Shades of Shylock

Attack on Israel’s Ambassador at London university exposes imbedded British antisemitism

Written by Lay of the Land UK correspondent

It says something about the UK today, that the Israeli Ambassador to the Court of St. James  cannot speak freely at one of the country’s most prestigious universities without coming under physical attack.

Trying to “tell Israel’s story” on the 9th November 2001 at the London School of Economic (LSE),  Tzipi Hotovely had to literally be “evacuated” by her security detail who were forced to defend her from students who assaulted her verbally at a speaking engagement.

In case there was any doubt the protestors were serious in their nefarious intent to intimidate, an Instagram account called “LSE Class War” posted ahead of the event with Hotovely the following:

Whoever smashes the Ambassador [sic] car window… gets pints. Let’s f***in frighten her.”

As it turned out, while the security guards were leading Ambassador Hotovely past the protesters, a man rushed at her and they had  to hurriedly push her into her car.

So, while freedom of speech is a fundamental right under UK law, it would appear not always the case when it comes to Jews!

Antisemitic violence has a history of periodically pouring out onto British streets from the Blackshirts (British fascists) in the Battle of Cable Street on October 4, 1936 to the cavalcade of cars on the 19 May 2021 where pro-Palestinian demonstrators were heard screaming antisemitic abuse such as “F*** their mothers, rape their daughters”, while driving through Jewish areas of north London.

Antisemitic Intimidation. Israeli Ambassador  to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely was subjected, in the words of Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to “unacceptable intimidation. This is not disagreement or free speech – it is harassment and it will have deeply shaken Jewish students both at LSE and across the country”.

Hotovely is hardly the first Israeli diplomat to the UK who antisemites have tried to silence.

On June 3, 1982, Israel’s then Ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov was getting into his car after a banquet at the Dorchester hotel in Park lane when three gunmen from the Abu Nidal group appeared from nowhere and one of them, Hussein Ghassan Said, fired a single bullet straight through his head. The Ambassador fell into a three-month coma but somehow survived. He however was paralysed and required constant medical attention for the rest of his life.

Even during periods of intense peace-making, such  as on the 26 July 1994, one day after King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin met in Washington D.C. to discuss a Jordan-Israel peace treaty, a car bomb went off outside the London Israeli Embassy injuring 20 civilians. A second bomb exploded outside another Jewish institution, Balfour House, premises occupied by the UJIA in Finchley.  

The history of violence against high-profile Jews in the UK reveals its intent to harass them into silence.  Hotovely however would have none of it. “I had a great time at LSE and I will not be intimidated,” the Ambassador said on Twitter, saying she “would continue to share Israeli history and have an open dialogue with all parties of British society.”

Calm before the Storm. Ambassador Hotovely speaking at the LSE event before protesters surrounded her car. (photo: Israeli Embassy)

Nevertheless, the attack on Ambassador Hotovely, is an ominous message to British Jews, who are already beleaguered by antisemitism that took root to the highest echelons within the Labour Party, the reappearance of antisemitic violence on London’s streets and social-activism morphing against Jews. The result is that the Jewish community is feeling increasingly and deeply isolated, emphatically affirmed after Labour was found guilty of discriminating against British Jews by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

If social-activism continues to radicalise and manifest in violence against Jews, it could herald a damning situation for British-Jews, with about half of whom had revealed they were prepared to leave Britain if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minster in 2019.

Earlier this month,  the curtain  was literally  raised at the Royal Court Theatre exposing a cultural –  if albeit  – “unconscious bias”, when the main character – a power-hungry Silicon Valley billionaire – in the play, ‘Rare Earth Mettle’ by Al Smith had a Jewish surname, even though there was no Jewish context in the production. Following accusations from members of the Jewish community of promoting a negative Jewish stereotype., the Royal Court Theatre apologised and changed the script. Apparently, it was never realised that “Hershel Fink” was a Jewish name!

Chaos on Campus. Barricaded by student mob, Israeli envoy, Tzipy Hotovely, remains defiant.

There is something about the British love affair for the antisemitic stereotype of Shylock, of the ‘bad Jew, made acceptable’ – the one who can be told where to talk, how to speak and when to be heard. British Jews and Israelis can plead for their humanity just like in Shakespeare’s Shylock character in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, but to antisemites, Jews need to be demonised and then reformed. The repeated attempts to demonise Jews as money-grabbing, murderous, genocidal and world-domineering are common tropes and antisemites will always persist in trying to silence Jews.

Stirring Hatred. Imitating the Nazis, British politician Sir Oswald Mosley inspects members of his British Union of Fascists in Royal Mint Street, London sparking the riot known as the Battle of Cable Street. (PhotoCentral Press/Getty Images)

This threat to British Jews and British Israelis to silence their voices, should be a warning call to the threats to free-speech and political freedom. The British Government must intervene and mandate all universities and organisations to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and use effective sanctions against antisemites. Once the venomous hate against Israel can be exposed for what it really is – antisemitism – it will impact on reducing the spiralling antisemitism imbedded within British society – but only if the British Government acts.

Savagery on London Street. A convoy of cars filmed on London’s Finchley Road, with passengers yelling antisemitic obscenities abuse such as “F*** their mothers, rape their daughters”, on May 16, 2021. (Screenshot)

In conclusion, whether you agree or disagree with the Israeli Ambassador Hotovely’s views, her message  was exemplary when she said:

The State of Israel will send its representatives to every platform. We will not give in to bullying and violence.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).