Oxford, city of dreaming spires and perspiring camels as Israel drops in

A little bit of Israel invaded Oxford this week — complete with hummus, pitta and camels. But this was no guerrilla tactic designed to preempt an academic boycott — merely the launch of the Oxford Israeli Cultural Society (OICS).

Set up to coincide with Israel’s 60th anniversary, the society aims to combine main-street England and contemporary Israeli culture. On Monday, as part of its fortnight-long iFest, Oxford town centre was turned into a mini-Israel. More than 1,000 people gathered on Broad Street, closed especially for the festival, where they could ride camels, watch Israeli belly dancers and buy Israeli goods from a variety of market stalls.

On offer were books, Israeli calligraphic art, Judaica, sandals, head massagers, and even a mini-Kotel in which messages could be put before being delivered to Jerusalem.

Oxford University student and OICS organiser Jacob Turner said: “We wanted to recreate what a Tel Aviv or Jerusalem market would be like.

“The purpose was to show people that there exists an Israel beyond the politics. We weren’t trying to focus on Israel’s creation, but on Israel’s contribution to the world.”

Several of the stalls, which included Dead Sea cosmetics Ahava, Steimatzky, Osem and Super Sue’s Chicken Soup, were provided by London-based charity The Spiro Ark. Other sponsors were the Lewis Family Trust, Mishcon de Reya and the Union of Jewish Students.

Pro-Palestinian supporters turned up to protest at the festival entrance and the Network of Oxford Women for Justice and Peace held an hour-long silent vigil dressed in black cloaks. But Mr Turner said this did not mar the event.

“We knew they would be there. A lot of people said they could not understand what the protests were about,” he said.

“The fact that the day was about culture and not politics gives us the opportunity in the future to hopefully hold joint events with the Arab cultural society and even the Palestinian society. This is something we would really like to do.”

The iFest (www.ifestoxford.co.uk), which started on May 1, continues next week with Israeli film screenings, talks on Israel’s medical and environmental innovations and a club night dedicated to Israeli music.

    Last updated: 2:25pm, May 13 2008