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Reflections on the Burning of the Stars and Stripes..
Last uploaded : Wednesday 10th Dec 2003 at 03:13
Contributed by : The Editor


Watching the American and British flags being burned in Trafalgar Square in the same twenty-four hour period in late November in which two British landmarks were bombed in Istanbul, I was struck by the anger of the crowds in the London piazza.

The day after the bombings, the British papers carried a colour photograph of the torn and singed Union Jacks salvaged from the wreckage of the British Consulate in Istanbul and from the HSBC bank building in the same city. The night before, I had been coughing my guts out walking around the police-barricaded centre of London, the air putrid with the smoky scent of burning flags.

It was reported that a lone American had turned up at Trafalgar Square with a large Stars and Stripes but the police had bundled him away, warning him that he was putting his life in danger. This reminded me of the occasion five years ago when I was making a documentary in London?s St John?s Wood at the local synagogues and churches. When it came time to film at the London Mosque, I was told by my Libyan cameraman that I would be ?killed? if I attended the Mosque on a Friday, when , in his words, ?the crazies? came to worship. He reminded me that as an American I was a target. (This was during the time of Clinton and Barak?.)

The people demonstrating against the State visit of President George W Bush in late November were not Islamic ?crazies? but middle-class British citizens of varying ages. An elderly women carried a large papier-mache pretzel with the slogan ?Choke on this.? I ventured to Grosvenor Square, where outside the US Embassy more white middle-class Brits were chanting slogans about the American President. I stopped to talk to a group of these people, and told them I had seen ?The Fog of War,? a remarkable new documentary by Errol Morris about Robert McNamara, the former US Defence Secretary. None of the demonstrators knew who he was, but they were quick to lecture me about the ?murderous history of genocidal America and its partner Israel.? (By the way, of someone can find me an anti-Bush or anti-war demonstrator in Great Britain who does not go peuce with rage at the very mention of the word ?Israel? I would love to meet them.)

This brings me to a headline I saw in this past Sunday?s ?Observer? newspaper. The headline referred to ?the most reviled nation in the world.? I had to read it twice to believe that the nation in question was the United States. (An EU poll recently placed Israel as the nation most likely to cause world conflict.) The irony is that the article itself , written by Will Hutton, asserts that despite worldwide condemnation of the Bush Administration?s environmental policy, the nation actually possesses one of the most highly developed and well-organised environmental lobbying mechanisms in the world. Nevertheless it gave me pause to see the words ?most reviled? describing the Grand Old USA. Who reviles the American nation? I am sorry to say it is not just al Qaeda or Hamas but ordinary folks like the one I met this past weekend at my local parish church. He, of retirement age, launched into a rant about the Zionist-Fascist-American plot to destroy the world. His rage about Israel was chilling and was matched only by his breathtaking ignorance. He informed me that Zionists have always been Nazis and that they have always wanted to colonise the world with a fascist regime. I tried to explain the original goals of Herzl and of the early settlers but he knew better: they -- these idealistic Jews from Europe and their sabra brethren ----were ALL Nazis.

The atmosphere of hatred and anger in Britain is disquieting. The maverick journalist Julie Burchill has taken her revulsion at the rise of British anti-Zionism to the extreme of leaving ?The Guardian? newspaper in protest at the paper?s slanted content. The fact that she is not Jewish is a watershed for the British Jewish community: until now Jewish writers -- and Conrad Black -- have written with alarm about the increasingly ugly tone of journalism when Jews and Israel are the targets. Burchill, in two articles of 29th November and 6th December, enumerates the instances (many of which we have written about in these pages) in which British writers have used their positions on newspapers to issue forth with what one could describe as ?unnatural vitriol? about the Jews and Zionists.

Chanukah approaches and with it the images of the oil that lasted for eight days and sustained our ancestors, as did the story of the Festival of Lights sustain Hugo Gryn in Lieberrose concentration camp.
The Jews are sustained by many things --- devotion to family, to hard work, to pursuit of professional and artistic excellence -- and as an American I am sustained by the good the American flag represents. Despite its patchy history besmirched by slavery; Indian wars; the McCarthy era; assassinations and Vietnam, it is no more a nation deserving to be ?reviled? than any other.

I never thought I would live to see the day when I would want to wear a US flag pin on a daily basis, but the sight of the burning of the British and American standards in Trafalgar Square made me feel isolated and frightened. The people who bombed the buildings in Istanbul were filled with hatred, and to see that same venom in the city in which I live-- the crazed-looking London crowd stomped on the flags as they burned -- was a defining moment for me. The Jewish people and their tiny nation are reviled worldwide. America is in good company. I cannot get away from the fact that I am Jewish and American-born. The flag-burners stressed that they were anti-Bush, not anti-American, but the maniacal expressions on their faces that night left me in no doubt that they hate many things. One of the things the churchgoer told me was that ? Zionists are full of hate.? Not true.

The hate I saw in Trafalgar Square was visceral and does not bode well for Britain. During Bush?s visit, despite universally good reviews for this Banqueting House speech, many newspapers ran absurdly hostile pieces. The former Labour Cabinet Minister Roy Hattersley wrote a long diatribe about the destructive nature of Disney and Mickey Mouse. So, not just Dubya but Mickey Mouse wrecking the world! The extreme rhetoric of ?The Daily Mirror? during the President?s visit was beyond comprehension. In the following week the British Cartoon Society gave its first prize of the year to the Dave Brown illlustration from ?The Independent? that had depicted Ariel Sharon eating a bleeding baby.

My conclusion from all of this is that there seems to be a confusion between what is truly evil. If a newspaper can devote columns to a condemnation of Disney in its campaign to discredit America, and if a churchgoer can berate me about the evil of Israel, what is truly evil?

The direction in which Europe and the world is going -- from France and Greece?s rampant rise in anti-Semitic attacks to the Malaysian Prime Minister?s ovation for his speech about Jews ruling the world by proxy -- is perplexing.

At this holiday season I am troubled and have no answers. But I do bless Julie Burchill, whose brave sentiments are a voice in the wilderness.

Read Burchill?s articles:

Julie Burchill Saturday 29 November, 2003 The Guardian

Julie Burchill 6 December 2003
The hate that shames us


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