On Tuesday night I had the exciting honour of being one of 1,400 people invited by the Israeli ambassador and his wife to the Savoy hotel in central London to celebrate Israel’s upcoming 70th birthday.
After the usual airport-style security checks I entered a large room full of beautifully catered falafel, schwarma, shakshuka and, most important of all, smoked salmon on rye bread and all washed down with lovely white wine.
There were lots of very familiar faces in the room; either those I have known from my many years of activism or those I frequently see on political programmes on television.
Hence I spotted many Labour MPs and I couldn’t resist a selfie with the heroic John Mann MP who, along with his family, has received horrific threats for merely standing up against Labour Party antisemitism most notably when Ken Livingstone claimed Hitler supported Zionism.
Mann’s daughter, Heather, wrote an incredibly moving piece in the Sunday Times recently detailing the threats against her and her family. It was good to meet John Mann and to personally thank him for bravely standing up against antisemitism.
I had a selfie with LBC broadcaster Nick Ferrari as well as Labour MP Caroline Flint. I’m easily starstruck! But there was also the sense of well being from so many people in one room so supportive of Israel. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, also came.
It was good to see fellow pro-Israel activists relaxing in a friendly environment when considering we are usually together either at anti-Israel events on the verge of being thrown out for simply asking a challenging question or we are planning future activism like our current attempt to somehow stop this year’s horrific Al Quds Day march through London on June 10th.
Quite remarkably our government deems Hezbollah, which has a flag containing a gun, a “political movement” and so allows such flags to be flown on Al Quds Day. Last year we successfully put a halt to their march for a good 40 minutes and hopefully similar will happen again this year.
In his speech Ambassador Regev demanded that “Iran is permanently denied the nuclear weapons capabilities it continues to seek”. He said it was a cause for celebration that today Israel is speaking to more Arab countries than at any time in its 70 year history. He also looked forward to the “historic event” this summer when Israel will be rolling out the red carpet for the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William. It will, he said, be the “first ever official visit to the Jewish state by a senior British Royal”.
He finished by asking for the people in the room to vote “douze points” for Israel’s own royalty being its entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest on May 12th and the apparent favourite to win, Netta:
I have to admit to a mea culpa on the evening though. I asked for a selfie with Emily Thornberry. I took it as a positive that Corbyn’s shadow foreign secretary was at the event. I was, however, unaware of the fact that she had recently been in the room for a speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which was full of anti-Semitic bile including blaming Jewish “behaviour” for the Holocaust, and that when Thornberry came to write about the speech on her Facebook she had overlooked Abbas’ antisemitism. Had I known this I wouldn’t have been so keen.
But I was honoured to be at Tuesday’s celebrations and, as Jonathan Hoffman said to me as we walked together to Embankment tube station afterwards, “It’s great to be at an event that we weren’t thrown out of”.