As police in London continued to hunt for those responsible for four terrorist bombings last week that claimed at least 52 lives, including four of the British-born suicide bombers themselves, Jewish leaders vowed to combat any increase in anti-Semitism but said none had arisen.
"In the immediate aftermath, there is nothing of that," Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told The Jewish Week Monday. "It was reported in The Times that when they interviewed some young Muslim Bangladeshis in the East End of London and asked their initial thoughts, they said it was probably the Israelis behind it. But that was included in the paper because it was such an outrageous suggestion."
"We know that if you look at the whole spectrum of opinion, there are people with opinions that are unsustainable and that most of us would find quite remarkable," he added. "There will no doubt be conspiracy theorists who come up with bizarre and outrageous suggestions that Israel or the Mossad or the Jews were behind it. But the vast majority of people give those kinds of things no credibility whatsoever."
The first named fatality in the July 7 attack on three subway trains and a bus was identified as Susan Levy, 53, a Jewish mother of two, who was killed in the explosion aboard the subway train traveling between King’s Cross and Russell Square Station. At least two other Jews, an Israeli expatriate, Anat Rosenberg, 39, and Miriam Hyman, 33, of London were missing and feared dead.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called British Prime Minister Tony Blair to offer his condolences and then reportedly ordered his cabinet to avoid much talk about the attack.
"This is not our event," he was quoted as saying.
It was a far cry from Israeli reactions to previous attacks abroad attributed to al-Qaeda. Keen to garner support for its crackdowns on Palestinian terrorism, the Jewish state was quick to compare Osama bin Laden to the likes of Hamas and Arafat. But with the previous Palestinian Authority leader gone and a perceived moderate, Mahmoud Abbas, in his place, Israel could no longer risk making such parallels.
"Likening the West Bank and Gaza Strip to al-Qaeda strongholds could naturally raise damning questions of why we, then, are pursuing peacemaking with the Palestinians," a Sharon confidant said. The concern is especially pronounced when it comes to Britain. While the Blair government is a stalwart of the United States and has voiced sympathy for Israel’s security needs, it is still viewed by many in Jerusalem as "Old Europe," which translates into pro-Arab and pro-appeasement when it comes to the Palestinians.
The three subway bombings were carried out on different trains almost simultaneously shortly before 9 a.m.; the bombing of a double-decker bus occurred about 57 minutes later. Rabbi Barry Marcus, spiritual leader of the Central Synagogue on Great Portland Street, was just yards from the bus bombing. He was cycling across Tavistock Square when he heard and felt the explosion.
"I saw the roof of the bus go up in a plume of white smoke and all the windows of the building nearby go through," said the South African-born Marcus who lived for many years in Israel. "I knew in my gut it was a bomb." The tranquil central London square, a place devoted to peace, with a Holocaust memorial standing near a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a cherry tree from Hiroshima, had turned into a vision of hell strewn with broken glass and severed body parts. Blood was splashed high up against the wall of the nearby headquarters of the British Medical Association.
"There was an incredible amount of glass and massive lumps of human flesh all over the place," Rabbi Marcus recalled. "People were almost glued to the back part of the bus, the seats in front blown into their chest cavities. There was absolute mayhem. In my mind I saw all the images of Israeli buses blown up and thought, ‘It is now here. The barbarians are now at our gates.’"
Rabbi Eliezer Mishulovin, 29, of Manhattan, who was in London with his wife and three young children to attend a wedding, told The Jewish Week Tuesday only fate kept him and his family from being in the subway when the attack occurred. He said they had all planned to take the subway to central London to see Buckingham Palace and other sites, but that he had arrived 10 minutes late to the 6:30 a.m. minyan.
"I could try to catch up or wait for the next minyan at a different synagogue that was to begin at 8:30," he said. "I’m saying Kaddish and I thought to myself that because it was the first day of the [Jewish month] that I would go to the other shul."
Rabbi Mishulovin said the leader of the service read very slowly and that it was nearly 10 a.m. by the time he arrived back to the apartment in which he and his family were staying. "I came in and the hostess said, ‘Are you OK? You heard the news?’ I didn’t know what she was talking about. … If I had stuck to our plan, we would have been in the [subway] with three children when it happened. Thank God that doing something spiritual in the proper way saved our lives."
JTA contributed to this report.