Chief Rabbi, Your Excellency, My Lords, and Gentlemen,
[ Greville Janner ] Mr. President
I am honoured and delighted to be with you tonight. You have already shown me every courtesy. Indeed, you have done even more than courtesy requires. For it can surely be no accident that a little while ago a new edition of “Janner’s Complete Speechmaker” appeared. I took the hint. As soon as I could, I turned up the section entitled “After Dinner”. There I read that “A captive audience, well wined and amply dined, should be an orator’s joy”.[fo 1]
I would not quarrel with that-except perhaps to add that I have noticed many orators who feel the need to wine and dine at least as well as the captives are doing. And there are those having done so, whose joy tends to be unconfined.
Perhaps, Mr. President, that was what you had in mind when you wrote later in the “Complete Speechmaker”:-“No-one wants a dry lecture on top of a wet repast”. I hope you are not expecting me to choose this evening to make my first wet speech. On reflection, perhaps that is just what you, Greville, are hoping.[fo 2]
The Jewish Community
1981 has been full of happy anniversaries of the Jewish community. First, your own. I congratulate you all on the Board’s birthday. Two-hundred-and twenty-one years is a truly outstanding achievement. In your wake come – the Jewish Chronicle, the oldest Jewish newspaper in the world, with a hundred-and-forty years; – the United Synagogue, with a hundred-and-ten; – and that other splendid institution-I mean Lord Shinwell -is not far behind them. I believe he was ninety-seven a couple of months ago;[fo 3] – a distinguished former president of your board-and one whom we all know well-Lord Janner -will be 90 in a few month’s time.
The history of your board, Mr. President, is in many ways the history of the Anglo-Jewish community. The community was small in 1760 when you began your work. Now-two centuries and more on-its leading representatives fill this splendid hall.[fo 4]
As the community has grown your Board has developed its work and its involvement in the issues of the day. I think of some of your distinguished predecessors:- – Lord Janner, whom I have mentioned – Michael Fidler – Judge Neville Lasky – and the great Sir Moses Montefiore, who held the office of President for nearly forty years on and off in the last century. His contribution-and in particular his work to achieve the right of jews to sit in parliament-will never be forgotten.[fo 5]
The Jewish community in Britain has many remarkable qualities. May I single out its patriotism? Coming to these shores, often as victims of persecution, whether in Tzarist or Nazi times, you have shared the British triumphs and disappointments of many decades. And you have made an outstanding contribution to our national life, in almost any field one can bring to mind- – in industry, banking and commerce – in the law and the public service – and in the arts and sciences of all kinds[fo 6]
A roll call of illustrious Jewish names would be easy. But for reasons of time I should have to be selective. And I hope I am both too courteous and too wise to fall into that trap.
The Jewish enrichment of Britain does not stop with the jewish community in this country. British thought and culture have been fertilised by the ideas of Jewish people in many other countries too. Spinoza, Freud, Einstein -the list is long. It includes Karl Marx -and Milton Friedman -so it is not uncontroversial-but how unJewish it would be if it were![fo 7]
To return to Britain. Why has the Jewish experience here-I do not speak of early history-been so successful? You will have your own analysis. But I believe that at least part of the explanation lies in the Judaic-Christian traditions, in the qualities and values that those two great religions have in common.
This country has been deeply influenced by Jewish ethical principles.[fo 8]
We have been brought up with the words of the great Jewish prophets ringing in our ears.
We have been inspired by their vision of the world.
We have drawn on the moral principles they first enunciated.
Jews and Christians shared a respect for the law, a passion for freedom and an acute sense of the importance of a moral basis for life. These common ideals go far to explain why your Board, Mr. President, works against the encouraging background of a successfully integrated community.[fo 9]
Of course, the Jewish community remains conscious of its origins and its inheritance. The Board’s educational work in that respect is well known. And of course there will be problems at times which affect the community in some special way.
I know, for example, that many of you have been actively concerned about the phenomenon of racial attacks. May I say how grateful the Government were for the helpful role played by the Board in the drawing up of the recent report to the Home Secretary on this problem-a typically constructive contribution to the Government’s work.[fo 10]
You will have read Mr. Whitelaw ‘s comments on the report. I assure you-the Government takes the problem seriously.[fo 11]
Mr. President, given the deep respect which the Jewish community has long since earned in this country, it is natural that Britain’s relationship with Israel should have a special quality. I myself have always taken a close interest in that relationship.
I look back with great pleasure to my visit there in 1971, when in little more than twenty-four hours I was able to meet many leading personalities in the country-and most impressive personalities they were too. I am also delighted to think that my [ Carol Thatcher ] daughter was able to spend some time as a volunteer worker on a kibbutz.[fo 12]
Our two countries are committed to the defence of democratic values. These values have been menaced before. And in parts of the world they are menaced again today. There was widespread enthusiasm in Britain when the State of Israel was born. Since then all of us, Jew and Gentile, alike, have admired the skill, diligence and dedication with which the people of Israel have built their State into the sturdy democracy we know today.
The first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, had of course long been a British citizen, from the days when he was lecturer in chemistry at Manchester University.[fo 13] Indeed, it was Winston Churchill who when Home Secretary seventy years ago signed his naturalisation papers. Nothing unusual in Presidents of new states being British citizens. George Washington was one for the first forty-three years of his life. To Chaim Weizmann, as a scientist and statesman, I pay tribute.
I want to quote to you some of his words-words which I, like many of you, have seen inscribed on the entrance to the Weizmann Institute in Israel:[fo 14] “I feel sure that science will bring to this land both peace and renewal of its youth, creating here the spring of a new spiritual and material life.”
His words remind us that Israel is not a Sparta, but an Athens, not a military cantonment but a nursery of all the talents. For that, too, she owes a great debt to David Ben-Gurion, who, in the early days of the State, asserted the rule of law and the supremacy of the elected representatives of the people. Ben-Gurion was here in London throughout the Blitz in 1940. He often spoke in later years of the enormous impact then made on him by the resilience of the British people.[fo 15]
Let me mention, too, Golda Meir, a founder member of the trade union of women Prime Ministers-still, if I may say so, a group select and distinguished in number. Its members today learned a lot about determination and resolution from Golda.
Close ties of family and friendship link Britain and Israel. We are linked, too, in more sombre ways. I think of the terrible suffering inflicted on the Jews of Europe in the Second World War and of Britain’s own role, for a time alone, in destroying the tyranny that caused that suffering. It was Winston Churchill who, during the War itself, described the persecution by the Nazis of the Jews as “the most bestial, the most squalid and most senseless of all their offences.”[fo 16] The annual Remembrance Service and parade at the Cenotaph of thousands of Jewish ex-Servicemen and women reminds us of the special place that the Allied victory, and the sacrifices it demanded, hold in the memory of the Jewish community.
I should like here publicly to pay a special tribute to one who shared that struggle with us: General Dayan, who afterwards became one of Israel’s most brilliant Generals and one of her most passionate and imaginative advocates of peace.[fo 17]
You will expect me to say a few words about the political problems of the middle east. Not many, but a few. I recognise that not everything will find favour with you this [poor legibility: difficult time?]. Whether in London, Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Kuwait, or Damascus, I have never flinched from saying what I think is right. I had never asked myself what was expedient, but only what was right.
The fundamental principle of israeli policy is the security of the state of Israel. We-and not just Britain but [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 16 December 1981] all the members of the European Community-are equally committed to that principle. And our resolve that Israel should live in security and peace will not weaken. It is indispensible to our approach to the problems of the area.[fo 18]
But if we demand these rights for one country and people, we must be prepared to accord them to others. For justice and truth know no boundaries. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 16 December 1981.
It was with great concern that I learned last night of the decision of the Government of Israel and the Knesset to extend Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to occupied syrian territory in the golan heights. As the Foreign Ministers of the Ten said today, such an extension is contrary to international law and therefore invalid in our eyes.[fo 19]
Mr President, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war is enshrined in UN Resolution 242. That same Resolution was made the cornerstone of the Camp David accords, signed as recently as September 1978 by Prime Minister Begin for Israel, President Sadat for Egypt and President Carter for the United States.
Therefore I say with the sorrow of a friend that this latest move is harmful to the search for peace.
Real security can come only from a lasting peace recognised to be just and defended because it is just just to Israel, just to her neighbours and just to the Palestinians.[fo 20]
There is no greater challenge in international affairs than the need for peace in the Middle East. The aim, in that Hebrew word which has become international, is ‘shalom.’[fo 21]
JEWS IN THE SOVIET UNION
Mr. President, the other day I received a delegation from the Student and Academic Campaign for Soviet Jewry. They were a very impressive group of young people. Yet, how sad it is that their Campaign is necessary. Jews continue to suffer discrimination and maltreatment in the Soviet Union.
More Jewish people have been harrassed and brought to trial this year than in the past ten years together.[fo 22]
There has been renewed suppression of Jewish cultural activity, including the banning of Hebrew study groups and raids on the homes of Hebrew teachers in Moscow.
It is hardly surprising that the number of Jews who wish to leave is rising. But the rate of emigration, which reached 50,000 in 1979, is falling. It may be under 10,000 in 1981. The Soviet authorities are not only making life worse for the Jews within the Soviet Union. They are denying them the right to emigrate.[fo 23]
These actions are contrary to the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. It is all the more saddening that the persecution should have been intensified while the Conference reviewing the implementation of the Final Act is in session in Madrid. HMG’s concern has been made clear in Parliament, in Madrid and in the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. We have conveyed to the Soviet Union at a high level our concern about abuses of human rights. We shall continue to take every suitable opportunity to reiterate that concern.[fo 24]
I should like to mention five particular cases:- – Anatoly Shcharansky and Vladimir Slepak, both leading members of the Helsinki Monitoring Group in Moscow, who are suffering cruelly in prison and in internal exile. – Viktor Brailovsky, who courageously organised scientific seminars in Moscow and was arrested a year ago, just as the Madrid Conference was beginning. – Ida Nudel, known as the guardian angel of Soviet Jewish prisoners and their families, who was exiled to Siberia three years ago. – Boris Kalendarev, a young student held for the past two years in a labour camp.[fo 25]
We have also heard with great concern of the severe treatment recently of Jews in the Ukraine. I think, for example, of Alexander Paritsky. Like Brailovsky, he tried to teach those deprived of work and education because of their beliefs. He was sentenced last month to three years in a labour camp.
Hardly a day passes but we learn of the worsening situation of these courageous people.
We shall be glad to continue to co-operate with the Board of Deputies in this cause. In time, I believe there may be changes for the Soviet Jews.[fo 26] A system which denies its people the right to think for themselves and to worship as they wish is fundamentally unjust.
Mr. President, it is right that on these occasions we should think about the problems which weigh on your mind and on ours. This country, and indeed the Jewish community, have special reason to follow with concern and anxiety the events in Poland. The future of that sad and valiant people hangs in the balance. We are watching the situation carefully and we expect, as we have already made clear, that there will be no intervention by any outside party.[fo 27] The affairs of Poland must be settled by Poles.
The problems of which I have spoken tonight, and the other domestic and international worries of which I have not spoken, make a sombre picture. But that is not the note on which I want to conclude.
Many of you here will have helped to create one of those forests in Israel in memory of great British figures: – the Balfour forest – the Churchill forest – and most recently, the Mountbatten forest. – and, of course, a forest for the Jubilee of our Queen.[fo 28]
But to plant a tree is to plant more than a memory of times past. As the poet says: “He that planteth a tree is the servant of God. He provideth a kindness for many generations. And faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.”
It is in that spirit of hope for the coming age that I end by wishing the Board of Deputies at least another two-hundred-and-twenty years of flourishing work for the good of the Jewish people of Britain and the good of Britain itself. ‘Ya She Ko’ach.’
I give you the toast: “The Board of Deputies of British Jews”