Joe Gellert

Herut’s man in the UK who became standard bearer for defence of Jewish rights


Fleeing the Nazis in 1939, Joe Gellert left Vienna for Switzerland with his mother Erna. His father Victor, who was forced to sign over his animal feed business to the Nazis or be sent to Dachau, managed to escape to Italy and they were eventually reunited in Basel.

Victor Gellert was not allowed to work in Switzerland so Erna used her jewellery to bribe an official and obtain visas to travel to Liberia, from where at the time it was easier to get a visa to Cyprus. They arrived there in 1939 and lived in Nicosia until 1941, when the Germans occupied nearby Crete.

The British showed empathy with the Jews in Cyprus and evacuated them to Palestine. Leaving Famagusta on the 12th June on the merchant ship SS Hanna bound for East Africa via Haifa, the Gellerts arrived at the heavily bombed port of Haifa and the next day the immigrants were put on buses to Tel Aviv. Sandwiches were thrown through the windows by members of the Haganah.

These were the dramatic beginnings of a future which would one day see Joe Gellert become a leading figure in the Israeli right-wing political party Likud Herut. The family were allowed to stay in Palestine and subsequently Victor Gellert fought in the War of Independence.

On leaving the army after the war he found it difficult to make a living, so in 1950 the family moved back to Austria, where the young Joe attended an ORT School. However, at the age of 20 he left Austria for England where he studied English at the Davis School for Languages, and electronic engineering at the EMI School for electronics. After qualifying as an engineer he worked for 30 years at the General Electric Company, during which time he married Beattie Charles in 1959. The couple became integral members of the Hendon Jewish community.

In 1970 Gellert joined the newly formed British Herut and over the next 50 years served in every capacity, from executive member to chairman, and finally life vice president of Herut UK, injecting his own special brand of enthusiasm and extraordinary energy into each post. For Gellert, being an activist meant leading protests and demonstrations on the street, lobbying MPs, playing an active role in the Campaign for Soviet Jewry, editing the Likud Herut GB magazine, The Zionist Standard, and joining the CST management committee. Joe also served as an executive member of World Likud, as an Honorary Officer of both the ZF UK and National Council Mizrachi Federation as well as being Likud Herut Deputy for the British Board of Deputies. In 2017 he became an Honorary Fellow of the World Zionist General Council.

In addition, Gellert was founder-chair of the Herut Security Committee and self defence team, known as “Joe’s Boys” or simply “H”.

With Gellert onboard, Likud Herut GB claimed to be the only UK Zionist organisation to fulfil the principles of the WZO Jerusalem Program, which calls for “defending the rights of Jews as individuals” by its signatory bodies. Gellert’s experiences fighting British fascists during the 60s and 70s was an invaluable resource for training the self-defence team who carried out communal security for over four decades. Many of the team members went on to make aliyah.

In 2007 Joe and Beattie Gellert made aliyah themselves, settling in Netanya, joining their daughters Dalia and Liora who both live in Modiin. Gellert continued to fill his days with helping others less fortunate than himself, fund-raising for the Tel Hai charity he founded in 1970, together with fellow Herut executive members Eric Graus and Malvyn Benjamin. The fund was set up to raise money for the poor and under privileged in Israel. Retirement to Israel meant Gellert could now dedicate all of his time raising funds for those in need.

Only recently, from his bed in the ICU, unable to speak, he managed to communicate to Beattie that she should arrange to have money sent from the Tel Hai Fund to Carmei Ha’ir, a Jerusalem based charity dedicated to providing food to the poor.

On his passing, then Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described him as a personal friend he would miss dearly. “Joe Gellert was a wonderful person and a committed Zionist, a champion of our people and of our movement,”

At his funeral, WZO chair Yaakov Hagoel, called him as “a pillar of the Jewish community of England”, adding: “Joe Gellert was a man of Zionist vision, a Likudnik in heart and a Herutnik in soul who followed the ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky”.

Robert Lorrimer former Likud Herut colleague, said: “With the passing of life vice-president of Likud Herut GB, Joe Gellert, his family has lost an exemplary husband, father and grandfather, the Jewish community, an indefatigable champion and the state of Israel, a stalwart advocate.

His life reads like the pages of a modern Jewish history book; from near destruction to thriving resurgence. Gellert’s indomitable spirit and constant activism ensured his prominent place in those very pages. His character was naturally shaped by his early life and it is not insignificant to note that he passed away just before Yom HaShoah. In a letter to The Jerusalem Post he wrote: “I have hoped and wished all my life that Holocaust and war, refugees and evacuations should not be repeated; irrespective of race or colour.”

It was this credo that motivated him to become involved in activism and advocacy and with his keen intellect, tenacious spirit, inspirational enthusiasm and dogged determination he made “never again” both a verb and a lifetime passion.

He is survived by Beattie, their daughters Dalia Jayes and Liora Goldberg; sons in law David Jayes and Alon Goldberg and grandchildren Gabriella, Oren, Ben, Noa and Danny.


Joe Gellert: born October 20, 1934. 
Died April 6, 2021

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