Archbishop Exclusive: ‘My Cousin The Rabbi’

Justin Welby’s comments, on the eve of his enthronement at Canterbury Cathedral today, came during an interview with the Jewish News in which he also voiced opposition to Israel boycotts, revealed plans to visit the Jewish state this summer and praised the Chief Rabbi as “one of the most significant religious thinkers”.

The past few months since being named as Archbishop have been transformative for Welby, not just because of his elevation within the Church of England but because he learned for the first time – as a result of a Daily Telegraph investigation – of his family’s Jewish roots.

Chemist Dr Gerhard Weiler, a cousin of the Archbishop’s father Gavin, fled with his family after Hitler came to power, later being registered as an “enemy alien” in the UK.

The 57-year-old former bishop of Durham said he was “really, really pleased” to discover details of his Jewish ancestry, but added: “It’s quite sobering to think I had a bunch of second cousins that didn’t escape.”

The great-grandfather of the man who will be formally confirmed today as the leader of 80 million Anglicans worldwide, along with three of his brothers, headed to London more than four decades earlier. The father-of-five told the Jewish News: “Once we’ve moved in properly, we’re going to meet up with some cousins who I had no idea about. One of them is a rabbi who recently wrote to me. He’s one of the senior teachers at a Jewish college in London. We’ll try to meet up, or get them to Lambeth Palace to do something fun to celebrate. To discover you’ve got a family you didn’t know about is really exciting.”

He also revealed he hopes to visit the grave at Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green of his great-grandmother Amalie, who lived in Hampstead until her death in 1914. The Cambridge-educated former oil executive comes to office just eight months after Anglican-Jewish relations were severely strained when the Church’s Synod voted to affirm support for a programme accused by the Board of Deputies of producing “very partisan activists” on the Middle East.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel takes participants to the region for around three months, but critics point out that only a fraction of that time is spent in Israel, before accompaniers return to give public talks about their experiences. The private member’s motion also expressed support for Israelis and Palestinians working for peace and for aid agencies in the region.

Welby said last summer’s vote – on which he abstained – had “clearly” damaged relations.

And in an unusual step he said: “On reflection, I’d have voted against. I wasn’t quite up to speed when I went into that vote. I think the situation in the holy land is so complicated that we always have to show we recognise this and I don’t think the motion adequately reflected reflected the complexity.”

He said he would have wanted something added to the text saying the Jewish state, like any other legitimate country, has the right to “live in security and peace within internationally-agreed borders and the people of the region have the right to justice, peace and security, whoever they are.”

While Welby said the situation caused by the Synod vote was “a concern and something we keep an eye on”, he stressed that he was not in a position to instruct the democratic Synod on how to vote.

Given that the EAPPI is not a CoE initiative, he added, it also wasn’t in the church’s “gift” to introduce a system of oversight of presentations made by returning participants, as urged by community leaders amid concern over the content of some talks.

But the 105th Archbishop wanted to “encourage” an “excellent” proposa, recently announced, for participants to spend a weekend with a Jewish family in Haifa.

The Archbishop – who said interfaith relations have always been “very important” to him – has gained vast experience in the field of reconciliation over the past decade, lecturing on the subject at the US State Department and undertaking work in Africa and elsewhere.

Asked whether he planned to voice his views on overcoming the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the 57-year-old said his reconciliation work had, in fact, taught him to speak out “extremely carefully… and only if I think I can make a significant difference.”

Welby said he was “very much looking forward” to making his first visit to Israelin his new role in June, when he will continue the series of meetings started by Dr Rowan Williams with Israel’s chief rabbies. “My wife and I went on honeymoon there and it’ll be her first time back since.”

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Opinion: The Joy And Tears Of Marrying ‘In’ To The Jewish Community

“Walk down the aisle?” I harumphed. “It doesn’t look that way, does it? This is my WEDDING DAY and the groom’s family haven’t turned up.” A perfect spring day, plumped with possibility and excitement, had shrivelled into catastrophe.

One hundred and eighty guests had been seated for over an hour in a small wedding chapel in France. A heavily-treading usher had informed us that the groom’s family still hadn’t appeared. Looking into the chapel, I could see an impatient congregation twitching feverishly.

“Do you think they haven’t turned up because their Jewish son is getting married in a chapel?” I hissed. “But we promised that there would be no Christian references! And there’s the Jewish ceremony tomorrow.” Marching my way up and down the room, I tore out petals from my balding bouquet. “Don’t worry, darling. They will turn up. I’m sure of it,” said my mother. The catch in her throat sent a gallop of panic up my stomach which settled and thickened in my throat.

My fiancé, Oliver, and I had been together for seven years. We met during our respective years abroad, in Sydney, Australia. “I’m Jewish, you know” he had told me over a glass of wine. “Oh right,” I had said. “And my family are all Christians.” The implications of this conversation had been muted by the neon-coloured booze and thrum of music.

It was only on our return to London and things were getting serious, that I realised how this was going to play out: “I’m sorry, but you can’t meet my parents,” Oliver had grimaced one night. “My family won’t allow you in the house.”

“What? But last week I was coming with you to your brother’s wedding?”

“Hmmm. I think my parents thought you were Jewish. You are called Rebecca, after all. But then your surname came out.”

I was finally invited by Oliver’s brother and sister-in-law to the circumcision of their son. It was the first time I would meet all of his family and it was a black silence that welcomed me to the bris.

One lady, eyebrows triangulating in horror, turned her back on me. After months of diplomacy and tears, Oliver’s parents asked me to witness the wonderful traditions of a Friday night supper. I was welcomed, but with reports of one in two Jews marrying out, they were wary of a Christian girl from Chelsea.

As Oliver’s mother and father started to accept me, my job as a journalist took me to Jordan. A recent terrorist attack had blown apart a wedding in Amman and Oliver’s parents, on account of his Jewish upbringing, were terrified about letting him visit. The ensuing rows threatened a family breakdown, non-stop screams shattering the quiet Radlett streets. Oliver boldly went against his parents’ wishes and booked a return ticket to the Middle East. In doing so, the message he sent to his parents was set in stone as solid as the the Ten Commandments.

When I returned to England, Oliver proposed. Navigating the wedding wishes of both sets of parents proved tricky. My parents were set on a traditional Christian white wedding and Oliver’s parents, after realising I wouldn’t convert, wanted a non-demoninational occasion. Months of rows led to the break-up of our engagement.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I had cried. “Me too,” Oliver replied, chewing his lip.

After two months of misery and separation, we stumbled upon a resolution to please both parties. Over a year-and-a-half of planning and three massive wedding celebrations were needed to satisfy everyone. Forget a Jewish Princess – I was like the Queen! The whole situation was so fraught that neither of us had a moment to assimilate our feelings about our own religious ideals.

It was only when I started writing a book about my experiences of marrying into a Jewish family, that I could begin to make sense of the complex emotions of trying to retain my own identity while respecting that of my boyfriend’s.

As I sat in my wedding dress praying for Oliver and his family to appear, I had a moment of clarity. As the band desperately clung on to the last note of Handel’s Xerxes for Largo for the tenth time, I realised that I could never solve the problem of not being Jewish.

I could, though, use the foundations of my own religious background to face whatever was thrown at me with dignity, grace and courage.

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We Team Up With Tzedek To Help Fight Poverty

The initiative follows an investigation last week into the provision of food, shelter and advice to homeless Jews in London, an exposure that has subsequently led to a large number of Jewish News readers making individual pledges of support over the past few days.

Tzedek, which focuses on fighting poverty, is one of 33 national charities supporting the international Live Below The Line campaign, which challenges participants to live on &£1 a day for five days, to get a sense of the experience felt by 1.4billion people around the world.

Tzedek’s chief executive Jude Williams said: “We are very excited to have the Jewish News as our official media partner for the Live Below the Line fundraising campaign. The Jewish News offers us the chance to spread the word about this worthwhile campaign and recruit participants from throughout the British Jewish community, giving them a window into the day-to-day lives of people living in extreme poverty, while raising vital funds for our fight against global hunger.”

Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer said: “After focusing on the hidden plight of Jews in London struggling to make ends meet, this is a timely opportunity to highlight the issue of poverty by involving Londoners in a simple idea – living on next to nothing. We’ve noticed how the wider community seems to feel removed from – and ignorant of – the poorest among us, so Live Below The Line helps us all to relate to these difficulties – if only for five days.”

More than 20,000 people across three continents are planning to spend a week living below the extreme poverty line – defined by the World Bank using Purchasing Power Parity as $1.25 US dollars a day in 2005.
Converting this to the 2005 equivalent for the UK and adjusting for inflation, the extreme poverty line would be £1.

Over the coming weeks, the Jewish News will feature a series of opinion pieces and case studies, detailing the impact of poverty and the practical action that can be taken by us all to alleviate these issues.

Find out more at www.livebelowtheline.org.uk

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‘This Place Is A Life-Saver’ London’s Only Kosher Soup Kitchen

That’s important, he says, because those who come here should feel they’re eating kosher and eating well. They should also feel welcome – this place should be like a home to them, he says, with conversation and comfort, not questions and judgement.

“I don’t ask,” says Kahan. “If you knock on my door you’re welcome to come in.”

Those principles have guided the Beit Hatabshil soup kitchen for a decade now, with the project ten years old this month. They started out above the Shell garage in Golders Green, remembers Kahan, before moving to Brent Street three years ago. If he’s proud that he feeds hundreds of breadline Jews every week, he doesn’t show it.

“It’s a life-saver,” explains David, a softly-spoken man whose giant coat disguises a worryingly thin frame. “I don’t know what I’d do without it. In fact, I don’t even want to think what I’d do without it.”

Sunlight streams through the window, warming our backs, spot-lighting the coffee’s steam. It’s deceiving. With a strong headwind, it’s bitterly cold outside, the icy temperatures having cut through my coat an hour earlier.

Inside, hot omelettes are working wonders, but the respite is temporary. After David’s eaten and left, Kahan beckons me over to the window, points to a roadside bench and whispers. That’s where David sleeps.

“Others sleep inside,” Kahan confides. “We found Chaim at Heathrow,” he says, nodding in the direction of a white-haired elderly gentleman.

To some of London’s Jews, Kahan – known as Sam – is “like a father and mother” who provides more than just two good meals a day.

“I didn’t come for many weeks,” reads an anonymous entry in the visitors’ book. “Sam made calls and found me because he was concerned. I was in hospital.” The entry stops there, explaining neither why Sam’s call was important nor why the author felt moved to record it. There’s no need.

“All kinds of Jews come here,” says Brooklyn-born Sam. “Chasidic, modern Orthodox, non-observant, all kinds. Women come too. Often the women are bashful and come just to collect food, at a different time of day, when nobody else is here. Others we deliver to. We feed hundreds a week.”

He continues: “Some who visit I don’t know their names, just their faces. I don’t ask who they are or why they need help. They need to come, that’s enough. They come from as far as Cricklewood, Golders Green, Finchley and Stamford Hill. We don’t advertise we’re here, but all who need to know about us do. For many it’s their only home, for others it’s a home from home. It’s not just about the food. We have facilities for a hot bath for example. People come for different reasons.”

Sat around the table, each of us at various stages of breakfast and stories, conversation and social interaction seems one such reason. Discussion between Sam, Chaim, Melvyn, David, Harold, Zev and others fluctuates between English and Hebrew, always jovial, animated and warm, ranging from the biblical basis of Purim to an account of trudging through Welsh swampland last month.

I ask the young man later how he found himself in a swamp. “You have to go that way to stop the drug addicts following you back,” he says with a shrug.

On funding, he says he’s struggling. “We’re meeting only 60% of our costs. Kosher meat is expensive, and we need more space. I have suppliers with patience, but not forever. I go with my hand out, but it’s difficult.”

In the background, Sam makes sure everyone is provided for. He is the innocuous centre of the operation, asking someone about their application for housing benefit (the group overhears and offers advice), encouraging another to go to library (“cold days are good days to read”), and joking with a tall Chasidic man in Hebrew.

Freeze the scene and you’d think nothing of it – an image of friends sat around a breakfast table perhaps. But amidst the talk and chatter, Sam quietly tells me the story behind the scene. He’s bought much of the clothing being worn around the table, gone out in the morning to pick some of these men off park benches, and arranged hostel accommodation for the others.

This poverty, it seems, is little-noticed by London’s Jewish community. Indeed, seeing it up close is a strange experience. Here, in the middle of Hendon, talking about Barack Obama over a coffee with London Jews, I need reminding that some here have nothing, that some here slept under the stars last night, and that – were it not for Sam’s free food – most here would have few other options.

“There are so many Jewish charities,” says Sam. “We help so many people, but this is the only place in London for these men and women. I don’t think many people know there is a need.”

Back at the office, it seems he’s right, as colleagues react in the same quizzical way: “Jews? Homeless Jews? In London?”

Sam can be contacted on 07837997208.

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Another Shabbat On The Streets

Jewish Care revealed that 2012 saw a 50% increase in the level of direct referrals from Jews experiencing extreme financial difficulties, whilst almost half as many Jews were provided with emergency housing in the past 12 months as had been in the previous four years.

Meanwhile, London’s only kosher soup kitchen revealed that it was now only able to meet 60% of its costs.

To coincide with the release of the figures, The Jewish News this week exposes the sobering reality faced by some of London’s poorest Jews.

“The homeless population is swelling, and this includes those within the Jewish community” said Rudi Richardson, the Jewish founder of homeless charity Streetlytes, who recently launched an initiative with New West Synagogue. Richardson explained that the situation will only get worse from April, after a housing benefit cap comes into effect.

“Poverty does exist in the Jewish community, and it as prevalent now as it has ever been,” said Alan Fell, general manager of London Jewish Cultural Centre, reflecting a growing acknowledgement of the problem.

“We see it first-hand, as one of the many factors that can lead to children being disadvantaged, and our outreach and bursary programme helps some of these children and young adults,” Fell added.

In a sign that the problem was being recognised, London Assembly Member for Barnet Andrew Dismore praised the organisers of the soup kitchen, saying: “It’s a sad indictment that this is needed in a place like Hendon where there are many wealthy families.”

He added: “This wealth often masks the degree of poverty in our community that can only worsen with this current government’s benefit cap, which will hit larger families including many in the orthodox Jewish community.”

Conservative MP Matthew Offord urged the Jewish community to come together on this issue. Prompting the collection of food stuffs from synagogues and local businesses, he said: “The Jewish community in Hendon remains generous, regardless of the difficult economic situation.”

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Opinion: Hungary’s Dark Flirtation With Anti-Semitism Rears Its Head

At 100,000-150,000 people, Hungary’s Jewish population is by far the largest in central Europe. Indeed it may be even larger according to a 2011 research report, Jewish Life in Hungary, published by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, and carried out for them by two eminent Budapest academics, Andras Kovacs and Aletta Forras-Biro.

The problem of counting heads is complicated by the halachic (religious) status of many in the community who may only have one Jewish parent, or who may be unaffiliated to any communal structure and therefore unwilling to be counted. One thing however is clear, and that is that the significant demographic decline of the community. The 1941 census recorded over 400,000 persons; more if those living in border countries, but of Hungarian origin, are included. The murderous effects of the collaborationist Horthy regime and the deportations to Nazi death camps left only between 190,000 and 260,000, but restrictions on Jewish life under Communism have led to a further fall, which continues because some have no interest in continuing to live as Jews.

While there are functioning communal organisations, led by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) and the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association (MAZSIKE), they were established by the previous government and their leadership is in the hands of the mostly elderly, some of whom have held their positions for many years. The renaissance in Jewish life that now affects all the former Soviet Bloc countries also touches Hungary, and consequently there is a growing interest in Jewish culture. Orthodox and secular international groups, many American based, are now focussing money and advice on trying to replace the vibrant religious and cultural life that existed before the War, but it has become a race to see if this effort can keep pace with assimilation trends.

Hungary’s long flirtation with anti-semitism now rears its head again, and the community is growing concerned that the ruling Fidesz party is succumbing to the Jobbik influence. Although the leadership may have been slow to react to the government’s proposals to restrict speech and cultural life, they are now more open and forthright in promoting their opposition to far right trends, the attempted resurrection of some Nazi collaborators’ reputations, and against attacks against their communal institutions, and against other minorities. They complained loudly after Jobbik MP Marton Gyongyosi called for the listing of Jewish members of parliament, on the grounds that Jewish parliamentarians may constitute a security risk: but what also troubled them was the slow reaction by the ruling Fidesz leadership, and then the dismissal of charges against Gyongyosi by the Prosecutorial Office for Criminal Investigation.

Nevertheless, the Jewish leadership also notes that growing anti-semitism is a symptom of a wider malaise that encompasses attempts to restrict cultural and political expression, as well as being reflected in anti-Jewish hate crime statistics.

In a May 2012 interview with JTA, the international Jewish media wire service, Rabbi Istvan Darvas summed up the relationship between anti-semitism and threats to Hungarian society as a whole, stating, “The danger is about Hungarian democracy, not about anti-semitism”.

Michael Whine is Defence and Group Relations Director at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Government and International Affairs Director at the Community Security Trust, and Security Consultant to the European Jewish Congress.

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Opinion: Israel’s Survival Depends On A Religious Majority in Knesset

All the major parties in Israel had active counterpart movements here. In the weeks and months preceding elections, a flurry of animated debates would take place around the country between British spokesmen for groups such as Likud (formerly Herut), Poale Zion (Labour) Mapam, Mizrachi and Aguda. Large enthusiastic audiences would often attend. Election night gatherings were as compelling here as in Israel itself. The euphoria in London when Menachem Begin was first elected Prime Minister in 1977 was something I shall never forget.

How radically things have changed. Once the disastrous policy of territorial appeasement in Judea and Samaria began in the early 1990′s followed by the fiasco of Gaza ten years later, the difference between the parties on foreign policy became increasingly blurred. Previous “Zionist” ideologies became redundant and the suicidal concept of a “two-state solution” entered the Middle East vocabulary. Coupled with this, the rise and fall of numerous new parties, alliances and coalitions made Israeli politics so complicated and unpredictable that the wider Jewish public simply lost interest.

Things have spiced up again since the election in January of this year. It has produced a polarisation that is quite unprecedented. It has effectively produced a straight 50-50 division in the Knesset between right and left. On the right there is Likud and all the religious parties, totalling 60 seats. On the left there is Labour, Yesh Atid, various miscellaneous groups and the Arabs, also totalling 60. A fascinating outcome, and it is to be hoped that Netanyahu will form a strong coalition with the right people, well equipped to stand up to the vicious international pressures that are bound to follow.

To me, the most negative feature of the election was the 19 – seat success of Yesh Atid. I see its “ultra-chilled” leader Yair Lapid as representing all that is decadent in Israeli society and in what remains of secular Zionism. He has the profile of a Hollywood film star, with little to distinguish his image from any swash-buckling upstart one might encounter on the European or South American political scene. Apart from the fact that he speaks Hebrew, his attributes and outlook are not in the slightest bit Jewish. On the Yesh Atid agenda, Shabbat, Kashrut and Torah study are completely irrelevant, as is any notion of the sanctity of the land of Israel. It is deplorable that downgrading religion, forcing Yeshiva students into the army and demonizing the Charedi community are the major planks of that party’s social policy.

In Jewish terms, the Lapid philosophy is both destructive and self-destructive. It represents a sterile modern day hellenism which, for all their faults, was not the approach of the country’s “founding fathers”. Zionist leaders like Weizman, Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky generally recognised the paramount role of Judaism within the land of Israel, even though they themselves were not actively observant. It was Ben Gurion who coined the phrase “the Bible is our mandate”. Even today’s political leaders – Peres and Netanyahu – are capable of connecting with their Jewish heritage and retain a residual “heimishkeit” in their statements and conduct. Little of this can be said for Lapid and his ilk for whom assimilationist secularism seems to be a creed in itself.

On the positive side, every time there is an election, an increasing number of seats move to religious parties and religious politicians. In this new Knesset, there are 18 Charedim (Shas and UTC combined) and 12 national religious (Habayit Hayehudi). If you add to this the 9 observant MK’s among the secular parties you find that virtually one quarter of the Knesset is actually religious. This development surely reflects the demographic reality of Israel’s population that religious families are increasing in numbers, while non religious are decreasing or remaining static.

If, as one can only hope, the said trend continues, there will in due course inevitably be a religious majority in the Knesset and a religiously dominated Government. This, more than anything else gives me reason for optimism, since Israel’s survival can only ultimately depend on adherence to Torah values. That, ironically, is the real meaning of “Yesh Atid”. Yes, Mr. Lapid, there is indeed a future, but it is quite different from the message you are preaching.

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Latest Figures Show Rise In Social Media Anti-Semitism

Figures published today by the Community Security Trust show there were 640 incidents targeting community members and property during the 12 months to December – the third highest total in more than two decades – including a rise during the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

But the CST attributed the overall increase – including a 55 percent increase in the Greater London area – “largely” to a new data sharing system with the Metropolitan Police which saw officers pass on details of 100 incidents during the year.

Without those figures being included, the CST said, there would have been an 11 percent overall decrease. “These figures require careful analysis,” said director of communications Mark Gardner. “Discounting incidents from the new exchange system, the overall UK like-for-like level may actually have fallen slightly. Overall, we are very pleased with the information sharing with police and the figures should now be even more accurate than in previous years.”

In Greater Manchester, where the CST and police have run an incident exchange programme since 2011, the report shows a 34 percent drop. Last year saw a 27 percent fall in the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks from 95, with two of these involving grievous bodily harm or a threat to life.

Among the 69 assaults in 2012 was an attack on a customer in a London bakery who was left needing hospital treatment after being punched last July. A man was allegedly heard to say: ‘F****** Jews… I f****** hate the Jews.’ The same month, in Hertfordshire, a rabbi was on his way home from synagogue when a car slowed down and the driver threw a penny at him, shouting ‘There you go’.

Incidents of damage and desecration also fell to the lowest levels since 2005. However, 2012 saw a 13 percent rise in abusive behaviour (467), including graffiti and verbal abuse as well as more threats to people and property (39) and in offending literature, including mass mailings and individual hate mail (12).

The huge increase in incidents involving the use of internet based social media – 80 compared to 12 in 2011 – “reflects the growing relevance of social media as a place where Jews encounter anti-Semitism and the ease with which it can be reported, rather than being an absolute measure of anti-Semitism on social media platforms,” the report says.

Reacting to the report, a government spokesperson said: “Anti-Semitism is unacceptable and has no place in a civilised society. Hate crime, including religious hate crime, has devastating consequences for victims and their families, and also divides communities. We should all work together to confront this despicable behaviour.

“The government continues to deliver its action plan, which aims to protect victims and take firm action against those who commit hate crimes.”

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‘every day is a miracle’

Noam Schalit this week described each day since his son’s release as a “miracle” and insisted that fears about the release of Palestinian prisoners had proved to be largely unfounded.

In an interview with the Jewish News to mark one year since the former IDF soldier walked free from his 1,941-day ordeal at the hands of Hamas, Noam Schalit offered an insight into how his son Gilad (pictured right at a Barcelona football match) was enjoying life back in Israel and looking forward to travelling abroad, including to London.

Reflecting on the fact the 26-year-old recently spent his first Rosh Hashanah at home for six years, he said: “Every day, every holiday, every weekend, it’s a miracle for us. Gilad and the whole family have a great sense of renewal and he’s doing very well.”

He revealed that Gilad was currently mulling over which course to take when he begins university in September 2013 but is now “catching up on the gaps he missed” following his kidnapping while still a teenager in June 2006. “He’s been going out a lot, especially during the Succot holidays while his friends are on vacation from university. He’s also been hiking, cycling and has attended many sports events.”

As well as celebrating his birthday in August – according to Noam, it’s as if his son now also has a second birthday on the day he was freed – the Schalits have had no shortage of reasons to party this summer with the wedding of Gilad’s brother Yoel to Ya’ara Winkler.

“The couple met in 2009 in the Jerusalem protest tent during the campaign for Gilad, but avoided any celebration before he was freed,” Noam said.
“Some guests had never met Gilad or hadn’t seen him since he returned home – everyone wanted to shake his hand or exchange a few words. The couple were at the centre but he was the second focus.”

While Noam said Gilad was trying to look forward, rather than back, and the possibility of him writing a book had been “postponed”, his son this week spoke in public for the first time about his experiences in captivity. He recalled passing the time drawing pictures of his road in Israel to ensure he wouldn’t forget it and rolling up socks or T-shirts to play sports-oriented games. Noam believes, however, that he is yet to reveal even to his family every aspect of his experiences.

Since Gilad’s release, he has been able to indulge his love of sport by penning a weekly sports column for the Yediot Ahronot newspaper and by attending events like the NBA Finals and one of the world’s top football fixtures between Barcelona and Real Madrid during one of his foreign trips.

While acknowledging that, “maybe the first voyage abroad we were a little concerned”, Noam and wife Aviva have encouraged their son’s independence. Looking ahead to his visit to London for the B’nei B’rith Europe Young Adults Forum, Noam said: “He’s very much looking forward to it, especially to attending a football match. He watched a lot of the Olympics.”

Gilad also spoke in his television interview of the day he was freed and his fears that something could go wrong at the last minute as he travelled towards Egypt to be handed over.”

Asked whether he had ever thought during his family’s tireless campaign for Gilad that he might never see his son again, Noam told the Jewish News: “It was never certain he’d be freed, looking at the experiences of previous Israeli soldiers like Ron Arad. I only knew we could not retreat or give up, because I realised that if we did not fight the chances of seeing him back were quite low.”

Supporters across the world joined calls for his son to be freed and to be granted visits from the Red Cross, with Londoners joining vigils, marches and petitions. Hundreds, including then premier Gordon Brown, took part in the Jewish News’ campaign to sign Rosh Hashanah cards to the young Israeli.

He said: “We were very encouraged by the support of the Jewish communities worldwide including Australia, Canada and the United States. We needed all the support we could get worldwide. I think that the campaign in England was very effective because your government was very aware of this crisis.Gordon Brown wrote us a letter, ambassador Matthew Gould’s first mission was to come to our tent and William Hague also visited us in Jerusalem to express his support.”

For Noam, who had seen intense media speculation of an imminent deal come to nothing on previous occasions, scepticism remained even after finally receiving news in a 5am text message that a prisoner swap deal had been reached. “It still had to be approved by cabinet members and sometimes in the past there have been cases where the cabinet does not approve the prime minister’s recommendation. But as the day went on – and especially after it was published in the media at 7pm – I realised that they must approve it. I thought very few members of the cabinet will oppose this deal, because we had between 75 to 80 percent of public support.”

Addressing the vocal opposition to that exchange deal – which saw 1,027 Palestinians including those convicted over terror attacks set free – Noam stressed that his family had not taken part in the negotiations and “were not responsible for the price paid. We just asked that the government will fulfil its duty to bring back a soldier”. He added that “very few of those freed have been re-arrested and some of those that have were later released. The bottom line is that all the forecasts in Israel that there would be murders and buses would be exploded again were false.”

Noam is now embarking on a whole new campaign after accepting an offer to join Labour’s list for the next Knesset. While admitting that he had “never before” considered entering politics, he said MKs had an opportunity to influence life in Israel for the better and said he wished to speak up, in particular for those in the country’s north where he lives and also the south. Noam, who this week joined the family of Arad at a ceremony marking 26 years since his plane went down over Lebanon, also said that the issue of Israel’s missing soldiers would be one “I’m sure I won’t forget” if he enters the Knesset after the 22 January elections.

Noam, a member of Labour since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, was adamant that he would have no qualms in opposing Netanyahu in the Knesset, despite the fact “we appreciate very much that he took the decision to cut a deal maybe against his beliefs and ideology”.

He said: “It has nothing to do with the efforts that he and former PM Olmert and decision-makers made to bring back a soldier they had sent to his mission. It has nothing to do with political views or beliefs and doesn’t mean I have to believe in the same ideology of the prime minister and his party.”

But today, on the first anniversary of Gilad’s release, his thoughts will inevitably be focused on his son and his future. He said that, despite irreversible damage to his left hand as a result of shrapnel, his son’s health was “quite good”.

Noam added: “I hope he will go to university to acquire a profession and, like every parent, we hope that Gilad will sooner or later find a girl and establish his own family.”
• Gilad Schalit on the set of Homeland, page 15

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Guardian ‘violated accuracy’ over the status of Jerusalem

Responding to a specific complaint, the commission overturned its earlier decision and ruled that the Guardian newspaper had “violated principles of accuracy” when it referred to Tel Aviv as the Israeli capital. The precedent-setting ruling finally provides clarity on the long-running issue.

While acknowledging Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital was “arguable,” the complainants successfully reasoned that Tel Aviv was not the Israeli capital, and should not be referred to as such.
Board of Deputies Vice-President Alex Brummer said: “This ruling is welcome. It is not for the press to determine national capitals. It is time that all media outlets recognised this without qualification.”
The Zionist Federation’s Alan Aziz also welcomed the decision. He said: “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. It’s time the national media and UK government stopped treating Israel differently to other nations by not recognising its capital.”
The complaint was brought by pro-Israel media watchdog HonestReporting, after the Guardian published a correction on 22 April in which it “corrected” an earlier reference to Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.
Reacting to the judgement, HonestReporting’s CEO Joe Hyams said: “Fatuous claims over the status of Tel Aviv as a means to delegitimise Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital will now no longer be acceptable.”
The ruling will come as a blow to the Guardian, which has been heavily criticised by the Jewish community for its coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, acknowledged these problems. He said: “It is concerning when Guardian journalists take an unrelentingly antithetical line towards Israel. But to deliberately misrepresent facts is inexcusable.”Amir Ofek from the Israeli embassy in London added: “It was wrong to begin with, so why did the Guardian need a commission to tell them it was wrong? They should know it already.”
The ruling sets a precedent on British coverage of Israel and has already been used to force corrections from two other publications.
The Daily Mail this week corrected its reference to “the Tel Aviv government” to “the Jerusalem government,” and the Daily Telegraph corrected a reference to “the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv”.
Amendments made by all three publications were judged sufficient by the commission.
The capital of Israel has been a contentious issue in the British media for decades. The Jewish state proclaimed Jerusalem its capital in 1950, but the United Nations Security Council subsequently condemned the move, calling on states to withdraw embassies from the city

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