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