Israel 60 Gala rocked by protesters

By Alex Kasriel, May 16, 2008

Solidarity hardened among the 7,500-strong crowd at the Israel 60 Gala in Wembley Arena last week after a surreal incident occurred moments before the show began.

While they waited for the entertainment to start, a massive cheer rang out as around 30 police swarmed into the audience and wrestled a group of anti-Israel protesters to the ground.

Four men and one woman were led from the building where they were arrested for public order offences and released on bail.

Hannah Kleinfeld, 51, an Israeli living in Woodside Park and working for Zionist youth movement Hanoar Hatzioni said: “I saw a woman screaming and when she was brought down by police I heard her shout ‘Israel is an apartheid state!’ I was so scared I was shaking. But I have to say the CST and the police acted so quickly, it was incredible.”

Organiser Alan Aziz, of the Zionist Federation, went on stage to assure the crowd that the “happening” had been dealt with and everyone remained in their seats.

The IDF Entertainment Troupe opened the show, marching on in their khaki uniforms, accompanied by some very cute Israeli folk dancing youths.

Their medley of Eurovision song contest entries raised a laugh or two, even if unintentionally. Gordon Brown’s televised address bemused most, but this was a crowd which would unequivocally support anything pro-Israel.

And even the most sceptical of Israel’s supporters melted when the Sylvia Young-trained singer Olivia Aaron, 11, did a rendition of Bernstein’s Somewhere from West Side Story. As she sung: “We’ll find a new way of living, We’ll find a way of forgiving,” and images of Israel appeared on the screen behind her, the audience swooned.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a Jewish event if there wasn’t anything to complain about, and in this case, there were three points of contention.

The first was the old favourite — food. Many arrived at 6pm without having eaten and were faced with a choice of chips or pre-packaged sandwiches for dinner.

“I’m surprised they don’t have stands here,” said Roger Allen, 60, of Whetstone. “They’ll never get as many people as this in one place so it would be a good showcase for Jewish food. The thing that Israel is famous for is a spectrum of food from around the world. Without it, the whole atmosphere was flat.”

The second was timing. It started nearly an hour late, although this was probably due to many arriving late.

Israeli flag-clad Lisa Cohen, 26, joked: “That’s Jewish mean time for you!”

And the third was Jackie Mason’s non-PC act which had a pop at everyone from blacks to women to gays.

“It was outrageous, racist and not very politically correct. I was embarrassed,” said Hannah Kleinfeld. “I couldn’t bare it,” said Donna Sherrington, 31, of Hampstead. “I didn’t want to watch. I can’t believe people still say things like that.”

It took singer Sarit Hadad to get the audience back on side. Maybe it was the feeling of togetherness, maybe it was the 29-year-old’s energetic, Middle Eastern-style pop, or maybe it was a feeling of defiance against a common enemy, but something magical happened when she came on. People did the conga in the aisles, waved Israeli flags and danced in front of the stage arm in arm, not a common sight at a UK concert. But this was not an ordinary UK concert.

Last updated: 12:18pm, May 19 2008