Hero en­cour­ages ex­o­dus to Is­rael


THIS WEEK’S con­fer­ence on the cen­te­nary of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion had a catchy, if slightly puz­zling, ti­tle: From Bal­four to Brexit.

Other than the idea of self-gov­ern­ment, it’s dif­fi­cult to see what links the two be­yond be­gin­ning with the same let­ter.

But the ti­tle aside, it’s surely right that the cen­te­nary is marked in Is­rael as well as Bri­tain, and the con­fer­ence boasted a stel­lar ar­ray of speak­ers, from Natan Sharansky and A B Ye­hoshua to Tony Blair and Tim Mar­shall, along with a se­ries of Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal fig­ures.

I was priv­i­leged to in­ter­view Natan Sharansky on the open­ing day.

One of my most vivid child­hood mem­o­ries is be­ing taken by my un­cle to a per­for­mance by the USSR Symphony Orches­tra un­der Evgeny Svet­lanov. As the slow move­ment of Prokofiev’s Clas­si­cal symphony be­gan, mem­bers of the au­di­ence — in­clud­ing my un­cle — stood up one by one speak­ing firmly and clearly, “Free Sharansky, free Soviet Jewry”.

There are few gen­uine he­roes left in our world, but Sharansky is one of them.

We spoke on the day the JPR re­port into UK an­ti­semitism was pub­lished. Sharansky be­lieves Jews ef­fec­tively have no fu­ture in Europe, re­it­er­at­ing a view he ex­pressed in the JC three years ago:

“We are see­ing the be­gin­ning of the end of Jewish his­tory in Europe.” When I asked him if that meant that, ra­tio­nally, all Euro­pean Jews should make aliyah, he replied: “I cer­tainly think that any Jew would have a won­der­ful life in Is­rael.” Given that he had spent the pre­vi­ous 20 min­utes ex­plain­ing how Euro­pean Jews are now forced to choose be­tween be­ing ac­cepted and ex­press­ing their love of Is­rael, the mean­ing of that was clear.

As di­rec­tor of the Jewish Agency, how­ever, he is also clear that some­thing has gone wrong with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Is­rael and the di­as­pora.

From the Is­raeli side, there is an in­tol­er­ance of the di­as­pora, es­pe­cially over re­li­gion. The re­li­gious plu­ral­ism which we take for granted is a source of some­thing close to con­tempt among some Is­raelis, and the di­as­pora con­cern over the col­lapse over the Ko­tel deal is of al­most no in­ter­est to them.

But he is equally scathing about those di­as­pora Jews who judge Is­rael — and fail it — for de­fend­ing it­self, re­fus­ing to ac­cept the re­al­ity of a na­tion that ex­ists only so long as it defends it­self.

I ended by ask­ing him to name his own he­roes. With­out miss­ing a beat, he an­swered: “King David and my wife.”

He be­lieves Jews have no fu­ture in Europe


Natan Sharansky

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