Michael Foot: 'I owe a great debt to Jews'

By Jessica Elgot, March 3, 2010
Former Labour Party leader Michael Foot, who has died aged 96

Former Labour Party leader Michael Foot, who has died aged 96

The former Labour Party leader Michael Foot, who has died aged 96, had a turbulent relationship with British Jews and with Zionism.

Mr Foot told the JC in 1997 that he was “introduced to true Socialism by a wonderful old Jewish landlady in Liverpool.

"She could not quite teach me Yiddish," he confided, "but I learned a great many other things. I owe a great debt to the Jewish people.”

As Leader of the Privy Council in 1978 he took a tough stance against anti-Zionism and antisemitism at universities, telling Eric Moonman, then-president of the Zionist Federation, that the universities who hosted extremists may be in breach of their charters.

But he was criticised for letting his name appear on a list of pro-Arab MPs of the Labour Middle East Council in 1969, disappointing supporters who had previously thought him a Zionist.

After his election as leader of the Labour Party, Jewish leaders, including the then chairman of the Zionist Federation Geoffrey Gelberg, welcomed him cautiously. They had hoped for the election of Shadow Chancellor Denis Healey, who had a long-standing connection with Labour movement Poale Zion.

But Mr Foot remained a good friend of Greville Janner, (later Lord Janner), then president of the Board of Deputies, who welcomed him into the role of Leader of the Opposition.

Away from parliament, Mr Foot often talked of his Jewish literary heroes, and paid tribute to second-hand Jewish bookseller Sam Joseph, whom he said had introduced him to literature. He particularly loved the work of Isaiah Berlin and poet Heinrich Heine.

He died at his home in Hampstead, London today. His wife Jill Craigie, died in 1999.

Winston S Churchill, a British Conservative Party politician and grandson of former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, has also died this week.

He was honorary Vice-President of the British Technion Society. A spokesman for the society said: "We are saddened by the loss of Winston Churchill, since 1976 our Vice President.

"The Churchill family have been outstanding and supportive friends of the Technion. Over the last 50 years Technion students have benefited from using the Churchill Auditorium, which is the central focus for campus life. We send our heartfelt condolences to Winston Churchill’s family."

Last updated: 3:11pm, March 10 2010