‘Trafalgar Square, where 45,000 of us had rallied, was full and fun but somehow very tranquil’
I’m not much of a marcher. Last time I was out there it was 1977 against the National Front in Lewisham, and I had a waist measurement that was only marginally bigger than my neck is now. Add to this the fact that it has been two years or more since I was tempted from my seaside lair up to the Smoke, and that my gout has given me a limp that makes Richard III look like Fred Astaire.
So the prospect of spending the hottest part of a day in blazing June hobbling for two hours to Trafalgar Square didn’t, on paper, seem like my ideal way to spend a Sunday.
But it was this country’s first ever Salute to Israel parade (there was another in Manchester) and I had been invited to march with the Zionist Federation. So I was extremely excited by the time I got off the train at Victoria.
We had been asked to wear blue and white, the colours of the Israeli flag, and just beyond the ticket barrier I could see my best friend, co-author and fellow philo-Semite Chas Newkey-Burden, in a fetching blue Israeli football shirt.
“It’s only 10.30 and the march doesn’t start till 12. You know we’ll have to stand around for more than an hour, don’t you, just looking at them …” he said, hugging me.
“I know!” I squealed, and we ran off to get a taxi, there being not a moment to lose.
Now, some people might say that it’s wrong to fancy a whole race/nation – the Jews as a whole and the Israelis in particular as Chas and I do. But what about the other side? Until recently, when they started blowing us up, you couldn’t move in the West for fetishisation of Arabs, which has, become an even more unreasonable fetishisation of militant, nihilist Islam. Apart from fancying the Jews en masse, Chas and I also admire them in general and the Israelis in particular just about as much as it’s possible to admire a people.
It’s quite unusual to experience pure political, cultural and military admiration at the same time as poleaxing sexual desire. Standing in a West End street waiting for the march to start, Chas and I would be talking passionately to each other about our love of this tiny, brave country – the size of Wales – surrounded by murderous, often genocidal tyrants, when one of us would become aware that the other’s attention had wandered somewhat.
Turning round, we’d see the nth hottie of the day, and smirk sympathetically at the other one. You know how on all marches there’s a person dressed as a bear these days? Well, even the bear was hot when it took its head off for a cheeky fag.
Hottest of the lot were the men, women, boys and girls in police-type uniforms with “CST” written on the back, and I did ask Chas cheekily if being phwoarsome was a prerequisite of joining. “Who are they anyway?” I added.
“They’re the Community Support Team,” Chas said. “They guard the synagogues and Jewish schools because they’re attacked so much these days. I heard a lady in Starbucks just now saying: ‘It’s just nice to feel safe for a day.’ She was putting her ‘Salute to Israel’ T-shirt on in the queue over her clothes and she said: ‘I wouldn’t have felt safe wearing it on the Tube.”
I felt ashamed to have been perving over people who guard Jewish children from the new anti-Semitism engendered by Islamofascism, and I was pleased when we finally moved off. I saw the genius that is Howard Jacobson on the pavement, watching the parade with his sexy wife, and scooted over waving my huge Israeli flag. “Mr Jacobson – look, look!”
He gave me the most wonderful look, happy and sad and young and old all at the same time. “You’re a good girl, Julie – a good, good girl …”
I felt better now and as the parade wound on, found lots to admire without lust: the proud World War Two Jewish Veterans with their special leather flag-holders slung over their shoulders; the amazing number of Christian Friends of Israel chapters (the black churches being particularly impressive); the number of people with the Israeli flag in one hand and the Union Jack in the other; the adorable dogs wearing the flag (an Islamist’s nightmare!); the massed Star of Davids coming to an incidental standstill right outside the “Islamic Republic of Iran Airways” sign; the fact that Trafalgar Square, where 45,000 of us rallied, was full and fun but somehow very tranquil. If London had been this way every day, I would never have left.
The morning after the rally, I woke up at the Zetter hotel, I closed my eyes and the highlights of the day before came back to me in excruciatingly beautiful, achingly euphoric slo-mo. It was the sort of day you remember when you’re dying; the sort of day that makes you remember just how brilliant life can be.
As if this extraordinary people had not already gifted our culture with all that they have, they’ve also made a cynical old woman very happy indeed.