As we look back at 2019, CUFI UK has compiled a list of 12 public figures/personalities that took a bold stand for Israel and/or the Jewish people during the year (In reverse order, with 1 being our top figure for 2019). From politicians to celebrities, they showed courage in the face of opposition, made public declarations or actions in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism, and in some cases have faced the consequences of refusing to back down.
Let us remember that whilst these 12 people all have a public profile, all of us have an important role in standing with Israel and the Jewish people and this list cannot truly represent the many unsung heroes who have stood in the gap this year for Zion’s sake.
12. Sarah McTernan, Singer and Ireland’s Eurovision Song Contest representative
Tel Aviv hosted the Eurovision Song Contest this year after winning the competition in 2018. But not everyone was happy about Israel hosting the famous singing event.
The BDS movement threw everything at trying to disrupt the smooth running of the event, targeting broadcasters such as the BBC and contestants.
One of those who resisted calls to withdraw was Ireland’s entry, Sarah McTernan. The 25 year old had to even stop her social media activity in the days leading up to Eurovision because of the volume of terrifying abuse at her including death threats.
“I got hundreds of threats . . . It did freak me out,” she told the press.
McTernan even received threatening mail delivered to her grandmother’s house. But the opposition didn’t deter her, with the singer saying she was proud to represent her country in Tel Aviv.
11. Lionel Richie, Singer-songwriter
World-renowned singer Lionel Richie was under immense pressure by the BDS movement to cancel his 12 September concert in Tel Aviv, but instead Richie chose to resist calls by the haters by blocking the anti-Israel hate group on Twitter, a move that was praised by his fans and lovers of Israel alike.
10. Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, has been on the IDF frontline to see for himself the violence being caused by Hamas-led protests and earlier this year gave a must-watch rebuttal of the UNHRC’s “outrageous” report that condemned only Israel.
The outspoken advocate for Israel said, “I accuse this commission of misrepresenting Hamas’s actions….and acting as an instrument of Hamas terrorism by falsely accusing Israel…”
Colonel Kemp also repeatedly called for stronger action against Iran throughout 2019. In June, the former International Terrorism Intelligence in the Cabinet Office said European leaders should not wait until Iran’s 60-day ultimatum to reinstate sanctions against the regime. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Kemp said the deal is “certain to fail” and said it would pave the way for Tehran to build a nuclear bomb in around 10 years’ time.
9. Saeid Mollaei, Iranian Judoka
Iranian Judo professional, Saeid Mollaei, was forced to flee to Europe in September after Iranian authorities forced him to throw a match to avoid an Israeli rival at judo’s world championship in Tokyo. In future, Mollaei said he would compete under the Olympic flag instead of representing Iran.
The International Judo Federation (IJF) said that Saeid Mollaei, the defending champion, was pressurised by Iranian authorities to drop out before his quarter-final at the world judo championships in Tokyo to avoid the prospect of fighting Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final.
Mollaei was told on four occasions to not compete because of the prospect of facing an Israeli athlete, Sagi Muki, who eventually won the gold medal.
He reluctantly gave in to Iran’s demands to throw the match after security personnel were sent to his home in Iran, with friends and family messaging him that they had been threatened. But since the competition Mollaei has not returned to Iran but instead fled to Germany, where he says he owns an apartment.
8. Rachel Riley, TV presenter and mathematician
TV personality Rachel Riley continued to be targeted with anti-Semitism with the hashtag #BoycottRachelRiley trending worldwide at one stage earlier in the year. Despite this, Riley rose above the hate to continue her bold campaigning against anti-Semitism, the type of which she was experiencing herself.
Rachel was also targeted by pro-Corbyn activists after she started speaking out against anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
The Countdown presenter was even given extra security in January. Riley was left with a “hideous” feeling after she spoke out about anti-Semitism at a Holocaust Memorial Day event in the House of Commons and was particularly targeted following that.
“By speaking up against anti-Semitism, you are a target. I don’t take it lightly,” she said, “We are getting more security. They picked on the wrong woman – whatever they throw at me, I’ll throw right back.”
7. Danny Danon, Israeli Ambassador to the UN
In a dramatic moment on 29 April, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, opened the Bible and read aloud God’s covenant with Abraham from Genesis 17: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the generations for an everlasting covenant. And I will give to you and your descendants after you all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession and I will be their God.”
He then raised up the Bible, turned to attendees and said, “This is the deed to our land.”
Danon was tasked with the job of proving the case for Jews’ connection to the Holy Land during the special session. He outlined four reasons, “the Bible, history, international law, and the pursuit of international peace and security.”
Whilst we don’t normally include Israeli politicians and diplomats in our top 12 due to defending Israel being part of their role, we think Ambassador Danon deserves a very special mention for his courage and wisdom displayed in the hostile environment of the UN, and especially for using the Bible as the foundation for his arguments. The event was the most viewed article on the CUFI UK website in 2019 and received over a quarter of a million shares on our social media, meaning the truth he proclaimed was not only heard by the UN chamber, but all around the world.
6. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
At the beginning of 2018, CUFI called upon the Church of England to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which was pleasingly adopted in full later in September that year. In 2019, the Church of England went further by publishinga landmark report saying Anglicans and other Christians should repent for the church’s role in centuries of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust, whilst admitting that approaches and languages used by pro-Palestinian advocates today are reminiscent of “traditional anti-Semitism”.
TheGod’s Unfailing Word redefines how the Church views Zionism, Jews, and the relationship between Christianity and the Jewish faith.
When the Church backs away from encountering Jewish positions, wrote Archbishop Justin Welby, it is “less than its true self.” He urged Christians to look back at history and recognise “our failures as Christians” and to move forward with “authenticity.
The report goes on to say that “Zionism” is “an important and legitimate aspect of Jewish identity,” and while it is not antisemitic to use the same yardstick used to measure other democracies to understand the State of Israel, “it is the case that some of the approaches and language used by pro-Palestinian advocates are indeed reminiscent of what could be called traditional antisemitism, including its Christian forms.”
The 121-page report said attitudes towards Judaism over centuries had provided a “fertile seed-bed for murderous anti-Semitism,” and that Anglicans and other Christians must repent for the “sins of the past,” as well as actively challenge anti-Semitic attitudes or stereotypes.
“The attribution of collective guilt to the Jewish people for the death of Christ and the consequent interpretation of their suffering as collective punishment sent by God is one very clear example of that,” the report said. “Within living memory, such ideas contributed to fostering the passive acquiescence if not positive support of many Christians in actions that led to the Holocaust.
“Christians have been guilty of promoting and fostering negative stereotypes of Jewish people that have contributed to grave suffering and injustice. They therefore have a duty to be alert to the continuation of such stereotyping and to resist it.”
The report also called on Christians to be “sensitive to Jewish fears” and encouraged followers of the Church to rediscover the relationship of “unique significance” between the two faiths. The bond should be viewed as a “gift of God to the Church” to be received with care, respect and gratitude, it said.
Archbishop Welby also made a statement that appeared to supportChief Rabbi’s warning about Labour and the “poison” of anti-Semitism within the party.
He wrote, “That the Chief Rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.
“Everyone in our country is entitled to feel safe and secure. They should be able to live in accordance with their beliefs and freely express their culture and faith.
“As a Church, we are very conscious of our own history of antisemitism. None of us can afford to be complacent. Voicing words that commit to a stand against antisemitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action.
“I would reiterate that ‘no individual or community in our shared society should have reason to lack confidence in their belonging or security, so parties must make it an absolute priority to offer positive reassurance and avoid anything that increases the perception of fear.’”
The Chief Rabbi’s statement provides all of us with the opportunity to ensure our words and actions properly reflect our commitments to mutual flourishing and inclusion, for the common good.”
5. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The year 2019 was a turbulent year of major political upheaval in Westminster which also saw the worrying prospect of a prime minister who was fervently anti-Israel. It therefore came as a huge relief that Boris Johnson, who describes himself as a “Zionist”, re-entered Number 10 in the pivotal General Election in December. But Johnson is included in this list for his many statements in support of Israel and the Jewish people during the year and particularly in response to anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
In his strong message at Hanukkah, Boris said, “Today, as Britain’s Jews seek to drive back the darkness of resurgent anti-Semitism, you have every decent person in this country fighting by your side. Because Britain would not be Britain without its Jewish community.”
In September, Boris met with Benjamin Netanyahu in Downing Street, where the Israeli PM said, “I want to say that you’ve been a great friend of the Jewish people and Israel. I applaud your staunch stance against anti-Semitism and your support for Israel’s security.”
“Our relations are at an all-time high: economically, trade, technology, defense cooperation. These are all great things.”
We are well aware that Boris Johnson’s stand with Israel will be fully assessed over his time in office and CUFI has produced 12 principles that we would like the new UK Government to implement. However, exactly one week following his election victory, Boris Johnson made a major move regarding rejecting boycotts – one of these 12 principles. Johnson announced plans for a new law to ban anti-Israel boycotts and divestment by public sector bodies.
One of the aims of this bill is to stop all public bodies, especially Labour-led local councils, from imposing boycotts against our allies, such as Israel. This is important because local councils should not be dictating the UK’s foreign policy or acting in violation of it.
Speaking in the Commons, the Prime Minister said, “One innovation that this Queen’s Speech introduces, is that we will stop public bodies from taking it upon themselves to boycott goods from other countries, to develop their own pseudo foreign policy against countries, which with nauseating frequency turns out to be Israel.”
CUFI believes that the UK has a bright future by standing with Israel and there is now an open door of opportunity the like of which we have never seen before in our nation’s history.
4. Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer (former Home Secretary)
As Home Secretary in the previous Government, before being appointed by Boris Johnson as Chancellor, Sajid Javid took the long-awaited decision in February 2019 to ban the terrorist group Hezbollah in full – something CUFI campaigned tirelessly for. Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed organisation that seeks the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. Despite disapproval by the Labour shadow cabinet, Javid’s decision marked a significant move in Britain’s stand with Israel and the UK Jewish community.
Javid also made history in 2019 by becoming the UK’s first ever Cabinet minister in 20 years to visit the Western Wall, dismissing advice from officials to bypass the holy site as “a load of rubbish”. He underlined: “It shouldn’t have taken two decades, but I know that many more Conservative Cabinet Ministers will follow on from that”.
During his visit, Mr Javid met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two discussed the strengthening security cooperation between Israel and the UK.
Interestingly, Israel was the country Sajid Javid and his wife, who is a Christian, decided to have their honeymoon after they were married 20 years ago, and Mr Javid speaks of his fondness for Israel after his brother went on a trip to Israel as a child and despite opposition from the school, his Muslim father defended the trip and encouraged his community to have greater interaction with Israel.
Javid also said in October, “When I look at Israel… it is a country that aligns with all of our values… it’s great to see how strongly this party supports the values of Israel at every level.”
3. Ian Austin and Joan Ryan, former Labour MPs
Several Labour MPs suffered as a result of speaking up against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. We would like to especially recognise two of these former MPs, both non-Jews, who demonstrated great courage in making a stand.
Ian Austin. After a long battle confronting anti-Semitism within Labour, the former communities minister under Gordon Brown quit the party earlier this year and then subsequently announced his decision in November that he would not be standing for re-election. Instead the veteran MP for Dudley North urged voters to back Boris Johnson to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street.
Mr Austin, whose adoptive father was a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, said: “I am appalled and ashamed that a party that has had such a proud tradition of fighting racism has caused huge offence and distress to the Jewish community.”
“I could not stand by as the Labour Party has been poisoned by racism, extremism and intolerance under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Joan Ryan, who had been the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel since 2015, quit the Labour Party in February.Ms Ryan said the Labour party had become “institutionally anti-Semitic” and that under Corbyn’s leadership Israel had been “singled out for demonisation and de-legitimisation”.
“The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism. The problem simply did not exist in the party before his election as leader.
“No previous Labour leader would have allowed this huge shame to befall the party. I have been horrified, appalled and angered to see the Labour leader’s dereliction of duty in the face of this evil.”
Ryan was one of a cross-party selection of MPs who joined CUFI and other pro-Israel groups inpresenting a petitionto 10 Downing Street calling for an end to Israel Apartheid Week in 2018.
Ryan was heavily attacked by far-left members of the Labour party for her support for Israel. They have used malicious tactics to smear her name, even carrying out a vote of no confidence against her last year which was orchestrated by Corbyn supporters and even saw (the banned and Iranian regime funded) Press TV broadcasting footage from the event. Press TV, which we repeat, is very anti-Semitic and also banned in the UK, is also a former employer of Jeremy Corbyn.
Following her departure from the Labour Party, Ryan was subjected to a torrent of online abuse, but in March she had to call the police after two threats made against her – one of which was hand delivered to her office in parliament.
We honour both Ian Austin and Joan Ryan for their courageous stand against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. They are among several Labour MPs who suffered a significant personal cost for making a stand for what is right.
2. Sarah Idan, Former Miss Iraq and human rights campaigner
After escaping Iraq due to her refusal to withdraw her support for Israel, Sarah Idan, who was Iraq’s representative at the Miss Universe 2017 pageant, gave a bold speech at the UN in which she criticised the “biased media” coverage against Israel.
Idan recalled the Iraqi government ordering her to take down a photo she had posted to social media of Idan and the 2017 Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman. The Iraqi government also forced her to condemn Israel. She later received death threats.
“Since then, I have no longer return to my homeland,” Idan said. “Why did the Iraqi government fail to condemn the threats, or allow my freedom of speech?”
She added that conflicts between Israel and myriad Arab countries stem from “belief systems taught in Muslim countries that which are anti-Semitic.” A “biased media” reinforces these beliefs, Idan said.
“When I watched the news last month, why did they never report that the Hamas terrorist organization fired nearly 700 rockets at Israeli civilians in one weekend, or that Hamas used Palestinians as human shields?” Idan said. “Why do they never condemn Hamas for initiating the attacks? Instead, they only show those killed by the response, in self-defence, and blame Israel.”
Idan also pointed out that “Arab media” never asks for her opinion on Middle East issues; they only “publish false translations of my statements.” She urged Arab states to make common cause with Israel since they have more in common with the Jewish State than with Islamic terror groups.
“Negotiating peace for both states isn’t betraying the Arab cause but a vital step toward ending conflict and suffering for all,” Idan said.
And again, Idan launched an attack against al Jazeera’s social media channel, AJ+, over an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying video that accused Jews of exploiting the Holocaust, with Israel being the “greatest beneficiary”.
“I saw the video of Al Jazeera denying the Holocaust saying it was an exaggeration. I won’t share it, because I believe this is exactly what this terrorist channel wants me to do & I fear the less educated Muslims would hear it & believe it since it’s coming from a girl in Hijab.”
1. Donald Trump, President of the United States of America
President Trump has continued fulfilling his election promises relating to Israel with more decisions strengthening the US-Israel relationship and correcting historic wrongs.
For example, in March President Trump announced that the United States officially recognises Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, signalling a significant change in US policy towards Israel.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognise Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump tweeted.
In September Trump became the first president to host a summit on religious freedom at the UN. Trump said it was an “urgent moral duty” for world leaders to stop crimes against faith, release prisoners of conscience and repeal laws restricting religious liberty. Also in September, Trump significantly increased sanctions on Iran after an escalation of tensions by the Iranian regime and its breaching of the terms of the failed Iran deal.
In December Trump signed an executive order calling on U.S. government departments to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits the federal funding of universities and other institutions that engage in discrimination based on race, colour and national origin, and will now also be applied to anti-Semitism. The executive order additionally stated that U.S. government agencies should “consider” adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
In January 2019, Trump signed into law bipartisan legislation named for the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. The act ensures that the official policy of the United States deems the prevention of genocide and other crimes a matter of national security interest.
In November, the US rescinded a 1978 State Department opinion called the Hansell Memorandum, which claimed that civilian settlements in Judea and Samaria are “inconsistent with international law.”
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