‘My grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence’

Broadcaster Nick Ross recalls Pinchas Rosen, who was Israel’s justice minister three times between 1948 to 1961


TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - MAY 14: In this handout from the GPO, David Ben Gurion, who was to become Israel's first Prime Minister, reads the Declaration of Independence May 14, 1948 at the museum in Tel Aviv, during the ceremony founding the State of Israel. (Photo by Zoltan Kluger/GPO via Getty Images)

When I was interviewed for the podcast, I had just started listening to the translation of a biography of my grandfather and had learnt all sorts of fascinating things I’d previously had no idea about — for example, that he had been offered, and turned down, the presidency of Israel.

My grandfather was a really nice guy, very calm. I couldn’t imagine him ever getting angry.

At our first meeting, when I was aged seven or eight, I remember coming down the steps off the aircraft in Tel Aviv and there was my grandfather at the foot of the steps with a chauffeur-driven car.

I had never been abroad before and I remember so much about the visit. I was shocked, driving from the airport to Jerusalem to see all these burnt-out vehicles by the side of the road, recognising that he could have been killed, that the whole place could have been overrun. We visited Tiberias and he took us round the Knesset building, which was quite new then.

My grandfather was a brilliant chess player. I remember trying to play against him and it was completely impossible because even if he was benign, he would outfox me very quickly.

His relationship with our family [in the UK] was actually very good. I think his favourite was my mother, who was non-Jewish and about as English as you could possibly be.

But the relationship with my father was difficult because during the time of Hitler’s rise in Germany, the time when you might have wanted your dad to be around, his father had left [for Mandate Palestine].

Because my grandfather was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, everybody in the family has a very strong sense of allegiance to Israel, even if not a very strong allegiance to its present government.

He would be turning in his grave [at the proposed judicial reforms]. The judiciary was his life.

He believed in a careful balance of power and I think he would be aghast, first at the government and, second, at its attempts to take more power so that it crushed the opposition and independent voices. It’s a real problem for Israel.

But we’re seeing it all round the world. Democracy is much weaker than we like to think it is.

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