LONDON, Sept. 23 (JTA) — British Jews turned out in force this week for a rally supporting Israel and the United States.
The rally, held Sunday at London’s Theatre Royal, was the largest event of its kind in Britain in years.
Amid tight security, more than 2,400 people filled the auditorium and spilled out onto the streets outside, where speeches were shown on closed-circuit television.
The rally, One People 2001, was originally intended to be in support of four missing Israelis — three soldiers and a businessman — who were kidnapped in two separate incidents last October by Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.
But as the Israeli-Palestinian violence wore on and the death toll mounted, British Jewish leaders turned the event into one of solidarity with Israel.
It was to have occurred on the same day as a similar rally in New York.
But following the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the New York rally was canceled.
In the attacks’ aftermath, the British gathering’s message was broadened to include support for the United States and condemnation of terrorism.
Jews came by bus from Leeds and Birmingham as well as London for the rally. They were joined by Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo and members of the British Parliament, including Stephen Twigg, the deputy leader of the House of Commons and former chair of Labor Friends of Israel.
It opened with two minutes of silence “for all those who have lost their lives to terror.”
One speaker underlined the theme with a reworking of a verse from the Book of Micah: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall terrorize them.”
Ori Tannenbaum — the son of businessman Elchanan Tannenbaum, who was among those kidnapped by Hezbollah last October — drew loud applause by demanding that countries that sponsor terrorism not be allowed to join President Bush’s evolving coalition of countries to fight terrorism.
Tannenbaum named Syria, Iran and Lebanon as supporters of Hezbollah, and called upon “the free world” to get information about the four missing Israelis.
“Fighting terrorism and harboring terrorists cannot take place simultaneously,” Tannenbaum said.
Milo, the Tel Aviv mayor, echoed Tannenbaum’s theme, saying “There is no rationality in bringing into a coalition against terror those who host terrorists. It is unbelievable.”
Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, gave an impassioned speech in which he rejected the allegation that the United States was targeted by terrorists because of its support for Israel.
The two countries were both targets, he said, because of an even deeper affinity.
“The link between them is that Israel and the U.S. are free, open, democratic societies, and therefore they are the ultimate threat” to those who would stifle freedom in the name of totalitarian religion.
For Israel to be linked with the United States by extremists who condemn both, he said, “is a badge of honor.”
He urged Muslim and Arab leaders to stop teaching their children to hate.
“When nations learn to love their children more than they hate their neighbors, we will have peace,” he said.
Another speaker also dealt with the themes of love and children: Seth Mandell, whose son Kobi was one of two Israeli teen-agers beaten to death and mutilated by Palestinians during the summer.
Choked with emotion, he said he and his family would stay in their home “because we love the people, the beauty, the freedom to be who we are in our own land.”
And he said the visit to Israel of two non-Jewish American childhood friends after his son was killed “made me love them all the more, and love mankind all the more.”
He told the audience to be proud of their connection to Israel: “Be confident that we who live there are going to continue to grow as a country, a people and as individuals.”
Rachel Smith, the educational director in Britain of the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva, said after the rally that she found it “inspiring that so many people could come together for a common aim, a common goal of showing the world we’re not going to tolerate terrorism.”
Albert Friedlander, a leading liberal rabbi, said the rally was as much for the people who attended it as to send a message to the wider world.
“At a time of anxiety, Jews want to feel close to each other, to greet friends. These brave words mask a great fear.”