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America Beckons Once More
Last uploaded : Wednesday 1st Aug 2007 at 00:58
Contributed by : The Editor


America Beckons Once More

Now, a new boycott of Israel by the Irish nation makes one feel it is no longer nice for Jews to be in the British Isles…

31 July 2007

Lately my thoughts have been turning to my great-grandparents, whose images adorn my wall here in London. I have only one photograph of them and that is it. All I know is that the family name was Karash and that this bearded, sad man was a great rabbi in Bialystok. Like so many of Jewish ancestry I do not have a family tree, as opposed to my British friends, some of whom can trace every ancestor back to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.

It is odd that I ended up in Europe after the struggle my ancestors endured to find their way to the United States. Now that I am embroiled on a daily basis in the anguished ‘anti-Boycott Israel’ movement in Britain and feeling less and less welcome in a land I thought would be my permanent home, I am feeling a strong kinship with those Jews who left Europe a hundred years ago to escape pogroms and conscription into the Czar’s army.

But how, you may ask, could England possibly be mentioned in the same breath as the pogroms or the Pale of Settlement? Here is my answer: In my first feature for World Jewish Digest I reported on the string of boycotts being instituted by various British trade unions. The anger and hatred I have felt in the past year from many people here has made me understand the despair of my great-grandparents and their children, who begged, borrowed and bartered to get passage to the United States.

Right now I am trying to work out an economical way to ship my worldly goods to the USA, and though I am not on the receiving end of beatings and rape as had proliferated in Czarist Russia, that feeling of ‘I have to get out of here’ has hit me for the first time in the thirty-one years I have resided in Britain. I understand how my ancestors felt and I am counting the days until I can see the Statue of Liberty, as they did one-hundred years ago.

What has caused me profound shock is the news that the combined Protestant and Catholic Irish Congress of Trade Unions, representing 800,000 members in both Ulster and the Irish Republic, has united in its condemnation of Israel and instituted a Resolution in the week of July 16th calling for an all-out boycott of all things Israeli.

Considering that it is only a few months since Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, the leaders of the IRA and Ulster Unionists respectively, had finally shaken hands after a near-century of Protestant-Catholic bloodletting, it is a disturbing turn of events to see the Irish workers’ union uniting against Israel.

As reported in ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ of 20 July, the Resolution was proposed by the Belfast and District Trades Council and Derry Trades Council. Ulster’s largest union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, had already made a decision to boycott Israeli goods in the manner of the boycott in the era of South African apartheid.

The combined Irish resolution urges a complete divestment from Israeli companies and pension and investment funds as well as pressing members to encourage colleagues in all walks of life to follow suit.

What is going on here?

I have a theory. European countries are not engaging in boycotts. In fact, the Seventh Research Framework Programme of 2007 links Israel and the EU in well-funded academic cross-fertilisation. The reason why I think Britain and Ireland are at the forefront of these punitive measures against the Jewish State is because -- despite the Blitz -- mainland Britain was never occupied by Germany and its citizens were not forced to live under the jackboot of the Third Reich. Ireland was not occupied, and neither country watched its Jews being marched off to death camps.

Europe was occupied by the Nazis and still fresh in the minds of many of its citizens is the genocide committed against its Jewish population. Likewise Europeans are less likely to engage in the condemnatory rhetoric being used in Britain to characterise Israeli policies. It is interesting, too, that Britain has such a small Jewish community -- less than 300,000 -- and yet the aggressive language being used by the media, politicians and trade unionists borders on anti-Semitism. France has a much larger Jewish population but boycotts are not proliferating.

In addition, Israel was the last bastion of British Empire. There is deep bitterness amongst many Britons, even so many decades on, about the lynching of British soldiers and the bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun and other Jewish resistance groups in post-war Palestine. For thirty-one years I have heard over and over again at dinner parties the stories of British soldiers and sailors being terrorised by the Stern Gang, and the mantra, ‘You people invented terrorism!’

Notwithstanding this, the anger directed towards me in social situations these days goes beyond British bitterness over an episode in Jerusalem sixty years ago. I find it disturbing and unsettling that I am spending more and more time alone, blessedly away from my fulminating non-Jewish circle; on the rare occasions when I socialise it is with two Jewish friends, both expatriates and both also now planning to return to their native countries after many, many years in Britain.

As I, like my ancestors, try to scrape together the resources to ship myself and my belongings to the USA, my thoughts return to my Bialystok family who found a home in Philadelphia away from the hatred they had left behind in a festering Europe.

Like them I long for the day very soon when I, with one-way ticket in hand, can pass Lady Liberty and watch her lift her lamp beside the golden door.


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