His status as a Labour MP and his commitment to the State of Israel might have presented a political challenge to a lesser man. But for Eric Moonman, the politician, broadcaster and Israel activist who has died aged 88, there was no conflict, despite occasional murmurings about double standards.
Moonman probably first came to prominence when, as MP for Billericay, he accused the then British Foreign Secretary George Brown of “taking sides” against Israel after her victory in the Six Day War of June, 1967. Brown had told the UN General Assembly on June 21 that Britain had not participated in the war on Israel’s side and demanded Israel withdraw from the occupied territories. Addressing a Jewish ex-servicemen’s rally in Southend, Moonman described Brown’s speech as “a serious embarrassment”, which gave “harsh and arrogant advice” to the Israelis.
Yet Moonman was one of the first to recognise Israel’s limitations on the PR front. He told the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland in 1972 that Israel must change its PR methods abroad. Two years later he launched a commission on Israel and convened the first group of Jewish professionals to consider publicity strategies. Known as the West European Group for Information on Behalf of Israel, it met bi-annually in Europe and Israel. Initially backed by the World Jewish Congress,which then withdrew its support, it was later funded by the World Zionist Organisation and subsequently by the Israel Foreign Ministry.
Moonman’s promotional work for Israel led to his becoming chairman of the Zionist Federation in 1975, and in the summer of that year he protested to Home Secretary Roy Jenkins against the proposed visit to London of two members of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s political wing. Condemning the visit as “an attempt to become respectable”, he urged Jenkins – not to overlook “the track record of these people.”
Ten years after the Six Day War, the Sunday Times ran a front-page Insight investigation into the alleged torture of Palestinian prisoners in the occupied territories, roundly condemned as a “vicious slander” by the Israeli Embassy in London.
Moonman complained to the Press Council about “unproven accusations being reported as facts”, denying Israel a chance to respond before publication, but his complaints were rejected. However, In a JC article in 1981 he condemned the Israel he saw emerging under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, noting that Israel’s Western allies were becoming alienated. In 1985 he forced the editor of the Jewish Quarterly to resign because the journal questioned the way Jewish leaders viewed the actual dangers of antisemitism as they were presented at the time.
Eric Moonman was born in Liverpool to Borach and Leah Moonman. He was educated at Rathbone School, and Christ Church, Southport, and became a printer’s apprentice on the Liverpool Echo before national service in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He gained a Diploma in Social Science at Liverpool University in 1955, edited the university magazine and chaired the Labour Society. After an industrial relations course at Manchester University he joined the British Institute of Management in 1956 as its human relations adviser.
The two strands of his socialism became increasingly apparent. In one for instance, he sought aid for the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners, and in the other, he passionately supported Israel, a stance which sometimes met with reserve from political colleagues. In the mid 60s he became council leader of Stepney Borough Council, and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
He contested Chigwell unsuccessfully in 1964, but his Billericay win helped Harold Wilson increase his parliamentary majority in the 1966 General Election. He lost the seat four years later, won Basildon in the February 1973 election but lost it in the 1979 General Election.
After this second political defeat Moonman left Labour in the 1980s to join the SDP, but did not return to parliament. Instead he resumed his academic career as Professor of Management at London’s City University, and Senior Fellow at Liverpool University.
In the 1980s Moonman won a reputation as a terrorism expert and joined the think tank, the Centre for Contemporary Studies, which published material on football hooliganism and race relations. Divorced from Jane Moonman, in 1991, when she married the then Israeli ambassador to Britain Yoav Biran, he married Gillian Mayer in February, 2000. He is survived by his children from his first marriage, Daniel, Natasha and Joshua and seven grandchildren.
Eric Moonman: born April 29, 1929. Died December 22, 2017.
This obituary has been updated as the date of Mr Moonman's death was not correct. His wife, Gillian, also survives him.