Not welcome in Manchester
If anyone had told me it would take the actions of a Natorei Karta self-proclaimed rabbi to get the ultra-Orthodox anti-Israel community and the Zionists to stand side by side at a demonstration I would have probably laughed in their face. But that is exactly what has been happening in a formerly quiet street in Manchester in the past week. Ahron Cohen was previously familiar as he stood alongside Palestine Solidarity demonstrators around the world to show his hatred of the State of Israel.
While those of us who support Israel have not liked the message his personage sent out to the wider world, we have not questioned his right to freedom of speech and action, and the fact that tiny Natorei Karta and the much larger Satmar, among other sects, deny the right of Israel to exist is well known. However once Ahron Cohen decided to attend the Holocaust denial conference in Teheran and was pictured shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the man who has publicly declared he wants to see the elimination of the Jewish state, that was one step too far.
The Manchester community from the haredi to the secular has made it very clear this man is a disgrace, and brings disrepute to us all. His claim is that he does not deny the Holocaust took place, but does not want it to be used as a weapon to "oppress" the Palestinians. And the remarkable thing is that when Zionists took to the streets with their Israeli flags, singing "Hatikva," outside the home of Ahron Cohen, they stood alongside large numbers of the haredi community, including many Satmar congregants.
Not everyone approves of the tactics of some of the demonstrators, but the strength of their feeling and their common bond is there for all to see. Throwing thousands of eggs at the house, letting down car tires, and scrawling an obscenity on his car are not things many of us approve of or wish to see, and there has been a concerted effort, now the point of what we feel about this obnoxious man has been very clearly made, to limit the demonstrations and to control the more unacceptable manifestations of people's feelings.
MANY SANCTIONS are being used to make it clear to "rabbi" Cohen that he is persona non grata here in Manchester. Just how long his position here is tenable remains to be seen. The Manchester Beth Din has issued a condemnation, as has the Machzikei Hadass leader. Satmar have dissociated themselves in the strongest terms. They make it clear that while they, too, do not recognize Israel, Holocaust denial - or aligning with Holocaust deniers - is an entirely different matter.
There has been call for excommunication; his fees to the burial society have been returned to make it clear there will be no future resting place for him among Manchester Jews. Holocaust survivors have expressed their horror and pain. Shops are refusing to serve him and all the synagogue's and shtiebels where he used to worship have closed their doors to him.
It is rumored that he will try to travel to Israel this week. Will he be welcome there? I doubt it. Antwerp has been suggested as another possible place where he might seek respite from the onslaught he has faced.
Having lived in Manchester for more than 36 years, I cannot remember any issue that has on the one hand shocked and on the other hand united the community in such a remarkable way. One important thing is not to mix the issue of Ahron Cohen's basic right not to recognize Israel with his totally misguided view that he can express that view by standing alongside Holocaust deniers and giving them succor.
He will not care that he is bringing our community into disrepute, or that our enemies can cite him as an example of Jews against Israel, but we need to make it clear that we care deeply. We have a duty to make it clear throughout our community and throughout the wider world that this man speaks only for himself and a handful of people who share his warped viewpoint. Even other Natorei Karta followers are able to draw the line between standing up against Israel and standing with Holocaust deniers. At a time when the number of living witnesses to the Holocaust is diminishing, the last thing we need are Jews who try to give credence to the Holocaust revisionists.
Nothing that Ahron Cohen says to try to justify his attendance in Teheran and his reasons for being there are acceptable in any way. That is why Manchester Jews, alongside many Israeli rabbis and others throughout the world, are sending out a loud and clear unanimous message to make it very clear that there is no comfortable resting place for him anywhere in the civilized world. Maybe his best hope is to look at house prices in Iran.
The writer is life president of Manchester Zionist Central Council and of Manchester Wizo and a member of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester.
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