It happened at Wembley Stadium, on a Saturday afternoon in 2007, (and in case my Rabbi is reading this, I walked there after Shul, honestly!) and was undoubtedly the moment in my life when I felt the most pride in being a British Jew.
What was this moment and why write about it now? The answer is that I have been thinking about it since drawing up the JLC’s new Mission statement, three elements of which are that we should aspire that the next generation of mainstream British Jews should be assured of their place in British society, proud of their Jewish culture and heritage and confident in their support of Israel. And I had been asking myself- Do I feel any of those things now? Then I remembered the incident where all of that came together and I felt the proudest.
The occasion was England v Israel in the UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying competition. Part of my duties for The FA at that day were to accompany the VIP’s on to the pitch for the pre-match formalities. I walked through the tunnel behind the players, and stood on the touchline while the national anthems played. For the very first time at a football match, I proudly sang BOTH national anthems. I got some funny looks from those around me as I also sang Hatikvah but I could not have been prouder at that moment. Singing Hatikvah at Wembley Stadium brought tears to my eyes.
The thing is, for a British Jew, singing both anthems and recognising our position as both British and Jewish is something we take for granted. We display it regularly. At Shul on Shabbos, we offer collective prayers first to the Queen and her Ministers and then to the State of Israel. At a Jewish function, whether a simcha or a communal event, we first toast the Queen and then the President of the State of Israel. If there are anthems to be played, it is the British National Anthem first, followed by the Hatikvah.
Our Britishness and the centrality of Israel are at the heart of our identity. This explains our outrage at an academic conference that had been organized at the University of Southampton School of Law set up to question
Israel’s legitimacy and existence, which has since been cancelled on “health and safety grounds”. The range of topics centered around not just purported illegality of actions of Israeli Governments, but the legitimacy and right to existence of the State itself.
This conference raised important issues. As a former law student myself, I cherish freedom of speech and interesting academic debate. But the organisers of this conference planned to hide behind academic freedom to cover their one sided hatred and bigotry. They fail to realise that attacks on Israel’s existence stab right at the heart of the centrality of Israel to Jewish identity. This is why it hurts me. Israel’s identity is as central to my Jewishness as is my pride in being British.
Prime Minster David Cameron said, at the CST Dinner on 18th March 2015, that “If the Jewish Community does not feel secure, our whole national fabric is diminished.” He articulated what I believe to be the case. The Jewish community is a part of our national fabric. Our values are intertwined with the values of the UK. Our identity is built around our Britishness and our Jewishness.
That is why I was so emotional when I sang both National anthems on that day in 2007.