Eric Silver, the former Israel correspondent for the JC and The Guardian, died in Jerusalem on Tuesday night aged 73 after a short illness.
The Leeds-born journalist, whose last JC article appeared four weeks ago, worked for The Guardian for 27 years from 1964 and contributed to the JC from 1987. He also wrote for The Independent, Time and Indian and Canadian publications and was the author of a biography of Menachem Begin and a book on non-Jewish saviours of Jews during the Holocaust.
David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post and a former colleague, described him as “the best type of all-round journalist. He had a relentless curiosity and was able to write authoritatively on a wide range of subjects — not only politics, but also on culture and the arts, as well as daily life in Israel. I never saw him without a notebook in his hand.”
The cartoonist, Ya’acov “Dry Bones” Kirschen, said: “He was the complete blending of the ‘proper’ Englishman and Jewish warmth. As a journalist he was beyond reproach. He was not an advocacy journalist. He wanted to be on the spot where things were happening and report the truth as he saw it.”
The Guardian’s Middle East editor, Ian Black, recalled a “very professional journalist and engaging writer”.
Mr Black said: “He was in Jerusalem for so long he became part of the landscape, at least the foreign-media landscape, and was generous in offering help and hospitality to a younger colleague. He was, at heart, an old-fashioned Labour Zionist, and it wasn’t surprising when he returned there permanently after being sent to India by The Guardian. He liked to quote Sir Ronald Storrs, the city’s British military governor after the First World War: ‘After Jerusalem, there is no promotion.’”
JC editor David Rowan said: “Whether or not they had the pleasure of knowing him, JC readers will have learned an enormous amount about Israel from Eric’s copy over the years. His independence of mind, dogged professionalism and clarity of writing made Eric the sort of reporter who inspires enormous respect and warmth among his peers, and we shall miss him greatly.”
When the National Union of Journalists tried to impose a boycott on Israel last year, he was at the forefront of the battle to overturn the motion.
Eric Silver in the JC: Why I am hopeful about Israel, despite public corruption (May 7, 1999)
Immediately after the Moroccan-born Rabbi Deri was sentenced to four years for taking a bribe, Shas’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, declared him innocent according to Jewish law. The party denounced the verdict as an Ashkenazi conspiracy to put uppity Sephardim in their place and cut the strictly Orthodox down to size... At the same time, the Likud Justice Minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, told police investigating corruption charges against him that he would answer their questions when he could find the time.
These are decidedly murky times in the old homeland.
The liberal Ha’aretz newspaper cast a shadow over our Independence Day barbecue by interviewing disenchanted idealists, who came here in the 1950s because they believed in the Zionist enterprise and wanted to play their part in it.
“I thought the country would be European, social democratic, that it would have cultural and religious freedom,” one of them, Avner Azulai, moaned. “But before my eyes the state is becoming corrupt, Levantine and fundamentalist.” As it happens, Azulai immigrated from Tangiers.
My Independence Day companions, old Habonim friends with Sabra children and grandchildren, shared his gloom.
I understood, but disagreed. The drift to chauvinism, graft, superstition is real enough. But that is not the whole story.
Israel is still producing cyber whizkids, Premiership footballers, world-class authors, musicians and scholars. Young men (and women) still volunteer for combat units, their elders for worthy causes.
The old idealists have a fight on their hands, but they are not without weapons to wage it. The judiciary is defending its corner. The media are probing and independent. The Deri case was brought to light by Yediot Achronot, and Hanegbi’s attempt to appoint an under-qualified party loyalist as Attorney-General was revealed by Channel One TV. Democracy is alive and yelling.
Chava Turniansky, another of the jaded Ha’aretz idealists, remarked: “When the State of Israel does an injustice, it is as if I am doing it. That is what is so hard, but it is also what forces me to stay and cope with belonging, and with that, responsibility.”
Count me in.