Thousands gather in London to mark Closer to Israel celebration

By Marcus Dysch and Zoe Winograd, June 2, 2013
The celebrations in Trafalgar Square

The celebrations in Trafalgar Square

Thousands of Israel supporters filled London's Trafalgar Square today to celebrate the country's 65th birthday.

Sun-drenched revellers heard speakers including Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Israeli Ambassador to Britain Daniel Taub and Education Secretary Michael Gove praise Israel's achievements.

The Closer to Israel event also saw hundreds of people march from Hyde Park through Piccadilly and into the square.

A fleet of open-top buses, floats depicting scenes of Israel and the band of the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade led the way, with street entertainers performing along the route.

In a rousing address at the subsequent party in Trafalgar Square, the Chief Rabbi told the crowds: "Israel has not had one day without the fear of war, or terror, or missiles, or worse. Israel has stood firm and brave and strong. Because of Israel the Jewish people walk tall.”

He addressed claims that Israel is guilty of apartheid policies, asking the crowd: “Israel is where Jews and Muslims work together in hospitals to treat people of all faiths. It is where universities teach students of every race and religion. Is that an apartheid state?”

Mr Taub listed a variety of Israeli achievements and said Jews around the world could be proud that in Israel “even the parking tickets are written in the language of the bible,” and that “Israeli cows produce more milk than any other cows in the world”.

“We see a country in which every day exceeds the wildest dreams of our great-grandparents,” he said. “There are some people trying to drive a wedge between Britain and Israel – the best response is to strengthen our relationship.”

Representing the British government, Mr Gove said: “It’s a pleasure to be here among friends and to say to this crowd I’m proud to be a friend of Israel and proud to be a Zionist.

“Over the last 65 years the Jewish people have built a home and it has been a light among the nations.”

He said Israel had thrived “against formidable odds” to become a “safe haven for democracy”.

The celebration drew to a close with stirring renditions of the national anthems of both Israel and Britain.

Douglas Krikler, spokesman for the cross-communal committee which planned the event, said: “We are absolutely delighted. It was really exhilarating to see over 50 organisations come together with such joy and enthusiasm.”

Two counter-protests, led by the strictly Orthodox anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, drew around 20 supporters.

Last updated: 6:03pm, June 2 2013