A Salute To Israel At 60

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (July 2008)


The family and I attended the Salute to Israel Parade on Sunday 29th June to celebrate 60 years of the modern State of Israel, 1948 - 2008.

The London event was a parade to, and events within, Trafalgar Square. There was a similar event in Manchester, both inspired by the annual event in New York.
We arrived early and had plenty of time to look round the activities in Trafalgar Square. The square was enclosed and entry was via gates manned by stewards. They were polite, friendly, helpful and and the event was very well organised. They asked whether we had any alcohol. 

In the square were kosher catering vans, plenty of free drinking water and a children’s area with face painting, stilt walkers, jugglers and bouncy castles. 

The stilt walkers were making friends with people of all ages.
When we saw on the TV screens that the parade was approaching we made our way to the corner of Cockspur Street and Haymarket to see the floats and organisations come in.

There were Jewish ex-Servicemen with their medals and association flags.

Vintage buses from several organisations.

Hadassah Hospitals are committed to treating everybody.

Camp Simcha for sick children. Other floats were on lorries.

There was music and the sound of the shofar. Hava Nagila from a steel band.

A motorcycle cavalcade from Yids on Bikes with some mouthwatering machinery. The Jewish Police federation were present.

On foot were Christian Friends of Israel who carried cards of the dozens of places they were from – Norfolk, Nigeria, Banbury, Birmingham.

Other walking and cycling groups were from Jewish Schools and Synagogues. There were scouts and the Jewish Boys and Girls Brigade. The St John's Ambulance brigade  were also in attendance.

The parade passed by a silent, black dressed and grim faced line of pro Palestine demonstrators.

At the end we made our way back into the square where the Dance Troup of Israel were on stage. By this time we were at the back of the crowd so we decided to try our favourite vantage point over Trafalgar Square on the steps of the National Gallery.

A gang of anti Israel demonstrators had brought their drums and were frantically making a pseudo ethnic din in an attempt to drown out the good music coming from the stage. Above them some others had climbed on the columns of the National Gallery with a Palestinian Flag. None of them looked Palestinian. The boy holding the flag was blond and looked well fed, smug and self satisfied.

The demonstration against the Salute had been advertised on the websites of the usual suspects and a South coast eco group who had been encouraging their members to travel to London to join a vintage bus protest against the only democracy in the Middle East, another to Derby later next month to protest against the BNP and a Farmers Market regularly. I can’t quite see what using lots to petrol to travel the country to demonstrate against the BNP and Israel in a vintage bus has got to do with being ecologically conscious but as my husband says, it is a package to which some people subscribe because it is more convenient than thinking for themselves on each separate issue.

There was a recorded message from Boris Johnson followed by a speech from Ed Balls, talking sense for once. He paid tribute to the hard work and high standard of Jewish schools and had a message for “those who oppose the State of Israel and seek it’s overthrow”.

“You will not succeed. You will not succeed and never again will the Jewish people flee from tyranny in our world”.

Boris Johnson paid tribute to the achievements in Israel, in which “I played my part by two weeks washing up in a kibbutz”.

There were also speeches by
British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and the Israeli ambassador Ron Proser but I didn’t hear them. Being a family fun day and rather warm we moved about quite a bit, into shade, into cafes and into cloakrooms. So I can’t give the kind of report a professional would give.

The demonstrators had by this time moved to the side of South Africa House and were becoming more vocal. The police moved into position to keep them on the pavement.

A girl (combat boots and bottle blonde hair) and boy brought out and inspected their “bloodstained” banner. It was then folded away and they tried to enter the square.

Alert stewards declined their entry which surprised no one except the couple concerned.

Red dye was put in the fountains. I gather it was supposed to symbolise blood shed but there were some who thought a child had spilt their blackcurrant juice. This is criminal damage, of course, the cost of clearing which will be paid by the ratepayers of London.

There was no programme of the event so I can’t tell you much about the artistes performing.

There was a rather good Klezmer band and some more modern music, called, so I am advised by "The Luggage" who enjoyed it, rap.

The three protest buses drove round in a figure of 8 route. The first was open-topped and a few protestors shouted from the topdeck. The rear two buses drove around devoid of “passengers”.

The crowd was very mixed. Ladies in saris, a few in hijabs, black and Sikh families, men in kippots and ladies in snoods, nuns, lots of children and young people mixing with the elderly.

A final view from inside the National Gallery.

This morning (Monday 30th) there was no reporting from the main British press or newsites other than a very brief mention of the pro Palestinian demonstration from the Press Association. There are reports from the Israeli papers Jerusalem Post and Ynet News. The event website promised photos and report later, Totally Jewish report is here and I imagine that the Jewish Chronicle will run a spread shortly.  The Manchester Evening News report on their event in Heaton Park is here. They didn't get the sunshine that we enjoyed.

One of the aims of the event, as the Jewish Chronicle reported was
“a fun day, demonstrating solidarity with Israel as well as an expression of unity within the British Jewish community, transcending religious and political affiliations”.

From what I saw it succeeded in that admirably.
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Photographs by Esmerelda Weatherwax and The Luggage. The serviceman gave me permission to use his photo; the Sikh gentleman moved away before I could speak to him. If he sees this I ask him to excuse the liberty.
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