Israel’s scientific, democratic and social achievements were celebrated by communal leaders at the Trafalgar Square party to mark the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence.
Acknowledging the country’s development in the face of adversity was the theme of the day, with a focus on the fight against terrorism, medical advancements and multiculturalism.
Representing the government, Education Secretary Michael Gove told the crowd that he was “proud to be a friend of Israel and proud to be a Zionist”.
He said: “Over the past 65 years the Jewish people have built a home and it has been a light among the nations.
“These are difficult times for Israel, for the Middle East and for the world. Extremism and suffering visit every nation. Israel has achieved amazing things, its people are showing courage and we stand with you in your struggle for democracy.
“There are politicians in every party who are friends of Israel. It’s a cause that transcends party politics. Happy birthday Israel.”
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks received the warmest welcome from the thousands gathered in front of the stage.
He told them: “Israel has not had one day without the fear of war, or terror, or missiles, or worse, and throughout it all Israel has stood firm and brave and strong. Because of Israel, the Jewish people walks tall.
“If Israel is criticised by people who should know better, then we would still rather have Israel and the criticism of the world than be homeless and defenceless and have the sympathy of the world.”
Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Daniel Taub, said the country’s achievements were “remarkable”.
It was a land, he said, “with world-class universities and with more degrees per capita, more scientific papers, more medical patents, and more doctors — yes, think of the nachas — than any country in the world.
“We see a land where the road signs, the graffiti and the parking tickets, as well as Nobel Prize-winning literature are all written in the language of the Bible.”
Mr Taub took the opportunity to express gratitude to British Jews’ support for his country. “Today is a chance to pay tribute to all those here in Britain who have helped us along the way. Thank you for believing in Israel, for visiting Israel, for speaking up for Israel, for praying for Israel and for marching and being with Israel today,” he said.
The Movement for Reform Judaism’s rabbi, Laura Janner-Klausner, spoke passionately about “tenacious Jewish communities” and Israel’s “modern, vibrant democracy”. “Israel is our opportunity to make our future full of Jewish values. This is really something to celebrate,” she said.
Masorti Judaism’s senior rabbi, Jonathan Wittenberg, described the “courage, devotion and humanity” shown by the Israeli Defence Forces, and, on a less celebratory note, discussed the plight of Bedouin communities.