MANCHESTER’S GAZA WAR: ONE YEAR ON

By Richard Mather…

For those fifty days in 2014 when the IDF and Hamas were at war, the Jewish community in the UK experienced its own kind of Gaza conflict. Following the commencement of hostilities, anti-Semitic incidents in Britain grew by more than a third. During the six weeks of the war, British Jews were verbally abused and physically assaulted. Synagogues were vandalised with graffiti. Businesses were attacked and/or forced to close because of anti-Israel protestors.

Several town halls in England and Scotland decided to spit in the face of British Jewry by flying the so-called Palestinian flag in a “gesture of solidarity” with Hamas. And the malevolent clown that is George Galloway (the then MP for Bradford West) unilaterally declared the city of Bradford an “Israel-free zone.”

2014 was also the year when a number of Westminster politicians threw their weight behind the anti-Israel campaign. The Conservative Party’s Baroness Warsi chose to resign her job as Foreign Office minister the day after a ceasefire came into place. She claimed that her government’s even-handed approach to the Israeli-Gaza crisis was “morally indefensible and not in Britain’s interests.” It’s a pity she didn’t resign in 2013 when the same government failed to take action after Assad gassed his fellow Syrians.

On the Labour side, Jack Straw, the lamentable foreign secretary during the Iraq war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, referred to Israel’s war in Gaza as an “unspeakable horror.”  And in a transparent (but failed) attempt to shore up the left-wing and Muslim vote, the then Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza as “wrong and unjustifiable.” Luckily, Miliband was beaten to the post of Prime Minister by the pro-Israel David Cameron.

Unsurprisingly, the British media were deeply offended by Israel’s strength of purpose. Most of the newspapers, along with broadcasters like the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, failed to report the facts, preferring to take statements by Hamas as gospel truth. The Times refused to run an advert that criticised Hamas’ use of children as human shields in case readers were offended. The macabre obsession with the death toll in Gaza (combined with the media’s inability to explain why the Israeli death toll was comparatively low) fuelled the belief that Israelis were acting without restraint.

But it was events in England’s second city of Manchester that came to symbolise the plight of British Jewry. (Greater Manchester is home to the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe and is the largest in the UK after London.) Manchester’s Gaza conflict centred  on a small Anglo-Israeli cosmetics shop called Kedem. It is a store that sells soap and exfoliating cream made from minerals extracted from the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. Kedem is not a political shop. It is a registered British company, paying UK taxes. It is not a front for the Israeli government as some idiots believe. However, Kedem became the focus of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

When the protests first started, the shop was forced to shut for four days. But a large contingent of Israel supporters (including this writer) came to the rescue. Day after day, week after week, Manchester’s Jewish community turned out to support the shop and to oppose the pro-Palestinian protesters. We tried very hard to highlight the hypocrisy of the boycotters. It is all too easy to boycott a little shop that sells soap, we argued, but why didn’t the Hamas supporters discard their USB flash drives and instant messaging software that are the products of Israeli innovation? Don’t use Google, we said, because Google uses an advanced text search algorithm invented by an Israeli student.

We asked them why they singled out Israel for criticism while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy where one in five citizens are Arabs who have the right to vote and sit in the Israeli parliament. We asked them why they support Hamas when it is a terrorist organisation that uses its own people as human shields and spends millions of dollars of aid money building terror tunnels. Their response was always outright denial or obfuscation. Or a mixture of both.

It wasn’t just Kedem that suffered during those six weeks. Adjacent businesses were forced to close for days, even weeks, because of the protests. Meanwhile, shop workers on Market Street (the busiest commercial street in the UK) were intimidated and harassed by Hamas demonstrators as they snaked their way from Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens to Kedem. It was only when the local economy started to suffer that the authorities did anything. Indeed, city councillors were furious that the police were not preventing such large-scale public disorder.

Throughout the six weeks and beyond, the police response was mixed. The police did their best at first to maintain a balance between the legal right to protest and the right for shops to trade freely. But at times they were overwhelmed by the size and the persistence of the pro-Palestinian mob. And the police showed themselves to be either incapable or unwilling to deal conclusively with the protestors who, even now, are active outside Kedem. There are some people in the Jewish community who wish to  flatter the police, but the truth is that local law enforcement has failed. And Manchester is a more unpleasant place as a consequence.

Will the protestors ever go away? It seems unlikely, especially in the current political climate where the hard Left and Wahhabi Islamists are emboldened by their opposition to the newly-elected centre-right government led by David Cameron. And if a new war between Israel and Hamas (or Hezbollah) breaks out, then the anti-Zionist protesters will undoubtedly return in very large numbers. After all, they’ve tasted blood and they are impatient to strike again.

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