The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the Joint Israel Appeal / Jewish Continuity Dinner – 21 November 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Joint Israel Appeal and Jewish Continuity Dinner, made on Monday 21st November 1994.


My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a charity dinner, an event founded on high ideals. And as I look around, I see people who are known and respected for their ideals and their outstanding public service. I am hugely privileged to be your guest tonight.

I would like to say a word or two about those ideals, because I think they are very important.

I would also like to say a word on the relationship between the United Kingdom and Israel which, in my view – and I know that Prime Minister Rabin won’t mind me saying that it is his view as well – has never been warmer, and never had so much content.

Then perhaps I may touch on the politics of the Middle East.

Joint Israel Appeal/Jewish Continuity/Jewish Values

First, this is a dinner to support the Joint Israel Appeal and Jewish Continuity.

It is no surprise to find an old friend, Trevor Chinn, presiding over the Appeal. Trevor is one of those people who seem to be everywhere and deeply involved in everything – and yet still to have the capacity for more. We all owe him a great deal.

I understand that the Appeal brings help to around 11/2 million people every year – to the young and the old, the disadvantaged and the infirm.

That is an astonishing figure, but it is also entirely typical of the Jewish capacity for self-help and good works. I am told – and I hope soon to see this for myself – that there is hardly a public building or park, or even a forest, in Israel which has not been created through funding from public-spirited individuals and bodies such as yourselves.

I can fully share Churchill’s sentiment when he said:

“I was very glad to have had the experience of watching the life and work of the Jewish community in England. There is a high sense of corporate responsibility in the community, a great sense of duty.”

At the Lord Mayor’s Banquet exactly a week ago, I expressed concern at irresponsible attacks on our institutions, and at the way in which respect for public service was being undermined. So my eye was caught – in a note on Jewish Continuity from the Chief Rabbi’s office – by a very similar sentiment:

“the institutions which framed our public life and gave us a sense of belonging have come under assault.”

They have. And it’s dangerous. And it should stop. It is easy to tear things down. It is much more difficult to build them up.

Jewish Continuity stresses the central importance of the values which have inspired and united Jewish people over two thousand years.

It stresses education – and how appropriate that the Israeli Minister of Education, Professor Rubinstein, a great friend of Britain, should be here this evening.

It underlines duty, honesty, service, neighbourliness, and the virtues of working together in local communities. It sees the risks of selfishness and isolation in our rapidly changing world.

And it points up the way in which the family has always been at the heart of Jewish life, the institution on which all others depend.

Jewish Continuity is an admirable initiative by the Chief Rabbi, now being carried forward by Dr Michael Sinclair and his team. I am delighted that it has attracted such strong support. I hope it will go from strength to strength.

Britain and Israel

The values we share form a bond between Britain and Israel. So, too, does the extraordinary network of personal connections which this dinner reflects. Moshe Raviv may have only a small staff in his Embassy – but he has thousands of personal ambassadors for Israel throughout the community. And they are also ambassadors for Britain in Israel.

But events, and the determined efforts of many individuals on both sides, have brought us much closer together over the past few years – closer, as I have said, than we have ever been before.

This was brought home to me most strongly only a month ago.

My latest meeting with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took place on the evening of 18 October, before he too spoke at a dinner of the Joint Israel Appeal. Sitting in Downing Street, we compared notes on the problems we had both faced confronting terrorism. We talked about extremist attempts to undermine the peace process in the Middle East. Mr. Rabin expressed his utter determination not to let terrorism move Israel from its chosen, and courageous, course.

That determination was tested, and not found wanting, early the following morning. He rang to say that Israel had suffered its worst outrage in sixteen years, and he was going to have to return immediately to deal with it. He said that he was not going to let the process be derailed. There were people who did not want the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Jordanians and their other neighbours to live in peace. They were not going to prevail.

And they have not prevailed. Jews and Israelis have suffered atrociously, from the attack in Buenos Aires, the attack on Moshe Raviv’s Embassy here and the bombing of Balfour House – where the Joint Israel Appeal has its British headquarters.

We must all stand firm against such actions. The British Government intends to protect all of its citizens. The Jewish community needs to be secure and to feel secure. There can be no relaxation of vigilance and there will not be.

And the peace process has continued to move forward. Only days after the Tel Aviv bus bomb, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein signed the Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan on their border in the Arava desert. A British Minister, Douglas Hogg, was there to show our support.

And in the centre of Tel Aviv, I am told that Dizengoff Street is already back to business as usual.

That is the way to show the men of violence that they will never win.

Terrorism knows no national boundaries. It is a threat to the rule of law everywhere, and to the democratic forms that Britain and Israel cherish.

But it is not only tragedies which have brought us so close together.

Since President Herzog’s visit to London under two years ago, a whole series of events has strengthened and extended the friendship between Britain and Israel.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s visit last month, to receive a citation in honour of his mother from Yad Vashem, was particularly poignant.

And two of my Cabinet Ministers have just been to Israel to break new ground, and have returned full of enthusiasm.

David Hunt went out to create new links in science and technology. And that is not the only thing he seems to have promoted. Sometimes Ministers come back from trips looking a little weary and jetlagged. But David came back in the pink, bursting with ruddy good health. Not only had he been swimming in the Dead Sea, but I gather that he also practically ran up and down Massada.

Science is very important to both countries, and we are both extremely good at it. Indeed Israel has more scientists per head than any other country. Now we have set up a UK/Israel Science and Technology Research Fund. And it has already attracted nearly 200 first class applications from top British and Israeli researchers who want to work together.

Already we are exploring joint projects at the leading edge of science and technology – in lasers, electro-optics, medical biotechnology, and other – ologies too numerous to mention.

No sooner had David Hunt come back than Malcolm Rifkind went out. Malcolm was the first British Defence Secretary ever to visit Israel.

For many years, our defence relations were constrained. When I told Yitzhak Rabin how delighted I was at the visit of the Israeli Chief of Staff, General Barak, he reminded me that he himself had paid the last visit to Britain by a Chief of Staff – and that was in 1965.

We are now in a very different ball game. Israeli officers are attending British staff colleges. Royal Navy ships are making regular port calls to Israel. HMS Cornwall, on its way home from the Armilla patrol, has just paid the first visit by a naval ship for many years to Eilat.

And earlier this year, responding to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, I removed the embargo on sales of defence equipment. The way is now open for responsible two-way trade in a sector in which both countries excel.

The experiences of my colleagues have only whetted my appetite for the visit to Israel which I have long wanted to make.

The prospects for British/Israeli cooperation are very great and I intend to explore them fully.

I want to see us working ever more closely together for stability in the Middle East.

I want Britain to continue to sponsor closer ties between Israel and the European Union – as we did during the recent renegotiation of Israel’s co-operation agreement with the EU.

I want us to keep up our strong cultural and educational links.

We have thriving British Council and FCO scholarship programmes, some of which are funded in partnership with Jewish philanthropists.

The British Council is tremendously active in Israel. They are working with Professor Rubinstein’s Education Ministry to upgrade the skills of English language teachers throughout Israel.

Though Israeli visitors should not be deterred from coming to the theatre in London, as they do in droves, I am delighted that the Royal National Theatre and British musical groups have visited Israel this year – adding to the quarter of a million British tourists and other visitors who will go there.

Not least, I want to promote trade. Trade between Britain and Israel is soaring upwards. British exports went up by 50 per cent last year and a further 22 per cent so far this year. Israel is Britain’s third largest market in the Middle East. A British company, Isrotel, has built hotels in Eilat. Rover are starting to sell their cars with much success. New companies are coming into the market. Seventy visited Israel for the first time last year. And millions of people in Britain eat food from Israel and wear clothes made there for firms like Marks and Spencers.

But we can do much more together. So, when I go to Israel in March, I shall be taking with me a party of senior businessmen, some of whom are here tonight. Some are already important players in the Israeli market. Some will be new to it. I want them to see, with me, the opportunities for trade and investment which undoubtedly exist.

The Middle East

I promised to say a few words about the politics of the Middle East.

Many of the differences between the Arabs and the Israelis which for years seemed irreconcilable are now melting away.

It is no longer fanciful to think of a return to the long-distant period evoked by Balfour when he opened the Hebrew University.

He recalled:

“That in the darkest days of the darkest ages, when Western civilisation appeared almost extinct, smothered under barbaric influences, it was the Jews and Arabs in combination, working together, who greatly aided the first sparks which illuminated that gloomy period”.

We have seen remarkable illumination since I spoke to some of you at the dinner of the Board of Deputies in March last year.

Then, no bilateral agreements had been reached between Palestinians and Israelis.

Now we have seen the first birthday of the Declaration of Principles.

We have seen the Cairo Agreement on autonomy for Gaza and Jericho.

The Arab boycott is visibly on its way out. Israel now has diplomatic relations with 148 countries. At the Casablanca Conference earlier this month, Israeli and Arab Ministers joined Europeans and Americans to work together for a brighter economic future for the region as a whole.

It took vision and great courage to achieve the breakthrough. The Nobel Committee will soon be honouring Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon. Perez and Yasser Arafat in Oslo. And rightly so.

But they will need our continuing support in carrying the process forward.

Last Friday’s disturbing events in Gaza make it all the more vital to sustain progress in the Palestinian autonomy, and to help the new authorities there. The Palestinians need to see that terrorism and violence bring no gain, but that tangible benefits will come from the peace process.

For our part, we are accelerating Britain’s aid to them. We also hope that our Israeli friends will help to provide as much employment as possible within Israel; and will allow the import of aid-related equipment into the Palestinian areas, and the transfer of tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinians.

The Palestinians themselves must streamline their administration so that they can absorb the aid which the international community is offering. And we must do all we can to encourage private sector investment there.

The success of the peace process depends heavily on moderate Palestinian leaders, and we should all redouble our efforts to help them.

After the Treaty between Israel and Jordan, I hope there will soon be a breakthrough on the Syrian track.

The prize for Syria is clear: the return of the Golan.

The prize for Israel is equally great: a binding agreement with the last immediate neighbour which could threaten her security. And that security, self-evidently, is crucial for every Israeli.

There are of course still serious threats to the stability of the Middle East, which affect us all. We have had a very recent reminder, when Saddam Hussein chose once again to menace Kuwait. The immediate reaction from Britain, the United States and other countries, at the United Nations and in our case also deploying troops, ships and aircraft, will have left him in no doubt, I trust, of our resolve.

When our friends in the region are threatened, we shall come to their help to the limits of our ability. Where there is aggression, we shall oppose it.

Saddam has now recognised Kuwait’s sovereignty and the border demarcated by the United Nations. That is a step forward, and owes much to the determination and diplomacy of the coalition partners. But it is not enough. We have no basis for trusting Saddam Hussein. Iraq must comply rigorously with all the requirements of the Security Council: on weapons of mass destruction, on compensation, on prisoners of war and so on.

The international community must accept nothing less.

Nor can we relax our vigilance towards Iraq’s neighbour, Iran.

Iran has sought by every means to undermine the peace process. Time and time again, Iran has been implicated in subversion and terrorism. Her record on human rights, like Iraq’s, is wholly unacceptable.

I do not dispute Iran’s importance and potential. I have nothing but sympathy for the ordinary people of that country, as of Iraq. But the Iranian regime must draw only one conclusion. It will be judged by its actions, by the rules of the international community, and by the norms of civilised behaviour.


Let me end on a brighter note.

For most of its history, the modern state of Israel has been under threat.

And for many of the 77 years since the Balfour Declaration, Israel and the United Kingdom have had a schizophrenic relationship. We have been bound together by ties of blood and personal friendship; but sometimes parted by political disagreements.

Now Israel is taking her rightful place in her own region. And she is at the same time drawing ever closer to Britain and to our partners in Europe.

Britain’s friendship with Israel does not compete with our relations with other countries in the Middle East.

They are complementary.

They contribute to peace in the Middle East.

They will contribute to the development of the region as a whole.

And a Middle East at peace with itself – something we have not seen in living memory – will be a place we want to visit and to invest in.

Through Jewish Continuity, you are sustaining the faith and the ideals which Churchill described as “a precious thing, a bond of union, an inspiration and a source of strength”.

And through the Joint Israel Appeal, you are giving remarkable support – not politically, not to the State, but to ordinary people in Israel. In many cases, to people who have arrived from other countries with little or nothing, coming to a safe haven and the land of their forefathers.

For every contributor to your appeal here this evening, there are, I know, many thousands outside.

Thank you for your welcome and your invitation.

Thank you, too, for your resilience in the face of difficulties and danger this year.

I wish you all possible success in your efforts for Jewish Continuity and the Joint Israel Appeal.