I had the privilege to attend the AJEX Parade at the Cenotaph on Sunday 17th November. This was my first visit and I found it to be rather inspiring.
Whitehall was specially sealed off for the Parade, and Central London stopped for this most solemn act of communal remembrance. As the trumpeter sounded the first notes of The Last Post at the Cenotaph, I watched in awe as simultaneously, the hands of Jewish ex-Servicemen, current members of the Armed Forces, young cadets and volunteers, all were raised in a crisp salute. And I felt a certain emotion as the Band of the Grenadier Guards, who had provided an authentic military sound to the event, played Adon Olam, as all the crowd sang along. It struck me as a seamless integration of Jewish culture and values with those of our country’s military and political establishment. I found it a comforting spectacle.
The whole ceremony was moving and emotional, particularly seeing Veteran Jewish Servicemen marching as properly as they were able and parading past the Lord Admiral of the Fleet as though they were still in the services, marching with “eyes right” as they remembered their proud service to the country.
I reflected that, even though this past summer has seen increase of tension in the incidents of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity, the Jewish community remains a proud part of British society. We can be rightly proud of our huge contribution to this country, whilst the AJEX parade enabled us to remember and honour the sacrifices that our community made in defence of this country.
The recent meeting that we held with the Home Secretary along with CST and the Board of Deputies reflected the Community’s role in British society. We were able to express our deep concerns about the worsening nature of anti-Israel rhetoric and protest, especially pro-boycott actions that have included violence, criminal damage and intimidation of members of the public and shop workers. We asked that intimidation or harassment by pro-boycott activists should be publicly condemned, and retailers ought to contact police when protests involve criminality.
The Home Secretary acknowledged that problems faced by British Jews contradict British values and should concern not only Jews, but society as a whole.
We have been pleased to note that the Government and the Labour Party continue to oppose boycotts of Israeli goods, services and products. The JLC and BOD have been working constructively with volunteers and activist groups and organisations like the Zionist Federation and We Believe in Israel to ensure a coordinated approach and response when we become aware of boycott activity.
The JLC and the Zionist Federation have also endorsed a public statement of the Community’s absolute opposition to cultural boycotts, which began to surface over the summer.
The community is opposed to any efforts to boycott Jewish culture, and regards such efforts as an effective ‘red line’. This especially includes any suggestion or demand that Jews disassociate themselves from Israel, for example by refusing to receive funding from Israeli government sources. Such proposals have a chilling effect on the Jewish community’s ability to express itself freely, and are to be condemned.
With that in mind, I was delighted to attend the opening night of the UK Jewish Film Festival. Having been at the eye of a storm of controversy in August, it was a genuine pleasure to be there for the first night. There seemed a lot of smiles on people’s faces. Even a loud but rather poorly attended protest outside could do little to dampen the pleasure that this celebration of Jewish culture was bringing.
It has been one of the unexpected pleasures of this job that I have been able to attend for the first time events such as the UK Jewish Film Festival and the AJEX Parade, which, in their different ways, reflect our role within modern British society.