Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

The day people in the UK…voted YES!

It was June 5th 1975 when the British people had to decide in a referendum as to whether or not become  members of the European Union. Formerly known as the Common Market.

I was living with my family in the constituency of  Hampstead and although it had been for years a Labour stronghold, the incumbent MP was Geoffrey Finsberg Cons. who was Jewish.

I actually had not voted for him but he had been inordinately helpful in my work to get the Soviet Jews out of the USSR, from the time he had become an MP.   Added to which he was among the Conservative MP’s who stood against the British governments’ decision to place an arms embargo on Israel, in the Yom Kippur war in 1973.   He had stood with us  “Emergency 73” outside the Houses of Parliament on our festival of Succoth a short while after the War broke out.   We demonstrated with loud speakers and banners demanding that the British government allow spare parts for the tanks which Israel had purchased from them. Israel was fighting for its life.

So, when I received a call from Geoffrey’s office  almost two years later asking for volunteers to participate in a car pool to take people to the polling stations, I willingly agreed.

In the UK then,maybe still today, one automatically had contact with ones MP. He or she represented you locally and was an open door if you were an activist or not. It was always possible to obtain an invite to meet with your MP either at their local office known as a “surgery” or at the House of Commons for a cup of tea.

Some days later, having received my instructions to pick up four residents of a retirement home, off I went.

I had a comfortable car and had taken the morning off work. I felt as though I was doing something useful. As a grandchild of immigrants from the Ukraine I was not xenophobic like so many people who grew up with the slogan”Britain for the British”.

I parked in the floral edged car park adjoining a manicured lawn and entered the lobby of the charming  period house. An efficient  receptionist took the names of the 4 persons whom had requested  transport and when she looked at the names she said  “Only three, I am afraid one has opted out”.

Three elderly ladies came towards me.  Only one had a stick but I helped them all to get in to the car.

The one who chose to sit beside me, was a  lady in the full sense of the word. Her accent,her demeanour and her dress. She was in charge.

The other two climbed with difficulty into the rear seat, where they began to argue about this election and why they were going to vote.

The madam at my side said softly “Well, she on the right is actually Polish thinks she knows the lot and the other one is a bit “not with it”.

I have told them to vote for the man. What is his name”?

I stammered  “Its a vote for Yes or No. We are not voting for a man

You must vote YES”

As the words slipped off my tongue I had a tinge of guilt, what was I doing to these unsuspecting old people? There was really no point in giving them the “pitch” they hadn’t a clue.

We arrived at the polling station and I let them off and parked quick as I could.

They waited for me patiently in the entrance we found the correct queues so they could go in to vote. It then transpired that one had forgotten her glasses and was disqualified, even though I offered to help her…that was not allowed.

So that was it. Two out of four and I gave up a morning’s work…for what?  I have no idea how the “lady” voted I took them silently back to the residence and they thanked me politely.

So today I cannot resist from smiling but for all that I was used to a democratic and directly representational parliament.

The vote  today will be close and I certainly with dual nationality will never apply to vote in the UK elections. I do not live there and feel that I have no right.

The British have never liked “foreigners” that would be the older generation, my generation. There are still places in the Isles where one does not see a face,other than white. Its like a time warp. Very quaint and pleasant until one feels the underlying thinly veiled prejudice and resentment. They do not think about who would do a lot of the menial jobs without immigrant and EU citizens “beavering away” to keep their families or send money back home.They want ‘Britain for the British’  but the reality is that its long gone.  My erudite  friends who really understand the inevitability of Britain becoming a  truly multi ethnic society will vote to stay in for moral and practical reasons.

It will be interesting though to see the result tonight, especially after the abhorrent murder of  Jo Cox, the dynamic and worthy  mother and legislator.

One must never forget that UKIP has played an important role in this campaign. It was only days ago that a representative of that party whose name I believe was Shemesh,speaking in english accented hebrew on Reshet Bet said:

“It gives us great pleasure to confirm, the State of Israel – the UK’s largest trading partner in the ME and natural security ally – is Brexit neutral and looks forward to further developing already strong, trade, security and cultural ties, regardless of outcome”.quote..unquote

My mother would have said….go know?

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.