Hate cashed in democratically

By Angela Levin, December 3, 2012

It hasn't been an easy few weeks to be a Jew and care about Israel.

I was due to fly to Jerusalem to see family last week and decided to go ahead with the visit despite the troubles.

The week before, I went to my local HSBC branch and used their internal phone to inform them that I would be using my credit card abroad and would they be sure not to block it.

The man who took my call had a heavy accent but he went through the standard questions efficiently and politely, until he asked me: "And where are you going?"

"Israel," I said. There was a long pause.

Extreme comments about Israel made me feel personally threatened

"It's a bad country," he finally replied. "I suggest you go somewhere else."

"I just called to inform you I shall be using my credit card abroad," I said icily.

"Are you visiting family?" he asked.

"That is beyond your remit," I replied.

"It is a bad place," he said again. "And dangerous."

I repeated that it was none of his business, but not exactly in those words. He again advised me not to go, repeating it was "a bad place".

I was furious and shocked. I didn't think for a moment he was concerned for my safety. I felt instead that he was demonstrating the sheer hatred of Israel, and perhaps of Jews too, that frighteningly seems increasingly prevalent.

I emailed HSBC's press office, and had a quick reply expressing concern and alarm at what I told them. They would investigate the matter as a matter of urgency, they said.

It was a particularly unnerving episode as, three days earlier, I had gone to see the Batsheva Dance Company from Israel at Sadler's Wells. They are regarded as one of the most innovative and creative contemporary dance companies in the world.

Sadly, their appearance at the Edinburgh Festival last summer was continuously interrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

I knew beforehand that, in the light of Israel's firm response to Hamas targeting civilians with streams of rockets, there would be a demonstration.

Sure enough, there was a crowd of flag-waving individuals screaming from across the road at the well-behaved queue. The security was so tight and the queue so long that it took me an hour to get into the theatre. Fortunately, the start was delayed.

It was terrifying. To listen to a mob made up of British as well as Palestinians and other Middle Eastern nationalities endlessly scream "shame on you" set my nerves on edge and made my heart pound even though I tried hard to ignore them.

And their extreme comments about Israel made me feel personally threatened. If I had gone up to people in the crowd and said "What about Syria?" - which part of me wanted to do - I felt I would have been physically attacked.

In a democratic country, they are of course within their rights to demonstrate, although it is unlikely they could do the same in their own countries, just as the HSBC bank employee is entitled to have an opinion, however poorly informed, about Israel - though not to express it in the course of his business to a customer.

It is just that legitimate protest seems to have boiled over into pure hatred, and the distinction between Israel and Jews anywhere has shrunk to virtual invisibility.

Where does this hatred come from? What is the tipping point in individuals that moves from having a forceful view to pure loathing? The opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa was passionate but it was never expressed like this.

Angela Levin is a freelance journalist

Last updated: 10:45am, December 3 2012