Was I on holiday a little more than a week ago? I can’t believe I was. I returned to an unexpected roller coaster of a week that has almost derailed the memories of fabulous food, sunshine and gorgeous views.
It was back to work with a vengeance – and it’s only now that I’ve had the time to relax, let my brain unwind and download all the information from this turbulent past week.
As a born optimist, I would add that there is a small upside to a non-stop week: it’s a great way to lose those holiday bulges! All the dresses that were embarrassingly too tight on holiday are zipping up with ease. “Half of you has gone!” said my husband last night as, exhausted, I finally stumbled into the kitchen in search of a glass of wine. Despite the fatigue, I told him it was the best thing I’d heard all week.
So where could half of me have gone? Let me think…
Much of this week was spent in London. Before leaving, I was thrilled to give a speech to the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks and his wife who had spent the weekend in my hometown of Leeds. We are a small Jewish community, making up only one per cent of the population of Leeds, but as a community we give a great deal back. In particular, we work hard in a city made up of many different communities, to have successful relationships with our non-Jewish neighbours. The Chief (as he is known) and his wife worked non-stop, meeting as many people as possible in Leeds including the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and the vibrant Archbishop of York, and clearly exhausting themselves into the bargain. From Leeds they were travelling on to visit the even smaller Jewish community in Hull and then back to London for his keynote speech that same evening on faith and the law.
Faith isn’t a fashionable topic at the moment. If you have faith you are open to virulent attack, albeit the attack is likely to be verbal or in writing. Fair enough. As readers know, I fully support our democratic right to freedom of expression. We all have different views and we are all entitled to express them. That’s fine. Sixty million people, sixty million opinions. However if part of your faith includes support for the State of Israel, you will encounter anti-semitism in all its guises and from all different people, some from those you expect, some worse still from those you don’t, who should know better.
If despite this, you are the much loved and admired head of a community of Jews, and you carry on regardless, in the full glare of the public eye irrespective of the threat to your safety, you are a very brave man indeed. What is not generally known about the Chief is that he is obliged to travel with not one, but several bodyguards. He cannot speak without the threat of serious attack in our country in what should be a bastion of democracy.
My admiration for the courage of the Chief Rabbi and his wife and the vital work they do for Jewish people in this country knows no bounds and It was my great pleasure to be asked to thank them for their visit.
Then onto London. I was accompanied by barrister-turned-trainee solicitor Paul Read. We did not travel lightly: all our bags of files were loaded into an executive van. We set off for what we thought would be a one-hour meeting, or two hours tops…
We returned three days later. Our work detained us.
So I was able to attend a dinner at the newly-reopened Savoy Hotel, that I hadn’t been sure I could make. The guest speaker was headlined as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel who, unfortunately, was also having a stressful week. He cancelled, preferring to schedule a trip to Washington. His deputy, Dan Meridor, should have taken his place at the Savoy dinner. However in this country we still have something little known and most unpleasant, called the “universal jurisdiction principle”. Under threat of an arrest warrant being issued against him, by extremists determined to silence him, and which needs to be signed by only a low level magistrate, Mr Meridor, the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, had no choice but to cancel and avoid an embarrassing diplomatic incident all round and of course the threat to him personally.
Compare and contrast with the warm reception our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, had from Israel this week, with his visit hailed as a resounding success on both sides. However one Israeli diplomat did comment on how absurd it is that their delegation could face the risk of arrest in travelling to London and continuing the strategic dialogue. Mr Hague has pledged to resolve the “unacceptable situation” with regard to universal jurisdiction, and legislative changes are expected to come into effect in 2011.
At the Savoy Michael Gove, the UK Education Secretary, gave a resounding speech in Mr Meridor’s place. He, too, called for the repeal of the UJ law. I hope the government will honour its word.
As I have written before, to my mind the truth of the Middle East conflict is made up in differing shades of grey. Travelling through the country as I did only a week ago, from the heights of its Lebanese border in the north, the heights of its Syrian borders to the northwest then through the heights of the Palestinian West Bank, courtesy of our informative Palestinian driver and with only the Mediterranean Sea and the potential rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza to the east, I concluded that secure borders for Israel must be a prerequisite to any resolution of the conflict. But we never get to hear of this. Silencing those with legitimate and opposing points of view, and using our own law to do it, is simply wrong and is not the answer.
Recently an attack was made on my blog was for the second time, after I posted about a holiday to Jerusalem. It is all very sad. I don’t expect all or indeed any of the readers of my blog, to agree with my views. Why should I? For example John Bolch of Family Lore has become a friend whom I admire, even though we disagree over the subject of faith. And why shouldn’t we disagree? We are a democracy in this country.
But if some people who bravely stand up and speak out about what they believe are targeted and threatened and attempts are made to intimidate them into silence, while those who disagree with them can speak out fearlessly and know no such bars, what is this country and above all our proudly fair and independent justice system coming to?
My trip to London involved a lot of hard work into the bargain. It would have been far easier and less controversial for me to post about the impact of established trusts in family law, the way to resolve a divorce conflict in such circumstances, and the case which occupied us for much of this week. But to me – and, I’m sure, right minded people everywhere – I wish to point out that our hard won, extremely precious right to freedom of speech is under attack in this country. I believe we should make every effort to stop it, whether we agree with what is being said or not.
There! I’ve said my piece. Normal service will resume next week.