In a special interview with Richard Mather of the Jewish Media Agency, Raphi Bloom, co-chair of Northwest Friends of Israel, spoke of his pride in the Jewish community and he called on the Jewish people to stand united against anti-Semitism by attending a solidarity rally in Manchester on Sunday 19 October.
Can you tell JMA readers about the creation of Northwest Friends of Israel? Why was an advocacy group needed?
Northwest Friends of Israel was formed on the back of the boycott protests outside the Kedem shop in Manchester over the summer of 2014. It started off as a group of individuals who wanted to take action to counter the lies and the anti-Semitism that was going on outside the shop. It has since grown into a more organised body with a committee and voluntary roles, with a pro-active agenda moving forward.
Can you describe how the idea for a northwest rally came about?
There’s one taking place in London on the same day and we wanted to organise one in Manchester as well so that it would effectively be a national day of campaigning against anti-Semitism. We felt that the community, having experienced quite a significant increase in anti-Semitism over the summer months, wanted to reclaim the agenda and say that we’re proud to be British and we’re proud to be Jewish, and we will not let anything intimidate us.
We’re doing a huge amount of publicity. We’ve got posters up in all the synagogues in Manchester. We’ve been running a very active social media campaign. We’re encouraging people to put it on their own Facebook walls and via Twitter. We’re putting adverts in the Jewish press. We’re putting posters up in shops. We’re liaising with schools. All the shuls have emailed it out. So we’re really working hard to get the message out there.
Who is speaking at the rally?
The line-up is still evolving. But the lead speaker will be the Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, who is the shadow secretary of state for international development. Ivan Lewis who is MP for Bury South will be there. We’ve got two local rabbis from north and south Manchester speaking. We’ve got Jonathan Arkush who is the vice president of Board of Deputies. And we hope to attract a couple of senior Tory politicians as well. Another one of our speakers is Henry Ferster, a Holocaust survivor.
The rally is being held in Manchester. Why is this rally relevant to Jews who live in other areas of the north?
We are a northwest advocacy group. But because Manchester has the critical mass of Jews in the north of England, it makes sense to hold it here and invite surrounding communities with smaller Jewish communities to join us.
For those who are concerned about safety, what security measures do you have in place? Is it safe to bring children?
The rally is being held in Cathedral Gardens, which is an open area behind Manchester cathedral and the National Football Museum. So it’s a relatively quiet part of town in terms of the demographic walking past. It’s not, for example, like Piccadilly Gardens which attracts a number of different protest groups. In terms of security we’re working closely with Greater Manchester Police who will provide a presence on the day. We’re working closely with the CST [Community Security Trust] and we’ll also be providing thirty of our own stewards to help with crowd control. It’s definitely going to be safe. It’s going to be policed and we encourage people to bring children. We want it to be a multi-generational rally.
Looking back at where you were three months ago did you ever think you’d be planning a rally against anti-Semitism?
No, we never thought we’d be organising a rally against anti-Semitism. I guess what’s shocked a lot of people is that whilst we always knew there was a level of anti-Semitism in the UK, I don’t think anyone quite appreciated how close to the surface it was. People have been surprised and shocked that so many people – people who they went to university with, who they work with, who they went to school with – displayed not only anti-Israel sentiment but strayed over into anti-Semitic sentiment as well.
How has the Jewish community in Manchester responded to the rise in anti-Semitism?
I think the community has been incredible. What started on King Street galvanised the community. I think it’s energised a huge number of people to start advocating for Israel, to start fighting BDS [boycotts, divestments & sanctions], to start exposing and combating anti-Semitism. I think Manchester actually has led the way nationally. Whilst there were valiant efforts in Brighton and in London, Manchester has led the way both in terms of on-the-ground activism and grassroots organisations, almost taking the reins from the establishment. The way we communicated and developed relationships with the police and local council should be used as a template across the country.
What’s next for Northwest Friends of Israel?
We have a very ambitious agenda to be pro-active in terms of advocating for Israel, combating BDS and exposing anti-Semitism. In the run-up to the general election we have drafted a Charter for Israel. And we will be asking MPs and candidates to sign the charter, which acknowledges support for Israel and Israel’s right to be treated fairly alongside other nations.
We are starting to build relationships with Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies, and we’ll be working with them on campaigns they bring to our attention. Additionally, we’re promoting advocacy training for 16 to 18-year-olds to prepare them for university life. And we’re going to meet with business leaders to try to pre-empt any BDS campaigns they might otherwise be persuaded to join.
Sum up why this rally is important to you.
For hundreds of years the Jewish community has lived safely and securely in the UK. We respect the country we live in and we’re proud to be British Jews. We live in a democracy and no ethnic minority should have to tolerate attacks because of their ethnicity or their religion. The Jewish community has been singled out for some quite violent anti-Semitism, both verbally and physically. We want to say to the entire country that we are British and we are very, very proud to be Jewish. We believe the vast majority of the British are not anti-Semitic but the minority that are anti-Semitic need to be exposed, need to stopped and need to be brought to account.
Any other comments about the rally?
It is just two or three hours on a Sunday. Strength in numbers will convey our message. We want everyone there from grandparents, to parents to grandchildren. We want entire families to come. We want it to be multi-generational. We want it to be uplifting. We want it to be inspiring. And we need your support.
The “Say no to anti-Semitism” rally will take place in Cathedral Gardens, central Manchester, on Sunday 19 October 2014, 2pm to 4pm.