Chief Rabbi defends Rupert Murdoch during Israel tour

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks made an unexpectedly robust defence of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch this week, declaring that Israel did not have “a better or more significant friend in the world” than Mr Murdoch.

Lord Sacks spoke during his last official visit to Israel as chief rabbi, in a mission to the northern projects of the UJIA.

Speaking at the Tel Hai academic college in Kiryat Shemona, he identified the “number one problem” facing the Jewish world as the return of antisemitism to Europe.

He gave a downbeat assessment of the future for European Jewry, with Norwegian Jews leaving that country, Dutch Jews departing, and with so many French Jews now in London that a French minyan had been set up at St John’s Wood Synagogue.

Lord Sacks described antisemitism as “a set of contradictions. Jews were hated in the 19th century because they were rich.

And because they were poor. Because they were capitalists, because they were communists. Like a virus, the chief rabbi observed, “antisemitism mutates… and we are living through one of the great mutations.”

Jews could not fight antisemitism alone, the chief rabbi said. “How do we persuade the non-Jewish world to see antisemitism not just as a Jewish problem, but as their problem? A civilisation or a country that has no room for Jews has no room for humanity.”

The UJIA mission, which included visits to a Galilee yeshiva for Orthodox boys who do army service, an Ethiopian absorption centre, and the Bar-Ilan medical school, was paralleled by the annual study trip of the UK Task Force, led by Labour peer Lord Beecham.

The Task Force works in Jewish and Arab sectors of Israel. This year’s programme included sessions with the Kadi of Jerusalem, Dr Iyad Zahalka, and the chief executive of the Jerusalem YMCA, Forsan Hussein.

Last updated: 4:45pm, February 14 2013