...................................................for Australian friends of Israel.
11 April 2013
Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Israel and the Jewish people
From AIJAC, 12 April 2013, by Talia Katz: Baroness
Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Conservative Prime Minister from 1979-1990, and MP
for Finchley and Golders Green from 1959-1992 died of a stroke at the age of 87
on Monday April 8 2013.
reputation as the "Iron Lady" reflected her self-proclaimed status as
a conviction politician, and this is echoed in the eulogies delivered following
her death. Though her legacy has divided opinion, when it came to Israel and
the Jewish people, she is remembered for her strong, supportive and effective
foreign policy credentials, and her dedication to fighting antisemitism in all
a member of Parliament, representing a large Jewish constituency, and as
Britain's longest serving PM in over a hundred years, Thatcher was widely
recognised as both a true friend and strong ally to the Jewish people and to
the State of Israel.
leaders - in Britain, in Europe, in the US and in Australia - have lined up to
pay their respects to the woman who famously announced she was "not for
Israel, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu released a statement honouring her
I mourn the passing of Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher. She was truly
a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of
strength; a woman of greatness.
was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation
of political leaders. I send my most sincere condolences to her family and to
the government and people of Great Britain.
President Shimon Peres, a personal friend of Baroness Thatcher, spoke
reverentially about his late friend and colleague.
Thatcher was an exceptional leader, a colleague in the international arena and
friend, for me personally, and for my country. I've never seen a more courageous
and clear-minded leader like her. She was a true and dedicated friend of
Israel, who stood with us in times of crisis, and used her influence to help us
in trying to make peace. During our negotiations with the Jordanians and the
King himself, in the late 1980s, she stood as a mediator, and source of wisdom
for me and for the kind of Jordan, the late King Hussein. I send my sincere
condolences to her family, her friends and the people of Great Britain; we
shall remember her always with great admiration and hope. God bless her memory.
Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould told Israel Hayom that
Thatcher had been "a very strong friend of Israel."
the very early days she made it clear in the things she said and the things she
did that she believed in Israel and that she was a friend of the Jewish people.
She represented a constituency in London which was one of the places where many
of the Jewish community lived, and she had a very clear affection for the
of Israel to the United Nations Ron Prosor wrote in Haaretz that
Thatcher's legacy is "a torch of moral clarity" for those who would
defend democracy and freedom in the Middle East today.
her economic and foreign policies, Thatcher emphasized self-reliance and
self-preservation. She saw the forces of freedom being subverted and undermined
by the most dangerous of totalitarian ideologies. She had the courage and the
chutzpah to speak out against these dangers - even when it was more politically
convenient to simply turn a blind eye.
is no surprise that the Baroness was a great admirer of the State of Israel.
Unlike many of her fellow members of Parliament, the Iron Lady had the ability
to see Israel for what it was: a bastion of liberty in the world's greatest
hotbed of tyranny. As she herself once put it-in a statement quite fitting for
Israel's upcoming Independence Day-"the political and economic
construction of Israel against huge odds and bitter adversaries is one of the
heroic sagas of our age.
belonged to a generation of luminaries that is slowly fading. She stood
shoulder-to-shoulder with visionaries who never hesitated to stand up for basic
values of human decency. Like Winston Churchill, her predecessor, Thatcher had
no delusions about the threats that free-loving peoples face - and the steps
that a democracy must take to defend itself from those who seek to do it harm.
fact, her political activism found expression at an early age, during the
horrors of World War II. In a famous anecdote as related by Charles C Johnson
in Tablet Magazine:
1938, Edith Muhlbauer, a 17-year-old Jewish girl, wrote to 17 Muriel Roberts,
Edith's pen pal and the future prime minister's older sister, asking if the
Roberts family might help her escape Hitler's Austria. The Nazis had begun
rounding up the first of Vienna's Jews after the Anschluss, and Edith and her
family worried she might be next. Alfred Roberts, Margaret and Muriel's father,
was a small-town grocer; the family had neither the time nor the money to take
Edith in. So Margaret, then 12, and Muriel, 17, set about raising funds and
persuading the local Rotary club to help.
stayed with more than a dozen Rotary families, including the Robertses, for the
next two years, until she could move to join relatives in South America. Edith
bunked in Margaret's room, and she left an impression. "She was 17, tall,
beautiful, evidently from a well-to-do family," Thatcher later wrote in
her memoir. But most important, "[s]he told us what it was like to live as
a Jew under an anti-Semitic regime. One thing Edith reported particularly stuck
in my mind: The Jews, she said, were being made to scrub the streets." For
Thatcher, who believed in meaningful work, this was as much a waste as it was
an outrage. Had the Roberts family not intervened, Edith recalled years later,
"I would have stayed in Vienna and they would have killed me."
Thatcher never forgot the lesson: "Never hesitate to do whatever you can,
for you may save a life," she told audiences in 1995 after Edith had been
located, alive and well, in Brazil.
a Wall Street Journal obituary,
Andrew Roberts noted that Thatcher considered this act of charity to be the
greatest single achievement of her life.
this event so stood out for Thatcher reveals a strong worldview centered on
waging the battle against human suffering under totalitarian governments. This
was clearly evident in her dealings with the former Soviet Union and other
dictatorial leaders, and provides lessons for today's international leadership.
the Soviet propaganda ministry pinned the label "Iron Lady" on her,
it was meant to draw attention to her inflexibility. "Any leader has to
have a certain amount of steel in them," she replied, "so I am not
that put out being called the Iron Lady."
she was in power, her attitude toward dictatorships' threats and bullying-be it
the Argentine junta over the Falkland Islands or Saddam Hussein before the Gulf
War-was precisely the tough and uncompromising stance from which the P5+1 group
constantly shrinks. The advice she gave to President George H.W. Bush in
1990-"This is no time to go wobbly, George"-is desperately needed
The Jerusalem Post's
Sean Gannon opined that her respect for and affiliation with Jewish values saw
her surround herself with five Jewish Cabinet ministers, as well as Jewish
political associates and advisers.
fact that Thatcher had, in the words of one Jewish Cabinet colleague, "not
the faintest trace of anti-Semitism in her make-up" was "an unusual
attribute" in a party in which what Geoffrey Howe called "malodorous
streaks" occasionally surfaced, most notably during the Leon Brittan
affair in the mid-1980s.
also greatly admired Judaism's emphasis on family and community.
frequently praised the manner in which Finchley's Jews looked after their own
community welfare and wished that "Christians themselves would take closer
note of the Jewish emphasis on self-help and acceptance of personal
responsibility." She herself paid far more attention to the social
philosophy of the UK's chief rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits, than she did to that
of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the extent that he was described as the
real spiritual leader of Thatcherite Britain. Jakobovits was elevated to the
House of Lords in 1988 as a mark of her personal respect, the first rabbi ever
to receive this honor.
admiration for the State of Israel is well documented, but she also had a
tumultuous relationship with then Likud Prime Minister Menahem Begin, and his
conservative colleagues. According to Gannon:
admiration for the Jewish tradition meant that she was instinctively
well-disposed toward Israel, which she described as "one of the heroic
sagas of our age." She expressed her early support by joining
organizations such as the Anglo-Israel Friendship League and the Conservative
Friends of Israel while, as a member of the 1970-1974 Conservative government,
she frequently asserted Israel's case against the "traditional Tory
Arabists" who dominated the Cabinet (for instance, she argued against
Israel's inclusion in the regional arms embargo imposed by Britain during the
Yom Kippur War).
fact, so closely was Thatcher identified with Israel in this period that the
Foreign Office urged her to sever links with Jewish and pro-Israeli
organizations when she became Conservative leader in February 1975 "to
counter Arab fears and suspicions that [she was] already a prisoner of the
laid major blame for the impasse in Middle East peacemaking at the door of the
Likud which led government for all but two of her 11 years in power. She
harbored considerable distaste for Menahem Begin due to what she described as
the Irgun's anti-British "crimes" (in 1983 she forced the withdrawal
of Eliahu Lankin's appointment as ambassador to London on the grounds that he
had been an Irgun commander) and she was scathingly critical of what she saw as
Yitzhak Shamir's "hardline" approach to the Palestinian issue. She
believed peace was possible under Shimon Peres, with whom she developed a close
working relationship during his 1984-1986 term as prime minister. But she left
office with little to show for her efforts. In the words her biographer, John
Campbell; "Mrs. Thatcher got nowhere on the Middle East, but she deserves
credit for trying."
Charles C Johnson confirms Thatcher's conviction in her principles and beliefs
and her propensity to act accordingly, and often in the interests of Jews and
made Jewish causes her own, including by easing the restrictions on prosecuting
Nazi war criminals living in Britain and pleading the cause of the Soviet
Union's refuseniks. She boasted that she once made Soviet officials
"nervous" by repeatedly bringing up the refuseniks' plight during a
single nine-hour meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, "The Soviets had to know
that every time we met their treatment of the refuseniks would be thrown back
at them," she explained in her book The Downing Street Years. Thatcher
also worked to end the British government's support for the Arab boycott of
Israel. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Thatcher criticized Tory Prime
Minister Ted Heath's refusal to supply Israel with military parts or even allow
American planes to supply Israel from British airfields. In 1986, Thatcher
became the first British prime minister to visit Israel, having previously
visited twice as a member of parliament.
The Jerusalem Post editorial
was full of praise for Thatcher, always independent-minded and driven by her
own convictions, despite her clear affinity for the State of Israel.
was impressed by the tremendous achievements of the plucky Jewish state as
well, though she was consistently critical of Israel's policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians
and opposed the Begin government's airstrike on the Osirak nuclear facility in
1981 as well as its decision to invade Lebanon in 1982.
admiration for Israel is expressed clearly in her memoirs: "The political
and economic construction of Israel against huge odds and bitter adversaries is
one of the heroic sagas of our age. They really made the desert bloom."
Margaret Thatcher will no doubt be remembered as much for her strength of
character and conviction, as her strong leadership on issues of conscience,
especially when it came to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.