Interview: Mike Prashker

Israel can learn from royal wedding unity

By Jessica Elgot, April 14, 2011

If British Jews can wave Union Jacks at the royal wedding, Mike Prashker believes that same kind of national unity can be displayed in Israel.

Mr Prashker is the founder of Israeli charity Merchavim, working towards cohesion in Israeli society, which he describes as "the next great Jewish Zionist challenge".

Last month, the Foreign Office hosted a 22-strong delegation he brought to London as part of the organisation's Kulanana initiative, to see what Israelis could learn from British society. It included members of gay groups, Orthodox settlers, Arabs and disabled people. During the two-day trip, the group heard from British social action groups, community leaders and politicians working on diversity.

"We are very different but we are both democracies, struggling with how our diverse citizens can live together," Mr Prashker said. "But I think one of the main reasons for coming to the UK is that it is a country whose symbols and head of state are Anglican. Some citizens are not represented in the national symbols.

"How do British Jews become comfortable and proud with the Union Jack when it's an amalgam of Christian symbols? They are proud when they are dignified with equal opportunities."

Born in Stanmore, he made aliyah in 1978 and worked in Jewish education before founding Merchavim - Hebrew for "spaces" - in 1998 out of a desire to change what is meant by the term "Israeli citizens".

"The reality is still that after 63 years of statehood, when people talk about Israelis, they actually mean Jews. This is a distortion of reality and demeaning for the one-in-five citizens who are Arab. We know when David Cameron talks about British citizens he is not just talking about Anglicans. And if he was, then British Jews would feel rightly angry and even threatened."

New legislation in Israel is also a worry. The "Nakba Law" will allow the state to revoke government funding for groups marking the founding of Israel with mourning ceremonies. Another concern was the Knesset being allowed to form panels of inquiry to examine foreign funding of human rights NGOs. "It's hugely problematic and concentrated on one part of the political spectrum," Mr Prashker said. But he added: "We are making progress. We are not doing the best we can, but the world has a long way to go."

Last updated: 12:57pm, April 14 2011