I was in London at the time, and attended the Zionist Federation’s huge pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar Square on a crisp autumnal Sunday afternoon, 14 October, at which speakers denounced the Heath government, the Foreign Office, the Arab aggressors, and the United Nations. The throng – which included well-known stars of stage and screen, including such non-Jews as Donald Pleasance – was estimated by The Times (15 October 1973) as 10,000 strong, but the Jewish Chronicle (19 October 1973) put the figure at 20,000. Speakers included the Israeli ambassador, Michael Comay, the Federation’s president (life peer Lord, formerly Sir Barnett, Janner), the president of the Board of Deputies (Sir Samuel Fisher), a former president of the Liberal Party (life peer Lady [Nancy] Seear), Conservative MP Hugh Fraser, and Labour MP Peter Shore. Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits recited a prayer. Lending support by their presence were the 89-year-old Jewish Labour life peer Lord (Manny) Shinwell, and the 89-year-old non-Jewish Conservative peer Lord Barnby. I can see the latter clearly in my mind’s eye: standing proud and erect in a tan-coloured overcoat, this right-wing aristocrat who spoke up for Israel in the House of Lords that week; to my disgust, the Jewish Chronicle failed to record his presence, even after I wrote to remind them of it.
To cheers, Hugh Fraser expressed his abhorrence of the fact that the government “should at this time be sending arms for a parade of independence in Dubai and denying to Israel, fighting for its life, spare parts for Centurion tanks”. Peter Shore condemned the deafening silence from the nations of the world regarding the Arabs’ premeditated attack on Israel on Judaism’s holiest day, and observed that it was extraordinary that at a time when the Soviet Union was pouring armaments into Arab countries British Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home had nothing better to offer than a unilateral arms embargo which would tilt the balance against Israel.
The rally passed a resolution calling on the Heath government and the UN to condemn Egypt and Syria and to assist in the promotion of a just and peaceful settlement, negotiated between Israel and the Arabs. As soon as the rally was over, the resolution, addressed to Edward Heath, was taken to 10 Downing Street.
When the arms embargo issue was voted upon in the House of Commons (the government carried the day 251: 175 with over 100 MPs abstaining or absenting themselves from the Chamber), seventeen Conservative MPs defied a two-line whip to vote against their own side. These rebels included all but two of the party’s nine Jewish MPs (one of the two was Robert Adley – real name Adler – for whom Jewishness was clearly a burden and who ended up as an Anglican): the remainder were Andrew Bowden, Hugh Fraser, Philip Goodhart (son of a Jewish father, Oxford jurist Professor A. L Goodhart), John Gorst, Tom Iremonger, Sir Stephen McAdden, John Maginnis, Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell, Ernie Money (yes, that really was his name; he sat for Ipswich), and Dudley Stewart-Smith. In addition, the Reverend Ian Paisley, the Ulster Unionist MP, flew from Belfast to London especially to vote against the embargo.
The Jewish Chronicle (16 November 1973) revealed that during the Yom Kippur War thousands of British non-Jews had offered to help Israel. The Israeli Embassy experienced jammed switchboards in the first week of the war owing to the numbers of Gentiles phoning to offer assistance or merely good wishes. The Embassy received 1,500 supportive letters during the conflict and several hundreds more in its immediate aftermath. “Unlike previous poignant occasions – such as the Munich massacre of Olympic athletes last year – there was not a single abusive and derogatory letter or one with even a hint of antisemitism.” Those offering material help included several British servicemen: for example, a former Royal Navy officer offered his motor launch to the Israeli navy, and when the offer was politely refused begged to be allowed to take it to Israel himself; two soldiers from County Durham who wrote “It would give us pleasure and honour to serve in your country against your oppressors”; a merchant seaman from Leicester who wrote of his preparedness “to adapt myself to any circumstances to fight for the Jewish cause” and to pay his own fare to Israel to do so. Six individuals offered their own private planes, complete with pilots, for Israeli reconnaissance flights. Then there were people such as the young Scotsman who turned up at the Embassy with rucksack packed, ready to fight for Israel; there were the Londoners who answered the call to give blood at the Marble Arch Synagogue for Israel’s war wounded; there were those who sent unsolicited gifts of money, even jewellery, to help Israel’s war effort.
There was the army major who, in a letter to The Times (30 October 1973) recalled that serving under General Sir Horatius Murray in Palestine during 1948 was “the period of my army service of which I am least proud”. Murray, in a letter to the same newspaper (26 October 1973) had written that back then he was “forced to shell Tel Aviv with 25-pounders and to attack with tanks” and that “this action proved successful”. “So it should!” observed the major sarcastically. “We found that to a large extent Tel Aviv was defended by women, children, and old men, and the sight of their sacrificed bodies sickened the most hardened British troops. The Jews have always paid the full price in blood for their tiny promised portion of the earth’s surface.”
A widespread perception abounded that churchmen had not been as outspoken as they ought regarding the Arabs’ attack and its timing. I haven’t looked into this issue enough to make an informed comment, but certainly that was the view of the rabbi of Manchester’s Reform Synagogue. Certainly, too, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, in a letter to one Zionist body wrote that his church, “which has a deep affection for the Jewish people, shares in the revulsion that hostilities should begin against Israel on the Day of Atonement, when the Jewish people were at prayer.” (It is, by the way, interesting to note that in a column entitled “Friends like these” [Jewish Chronicle, 15 October 1973], the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, now almost 85, one of the most outrageous Israel-baiters in the House of Commons, decried the attitude of most of the British media, which, it seemed to him, appeared to rejoice in the chastening effect the war had so far wrought on Israel.)
One of the well-known personalities at the pro-Israel London rally mentioned above was the author Lynne Reid Banks, perhaps best known for her novel The L-Shaped Room. She read out score upon core of messages of solidarity from notable people unable to attend in person. I remember reading a stirring newspaper article during that war in which Ms Banks wrote (I believe I quote her correctly from a distance of 42 years) that the Jews of Israel – “their tiny sliver of a country” – deserved support from non-Jews “for all that we let them suffer in Europe”. It was a beautiful article and most welcome. More recently, however, Ms Reid Banks, although observing on her website that she is not a Jew, has, like her Jewish husband, Israeli ex-pat sculptor Chaim Stephenson, signed statements critical of Israel under the auspices of “Independent Jewish Voices”. IJA is an organisation which would appear to include a number of persons who are Jewish only by some accidental quirk of ancestry or other tenuous association. I wonder whether, were he alive now, Robert Adley would sign that body’s statements criticising Israel. There are certainly Jews who do so for whom such activity under those auspices is their only association with matters Jewish.
It seems to me that at the root of much of the pro-Israel sentiment that was being voiced at the time might have been rooted, to a greater or lesser extent, consciously or subconsciously, in an identification of modern Israel’s struggles against the Arabs with ancient Israel’s struggles against Pharoah, a remembrance of school scripture lessons. There were, of course, other factors at work: support for Israel in remorse for Jewish suffering down the centuries culminating in the Holocaust, and admiration for the Jews and what they had achieved not only in exile but in Israel too; the perception of Israel as an ally of the West, which contrasted with older perceptions that an independent Jewish State would be a tool of the Soviet Union. I’d like to discuss these matters more fully in later columns, but for now I’ll conclude on this note: traditionally taught “religious knowledge” is no longer on the British school curriculum, and comparatively few children imbibe the scriptures at home or at Sunday school. Therefore fewer and fewer have the opportunity to identify the trials and tribulations of modern-day Israel with the trials of ancient Israel or to perceive an organic historical link between the old Israel and its miraculous modern successor. It’s a problem, especially at a time of encroachments by so-called “Chrislam,” another topic that must await a later column.
Daphne Anson is an Australian who under her real name has authored and co-authored several books and many articles on historical topics including Jewish ones. She blogs under an alias in order to separate her professional identity from her blogging one.