For most Jews, the idea of waving an Israeli flag in public probably seems suicidal. We have become used to the idea that supporting Israel is a sort of guilty secret, not to be revealed – if you value your reputation, or even your safety – in public.
At North London Friends of Israel we decided very early that we had to be visible. When we stand in a busy shopping street or a local festival, with leaflets, literature and Israeli flags, we are making a strong statement. A key part of that statement is that weare ordinary, local people.
We have been running our programme of street and festival stalls for nearly two years. In the course of that time we have distributed thousands of leaflets, signed up dozens of new contacts, and had many interesting (and overwhelmingly courteous and constructive) conversations. We have even had the odd on-the-spot donation!
Perhaps one of the most powerful effects of our activity has been on our own people. For every one of us who has been involved, the first time was intensely nerve-wracking. It was with almost a shock that we discovered that you really can stand in a busy British street or park and talk to your neighbours openly about Israel. We have all found this empowering– a million miles away from the security checks and secret locations of so many pro-Israel events.
Has there been hostility? Yes, occasionally. But these experiences are few and far between. When it happens we avoid confrontation and agree to differ. Better to spend ten minutes leafletting the uncommitted than to waste that time arguing with those whose minds are made up. And we have made contact with many who are supportive, some of whom have become active in their turn.
Street stalls aren’t the only thing we do. There are many ways of campaigning for Israel, including meetings, social media, talking to local politicians and writing to local papers. We all have different skills, and we can all contribute in different ways.
North London Friends of Israel is part of a growing movement with branches all over the UK (and Ireland). It embraces Christians as well as Jews, those of all faiths and none, in a common cause. Indeed, many of the most active groups are in places where there are few or no Jews.
In our area, where the majority of British Jews live, we can and should be doing more. So if you’re fed up with the attacks on Israel and want to do your bit to change public perceptions, please join us. The majority of our current membership are in the boroughs of Barnet and Enfield, but we are also keen to recruit in Haringey, Camden and elsewhere in North London.
So next time you’re unhappy about attacks on Israel, don’t just shout at the TV or moan to your friends. Get active. You’ll feel better, make a difference, and be part of a growing network.