British policy in Palestine – civil disobedience in the form of passive resistance, and facilitating illegal immigration:
“Passive resistance takes several forms: 1. The occupation of land and refusal to leave except by the forms of law going to prison. 2. Refusal to pay taxes, breaking the law –  going to prison. 3. Refusal to plead in the Courts, and to recognise their jurisdiction –  going to prison. 4. Attending demonstrations which have been declared illegal. 5. Distribution of illegal literature. 6. Assisting of illegal immigration. 7. Picketing and boycotting the disloyal. [NB: The text of the letter reproduced in the London Jewish Chronicle on 27 July 1938 includes Point Six as given here, whereas The Times version, which carried it a fortnight earlier, omits it and has Point 7 here as the 6th and final point.]
Last year, some Jewish illegal immigrants were marched in chains to Acre gaol. I think that if you had freed them on that march, even by violence, British public opinion would have supported you and it would never have occurred again.
Now Jews are sent to concentration camps or gaol without trial or charge, and no protest or demonstration is made by the 450,000 in Palestine. You expect me to protest in Parlament. I am not going to do so any more. It is for the Jews in Palestine to stop that sort of thing. The same applies to Jews arrested for carrying arms. The Bastille was pulled down for less than this.
You do not even "sit-down" strike outside the gaol gates when they hunger-strike. Naturally they think they can do anything to Jews, or to some Jews. If there is no solidarity among the Jews;  if some Jews go to the Government and apologise for other Jews; in that case you will get nowhere. The Trades Union of the Hisdatruth set you a powerful example. They strike and get their way against the Tel-Aviv Council or against the orange-growers. Why should government be sacrosanct? United you stand, divided you will always fall. You must have a willingness to suffer as well as a united willingness to help the sufferers.
If I were a British official in Palestine, I, too, should get “fed up” with your complaints, and should respect you much more if you curse “them” behind their backs; try cursing them to their faces, not you only but the Press also. If you dare not, then you are not worthy of your country. If you do, and not till then, they will think you worthy of arms to use in defence of the Empire and Democracy.
Like you, I want to see a free, manly people like the Maccabees in Palestine again. I want to see an army of 40,000 Jews fit to defend all that you and I hold dear. With reluctance I have come to the conclusion that only by the hard road laid down above can we arrive.
You have my free permission to show this letter to the High Commissioner [Sir Harold MacMichael], to General [Robert] Haining [the Commander-in-Chief], and to Mr Shertock [sic; i.e. Moshe Shertok], the head of the New Zionist Organization. All those will agree, but none of them will dare to say so. I know my countrymen, and a good deal better than you do. You ask me to imagine myself in your place with my own kith and kin attacked and my hands “tied”. I can imagine nothing of the sort. And Englishmen’s hands would not remain tied; and you are only tied by unworthy fear.
I cannot possibly give you any clear idea of what to do anywhere at any time. I can only suggest that when anything unpleasant occurs consider what action British colonists would take under the circumstances, and if you do about the half, you will not ever need to again."
Predictably, the Mandate Government forbade reproduction throughout Palestine of the MP’s letter, in whole or in part, in any language. But its recipients were soon circulating it in the form of a pamphlet entitled Colonel Wedgwood calls Jewish Youth to Revolt. The pamphlet ended: “Jewish Youth, we present here a letter from Colonel Wedgwood, the friend of Zionism and an MP, will you awake after all and read in this letter the pathway to revolution and success? (Signed) Young Zealots.”

Wedgwood’s letter was reported in The Times (16 July 1938), and a prompt denunciation by Sir Laurie Hammond [who had been on the Peel Commission] was immediately forthcoming; it appeared in the paper’s correspondence columns on 19 July. Wedgwood was unrepentant –  and scathing. In a letter written from the House of Commons that same day, printed on 21 July, he replied:
“Sir Laurie Hammond advocates patience for the Jews in Palestine. It is two years since the murder of Jews and the destruction of their property have gone unpunished under British rule....
The violence and anarchy today is worse than ever, because the policy of conciliation is still continued, and untrustworthy Arab supernumerary police are armed for no reason save to balance the arming of Jewish supernumeraries. The Administration continues strictly impartial between murderers and murdered. What we can urge is that passive resistance and active protest are more effective and more moral than retaliating on the wrong people and so dividing the Jewish people into two hostile camps. I do not believe any Jew has thrown any bombs. The other side have the bombs, and have shown as little reluctance to kill Arabs as to kill Jews or Englishmen. But impartiality which arrests both gangsters and victims is more calculated to exasperate than to pacify the victims’ friends and relations.”
Referring to Britain’s treatment of “illegal” arrivals in Palestine, Colonel Wedgwood (who during the late 1940s had a Jewish immigrant vessel named in his honour) inveighed:
 “Let those who have seen the film Ben Hur see also these men and women led chained through Nazareth, not because they are dangerous but to exhibit to the Arabs the “impartiality” of the British Administration. Then let them translate the scene of action from Palestine to Kenya and imagine English men and women exhibited in chains to the Arabs of Mombasa. Some faint idea of how Jews feel towards the impartial Administration in Palestine may then be appreciated, and I shall not receive so much impertinent criticism from retired civil servants [a dig at Hammond] and sympathizers with the Nazi concept of Jews. Jews are not conceived yet, here at least, as devoid both of human rights and of human feelings.”
Wedgwood died in 1943, when wartime paper shortages meant that even well-known Jewish communal figures received truncated obituaries in the London Jewish Chronicle, or were denied obituaries altogether. Not so Baron Wedgwood (as he had become). Despite the paper shortage, the Jewish Chronicle (30 July 1943) carried a suitably fulsome tribute to that “staunch and steadfast” friend of “the Jewish cause in its widest sense”. 

Not for nothing did his niece, the distinguished historian Dame [Cicely] Veronica Wedgwood, call her biography of him The Last of the Radicals.  But he was by no means the last - nor the first - of noteworthy British champions of the Jewish people and of Israel's cause.  I wish more contemporaries would bear that in mind, instead of describing Britain as an inherently antisemitic country, which –  as a student of philosemitism –  I know is simply untrue.