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"I wish Eighty or Ninety Jews Would Die with each Bomb"

Editorial, Wednesday 22nd Oct 2003

On Thursday evening we went to Marks & Spencer department store. On the way, the bus conductor wanted it known to the passengers that he was Moroccan. He went from seat to seat making a point of greeting passengers in Arabic, and animatedly chatting with women in traditional Muslim clothes.

He did make a point of grunting to those of us who were, shall we say, ‘traditional locals.’ We did not feel slighted but as we approached Oxford Street he went to the front of the bus and told those of us seated at that end of the vehicle that ‘Marks and Spencer sell things and then send the money to the Jewish.’ He then said what one assumes was a similar piece of useful information to a Muslim woman and both became rather agitated. The bus driver, a white-haired London Buses oldtimer of decades standing, leaned out of his cab and with considerable irritation lectured the conductor on the history of the Holocaust and of the ‘Jewish.’ As we were leaving the bus I could hear the driver and conductor arguing ; the latter reminding the Englishman that all Marks and Spencer money goes to the ‘Zionist murderers.’

We then found ourselves in Oxford Street and outside ‘M&S,’ as it is affectionately known, was a contingent of policemen and women who were protecting a small group of young Jewish men who had set up a table with an Israeli flag. The men were further protected by a substantial metal barrier, to separate them from what can only be described as an hysterical crowd of hate-filled people of every shape and size. What was so depressing was that non-Arabs in the noisy crowd outnumbered those from the Middle East.

(Let me explain the background : for years Palestinian groups have had a stall outside Marks & Spencer to protest the history of the Sieff family and to stop people from shopping at a store that stocks Israeli goods. The Palestinian young people are never attacked, and when Jews approach them the most that happens is a lively discussion. To a lesser extent its neighbour store, Selfridges, has had leafletters outside for years protesting the presence of Israeli wines on its shelves. One day last year I went into Selfridges and accosted the first couple I saw. They said they agreed with the Palestinian leafletters and thought no ‘Zionist apartheid’ goods should be sold anywhere in the UK. When I asked this otherwise charming English pair where they had learned the word ‘apartheid’ in relation to Israel they said they had read about it in The Independent and had seen ‘atrocities on the BBC.’)

Back to Thursday: I began to pick up snippets of shouts from this viscerally angry crowd. One woman in religious Muslim attire standing next to me -- actually jumping up and down -- screamed at the top of her voice to the Israel supporters, ‘You Jews destroyed my country, Iraq.’ Someone asked her what Israel had to do with Iraq and she screeched ‘You killed sixty of my family in Iraq.’ She was asked how sixty Iraqis were killed by Israelis and she said ‘Israel -USA! Same thing! And now you will take over Iran!’ She became so agitated that she had to be led away by the police.

Then came the chorus of really quite terrifyingly angry English people with their shouted mantras of ‘You people invented terrorism in Palestine.;’ ‘Israel is expanding every day and will soon own the whole Middle East!!’; (doh???) ; ‘Israel is slaughtering thousands of Palestinians every day.’ (Again, doh?)

But the crowning glory was an elegantly-dressed businessman next to me who seemed normal except for the fury in his eyes. He said, ‘I love and revere the suicide bombers. Every time I hear of a suicide bomb going off I wish it had been eighty or ninety Jews instead of a pitiful handful.’ He then went on to shout at everyone around him every time someone tried to speak, and had reached a point of hysteria -- ‘You people have been trying to acquire land across the entire globe and will soon own every nation if you are not stopped!’ -- when, thankfully, a policewoman came over. One can think of some poeple who, had they been armed, would be in prison tonight because his suggestion that not enough Jews are killed each time a bomb goes off ‘made one crazy’ as the saying goes, but we were pleased to see that the policewoman was making every effort to book him.

(Imagine how far he would have got had he said such things in New York or Washington about Americans!)

What does this tell us about British society? Pim Fortuyn was assassinated because he expressed what were considered to be extremist views about the rise of Islam across Europe and in his native Holland. We have no objection to ethnic diversity but we are sickened when we see British and Arab people united in such blood-curdling hatred of one very tiny minority. (Lest we forget Jews are now outnumbered ten to one by Muslims in the UK.) What alarms us is the profoundly visceral hatred shown by the crowd on Thursday towards a mild-looking group of young Jewish men and bystanders supporting them.

Does this mean, as Melanie Phillips has said so often in the British press this year, that Britain is no longer a place where Jews may live without fear? Yes, we think it does. Our liberal friends will say that the actions of the Sharon government are making life hell for Diaspora Jews. Well, here is the crucial point: when Yitzhak Rabin was making peace and Israel was booming -- and the Palestinian territories were beginning to flourish -- terror bombs were exploding as often as during the dark days and way back then, one's British hosts were saying the same unspeakable things about ’you people invented terrorism in Palestine' and 'hopefully in the next war Israel will be taight a lesson it won't forget...'

Sadly, we believe anti-Semitism is endemic in the world at large. We feel that our own spiritual home is the United States ( we have given up trying to explain to European Jews why we feel as free and proud as Jews in the USA as we do in Israel ), but were we as young as the men on the Israel stall on Thursday we would make aliyah. NOW.

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