By Frank Shatz
THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE, November 2011—Chartwell Bulletin, the official online organ of The Churchill Centre, in its latest issue (November) reported the formation of a new Churchill Society of Israel.
“It would be an affiliate of the worldwide Churchill Centre, enabling Churchillians in Israel to share their interest in the 20th century’s greatest statesman.”
The Society is being organized with the encouragement, and support of Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer.
Russell Rothstein, a long-time Churchill admirer and organizer of the Society, noted: “Churchill’s longstanding support of Zionism and friendship with Jewish people make it particularly appropriate that the modern State of Israel have a local organization devoted to his memory and to preserving his thoughts, words and deeds for future generations.”
What seems to make the formation of the Churchill Society of Israel even more appropriate is the fact that the late, Tommy Lapid, former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and minister of justice, the head of Shinui (Change) Party, who emerged as a pivotal force is shaping policy toward accommodation with the Palestinians, has modeled his life and political career after Winston Churchill.
In a 2003 Gazette column, “Israeli gadfly tells it as it is,” I recalled my encounter with Lapid, at that time an Israeli muckraking journalist. We met in Beersheba, the administrative capital of the Negev dessert. He was covering the trial of several members of a Bedouin tribe. He found the military tribunal proceeding flawed, conducted his own investigation, and his articles lead to the acquittal of the accused tribesmen.
“It is what Churchill would had done, as a journalist,” he told me.
Lapid, invited me to his parents home in Tel Aviv. There, on the wall of the living room, hung the portrait of Winston Churchill as a young man. I pointed out the amazing resemblance between Churchill and Lapid.
“Yes, I was told that we resemble each other,” Lapid said with a mischievous smile. “But there is more to it. I am modeling my life after him.”
Born in Yugoslavia, his family was seized by the Nazis and deported to the Budapest ghetto. His father was murdered. Lapid and his mother survived the war and moved to Israel in 1948. After serving in the Israeli Army, he studied law and became an influential publicist.
In the late 1990s he assumed the chairmanship of the Shinui party, and in the 2003 elections the party running on a secularist platform won 15 seats, making it the third largest in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Lapid was invited to joint the government of former general Ariel Sharon and was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice.
Not unlike Churchill, who inspired the British people to resist the Nazi onslaught, Lapid, was ready to remake Israel’s political landscape. He became crusader against sate-subsidized religion in Israel. He argued that the ultra-orthodox segment, which only 10% of the Jewish population extract concessions from the government that are heavy financial burden on the majority of non-religious Israelis. “I want to change a situation in which a religious minority has all kinds of privileges but no responsibilities.”
In an interview with the London-based Jewish Chronicle he said, “I have no quarrel with the orthodox community, as long as they serve in the army, work, and pay taxes. My quarrel is with the ultra-orthodox who don’t serve in the army, with 80 % who don’t work, don’t pay taxes, live off the taxpayers.”
As Deputy Prime Minister, Lapid has emerged in the Sharon’s cabinet as a levelheaded, statesman-like figure. He proclaimed: “We will have to make great concessions for the sake of making peace with the Palestinians…. Demography is more important than geography. The danger of being overwhelmed by millions of Palestinians is much greater than the danger of withdrawing from territories.”
After a battle with cancer, Lapid died, in 2008, at the age of 77. But just as Churchill’s deeds, words and thoughts remain an inspiration to generations to come, Israelis say, Lapid’s actions, which have been having been inspired by Churchill, are now a motivating force, guiding a multitude of young Israelis.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, VA. and Lake Placid, NY. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette. All rights reserved, 2011 ©The Virginia Gazette.