Did you see the date today?
I remember where I was on 9/11 very well. For our generation it was the President Kennedy assassination moment.
I was in Brighton in southern England for the Trade Union Congress annual conference in September 2001.
As Director of the Labour Friends of Israel in the UK, I also had the dubious pleasure of serving as Director of Trade Union Friends of Israel as well. Spreading an awareness of Israel’s unique position in the Middle East was more complicated in the Trade Union movement where Israel was always a tough sell. But that Tuesday lunch time we had held our annual meeting which had gone particularly well. We celebrated links between British and the Israeli Histadrut Trade Unions and I remember we were addressed by the excellent Ken Jackson, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU).
After lunch I was doing my usual circuit around the exhibition stands at the conference just before PM Tony Blair was due to speak.
I went back to the AEEU exhibition stand which had 2 tv screens, when the images came through about a plane having been flown into the World Trade Center.
More people started to gather around the TV unable to take their eyes off the remarkable images. The World Trade Center had been targeted a number of times before by terrorists. But at the time we did not know if it was an accident or deliberate.
We watched the terrifying pictures of smoke bellowing out from the top quarter of the building.
Then I remember seeing the second plane fly into the second World Trade Center tower. That removed any hope that this was an accident. I remember my back was against a wall and my knees gave way and I sat on the floor and trying to process what was happening.
My phone rang and it was the late great Gwyneth Dunwoody MP. I was especially close her. In politics if you had Gwyneth in your corner, you knew you were safe. Gwyneth was life president of the Labour Friends of Israel. She told me not to go back to the LFI Westminster office because our office could well be a target. I’ve never forgotten that call. She always had my back, a rarity in politics. I miss her dearly.
As Tony Blair come to the conference podium I went up to one of the media nests overlooking the stage. Blair made a quick but moving speech about facing the evil of terror and going back to London to deal with the crisis. The trade unionists gave him a standing ovation.
The conference quickly came to a close and I went back to my Brighton bed and breakfast hotel room where I spent the rest of the day watching the unbelievable coverage on TV.
I knew that the dramatic events in New York and Washington would mean Parliament would be recalled. My thoughts quickly turned to the emergency debate that was sure to be quickly scheduled in Parliament in Westminster.
I started to fear that some MPs would erroneously blame Israel as the root cause that propelled Al Qaeda to hijack those planes. I started to prepare briefing notes for our friends in the House to rebut this outrageous assertion. I knew that for some MPs on the far left and far right, Israel would be scapegoated. Thankfully they were few in number. The House of Commons has a way of rising to the occasion at such moments.
It is truly a day that will live in infamy.