Margaret Thatcher: One of Us
Two iron ladies: Margaret Thatcher meets Golda Meir when visiting Israel in 1976 (Photo: IPPA)
Margaret Thatcher was described as a “giant” by the Chief Rabbi as he joined members of the Jewish world in paying tribute to the late British leader.
Lord Sacks is considering whether to attend the funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to fly to Britain after his office said that the Thatcher family had requested his presence.
President Shimon Peres’s schedule means he will be not be able travel to London.
The Chief Rabbi, who got to know Baroness Thatcher when she was MP for Finchley, described her as “a giant who had a transformative impact.
She was a woman of principle, a woman of greatness
“Few people in my lifetime have left such a personal imprint on British life”, he said.
A spokesman said Lord Sacks, who normally sends a representative to services in church for religious reasons, was “exploring the appropriate way of paying tribute to her on behalf of the Jewish community”.
Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies, described Baroness Thatcher as “always extremely supportive and admiring of the ethos of the British Jewish community.
“When she entered Parliament, her relationship with local Jewish institutions blossomed and continued throughout her illustrious career.
“She was unquestionably a great statesman of the later 20th century, and one who was a friend to the Jewish people and Israel.”
As Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher formally opened the home of the Reform Movement, the Sternberg Centre, in 1983. “Our thoughts are with the family of Baroness Thatcher at this difficult time,” said David Tilles, vice-chair of the movement for Reform Judaism. “In the words of our tradition, may God comfort them among those who are in mourning.”
Her contribution on the world stage was also celebrated, with both Mr Peres and Mr Netanyahu offering their condolences.
“She was a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength, a woman of greatness,” said the Israeli Prime Minister. “She was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation of political leaders.”
Mr Peres, whose first term as Prime minister coincided with Baroness Thatcher’s second, said she had been a rare example of a person and an idea coming together “to create vision”.
“She was an exceptional leader, a colleague in the international arena and a friend for me personally,” he said.
Tributes also came from a number of Jewish and Israeli organisations, including the Zionist Federation, which praised her as “a loyal friend”, and Wizo, the charity for which she opened a day care centre in Sderot in 1992.
“She had great admiration for Wizo’s work and in particular its contribution to the education of immigrant children from Ethiopia and the former USSR,” said chairman Jill Shaw.
The Iron Lady — as she was nicknamed by the Soviets — was also praised by Margaret Rigal and Rita Eker, of the 35’s (Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry): “We remember her example of concern for those unjustly suffering under dictatorial regimes throughout the world”.
Labour peer Lord Sugar also offered a tribute. “A great lady,” he commented on Twitter, adding that: “She changed the face of British politics, created opportunity for anyone to succeed in the UK”.
Lord Saatchi, whose advertising agency masterminded Baroness Thatcher’s 1979 victory, said: “Everyone wants to be immortal. Few are. Mrs Thatcher is. Why? Because her values are timeless, eternal.”
Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, was among those who were more measured in their comments.
Rabbi Rich said: “History will judge whether ultimately she left British society more selfish and divided or more confident and free.”