Simon Schama (Photo: BBC)
Historian Simon Schama has launched a stirring defence of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, strongly rejecting allegations that its forces were guilty of war crimes.
Speaking as guest of honour at the UJIA annual dinner, Mr Schama said: “We are not the killers of children. We grieve when the blood of innocent children is spilt because rockets are stored underneath or outside schools.
“One million Jewish children were killed in the Nazi slaughter. The point of the Shoah, the Final Solution was to kill children, wasn’t it? Children who would grow up to be Jews. We do not commit genocide. This is a disgusting corruption of the term, which would have George Orwell rolling in his tomb. Genocide was committed on us by the million.”
Mr Schama told the 1,000 guests at the dinner that he was proud to call himself a Zionist despite being a strong critic of the expansion of settlements and the annexation of territory in the West Bank.
“How could you not be a Zionist?” he said. “We need to reclaim the word Zionist. It is not a word to be ashamed of or to run away from. Israel, bless it, is a democracy, there are massive differences in opinion.
“I have fierce reservations about settlement policy. It was not a good idea to annex all that territory the other week. We need to encourage the Palestinians we can talk to, needless to say, not Hamas. But I’m not going to lecture the Israeli government on how this needs to happen.
Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub also delivered a powerful speech on the situation in Israel saying that British Jews had been fed “a relentless diet of media distortions”.
“When trade unions resolve to boycott the only country in the Middle East which has a free trade union. When the media chooses to exact a price on the only country in the region which permits journalists to travel freely, and to report without intimidation.
“When at the Edinburgh festival violent rioters prevent Israeli productions from performing for the first time. When supermarkets cave in to hooliganism by taking off Israeli and even non-Israeli kosher products off the shelves.
“In this environment, a new generation of the Jewish people is coming of age. Fed on a relentless diet of media distortions, they leave school and go to universities where voices for Israel are rare and often silenced.”
The dinner, held at Grosvenor House in central London, was the charity’s largest for 15 years. Organisers expect to surpass the £3.2 million raised last year.
The event was also attended by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner of the Reform movement, Britain’s senior Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Dweck and the Board of Deputies new chief executive Gillian Merron.