Big beast who stood out in the com­mu­nal jun­gle

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY RON PROSOR

WHEN I was Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the UK, Mick Davis, who soon hands over the reins of the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, was many things: chair­man of UJIA, chair­man of the JLC, a friend, an ally and, at times, a spar­ring part­ner.

A South African émi­gré, Mick brought to An­glo-Jewry the spirit of the Big Five of the African bush.

Like a lion, courage in de­fend­ing his pride — the Jewish community.

Stub­born or prin­ci­pled de­pend­ing on your perspective, like the leop­ard, he doesn’t eas­ily change his spots.

Like a buf­falo, when Mick is de­ter­mined to get from A to B, you don’t want to be the one stand­ing in his way, and like the rhino, lead­ers like Mick are in short sup­ply and must be cher­ished.

Above all, how­ever, like an elephant, what­ever the scale of his achieve­ments, he never for­gets: who he is, who he rep­re­sents and his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the community and so­ci­ety around him.

Like Mick, I speak my mind. As a re­sult, we have had our dis­agree­ments, not least when he made crit­i­cal com­ments about the Is­raeli govern­ment at a com­mu­nal event in 2010, the tone of which I fun­da­men­tally dis­agreed with. In­deed, the last time I wrote about Mick in this news­pa­per was to crit­i­cise those re­marks. As Is­rael’s am­bas­sador I was du­ty­bound to chal­lenge com­ments that I felt had over­stepped the mark, even if they came from a friend.

We have dis­agreed since; we will dis­agree, I am sure, again, but at no point have I ever doubted Mick’s ded­i­ca­tion as a friend and sup­porter of Is­rael. His record speaks for it­self.

Among his first decisions as a British Jewish leader was his in­sis­tence, in the sum­mer of 2006 as Hizbol­lah rained rock­ets on the north of Is­rael, that Is­rael tours would go ahead.

As chair­man of UJIA he saw it as vi­tal that British Jewish teenagers are con­nected with Is­rael. They would not run from the chal­lenge, but adapt to it.

He was the driv­ing force be­hind the UK’s first “Salute to Is­rael” pa­rade for Is­rael’s 60th an­niver­sary.

Months later, the community was back in Trafal­gar Square un­der less fes­tive cir­cum­stances, as Is­rael de­fended it­self against Ha­mas ter­ror dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead. Some in the community were more cau­tious and felt the rally was the wrong ap­proach. My own pro­tec­tion team didn’t want me to speak there — they felt the se­cu­rity risks were too great.

But Mick and I were in to­tal agree­ment: Is­rael was un­der at­tack and the community had to show sol­i­dar­ity. I spoke that day in a bul­let­proof vest, despite the strug­gle of find­ing one that fit­ted.

There were times, I will ad­mit, when the tra­di­tional softly, softly ap­proach of An­glo-Jewry could be frus­trat­ing. Mick, how­ever, bucked the trend help­ing to give a more di­rect and force­ful voice in de­fence of the un­break­able bonds be­tween the Jewish community and the State of Is­rael.

At UJIA, he rev­o­lu­tionised the di­as­pora’s ap­proach to Is­rael phi­lan­thropy. Across the north of Is­rael, state of the art ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties tell a story of the strate­gic de­ci­sion to part­ner with the Galil and de­liver in­fras­truc­ture and op­por­tu­nity to its people.

But despite the scale of his con­tri­bu­tion to Is­raeli schools, hospi­tals and in­sti­tu­tions you will not find a “Sir Mick Davis Wing” or “Davis Lec­ture Theatre”. Some donors in­sist their name is above the door — Mick in­sists it isn’t.

In the UK too, he has led the JLC by ex­am­ple, and very few as­pects of Jewish life, from syn­a­gogues, to schools, to the se­cu­rity that pro­tects them are un­touched by his ef­forts. And in wider so­ci­ety, Mick has made im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions to the arts, sci­ences and pub­lic life em­brac­ing the coun­try he has adopted whole-heart­edly. His knight­hood last year for his com­mit­ment to Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion was thor­oughly de­served.

Big Mick be­came Sir Mick. Nei­ther of us are as big phys­i­cally as we used to be. But like the African elephant, the biggest of the big five, I will never for­get his im­mense con­tri­bu­tion to the Jewish people.

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