He played a major role in the establishment of the Herut revisionist Zionist movement in the UK after the Second World War, but Eric Graus, who has died aged 90, was also instrumental in the rehabilitation of Menachem Begin, whom many British Jews (including the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman) openly condemned as a terrorist.
It was in 1970 that Graus — by then a noted London-based antiques dealer — established the British Herut Movement. Two years later, it was Graus who invited Begin (then an opposition Knesset member) for his first visit to the British capital. But Graus was uniquely qualified to undertake these tasks. For, in 1947, he had himself been an active member of the right-wing Lehi underground movement in Mandate Palestine, where he formed lifelong friendships with both Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
Eric Graus was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 1927. In 1939 his family fled to England, and it was there that he became active in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist Movement. The Revisionists opposed the policies of Chaim Weizmann, whom they regarded as too pro-British, and through their military wings they waged a bloody war against the British Mandatory authorities. Begin and Shamir were active in these military cadres, but so was the young Graus, who made his way to Palestine where he carried out special missions for the Lehi underground fighting force that Shamir had established.
But Graus did not then stay in Israel. He had developed an interest in antiques and in due course set himself up as an antiques dealer in London’s New Bond Street.
As well as flying the flag for Herut in the UK he was extremely active in the Soviet Jewry movement. In 1977, following Begin’s victory in the Israeli elections, Graus relaunched Likud-Herut as an unashamed British pressure group in support of Begin’s government. He was especially proud of the State of Israel Fighters Medal that he was awarded.
His right-wing views often brought him into conflict with more moderate elements in Anglo-Jewry. In June, 1991 he called out the then retiring British Chief Rabbi Dr Immanuel Jakobovits for criticising Israel’s treatment of Palestinian refugees in an interview published in the London Evening Standard. The rabbi reportedly described the plight of Palestinian refugees as “a stain on humanity,” while stressing that the Jews are not to blame for creating the problem. He added: “We cannot forever dominate a million-and-a-half Arabs, lord it over them. This blinkered attitude is self-destructive.”Graus, then Herut’s chairman countered: “It’s wrong for anyone to make statements that can be misused by the media.”
This was not the first stand-off between Graus and Rabbi Jakobovits. In July 1978, he reacted to a 1,200 word letter in the JC in which the Chief Rabbi called on Israel to declare that, once normal relations were established with its neighbours, it would withdraw from most of the occupied territories and agree to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian entity. Graus termed the letter “a disgrace –
“This time, Jakobovits has “gone to the limit,” he told the JTA.
Eric Graus is survived by his wife Suzy (née Adler), a refugee from Budapest whom he married in 1952, and their three children. Eric is survived by Suzy, son Jeremy and two daughters Aviva and Nomy.
GEOFFREY ALDERMAN (ADDITIONAL REPORTING: GT)
Eric Graus: born April, 1927. Died March 12, 2018