Sacher Publicly Criticizes Peace Policy of the Israeli Government

Michael Sacher, the British Zionist leader and philanthropist, has publicly criticized the Israeli government’s peace policy and has called on Premier Menachem Begin to seek a new mandate from the nation. In a letter to the editor published in last Thursday’s Jerusalem Post, Sacher, a leading member of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, president of the Joint Israel Appeal (JTA), and scion of one of Jewry’s leading Zionist families, declared:

“The question of peace with Israel’s neighbors is indivisible from the return of territories under (UN) Resalution 242…. Any other course seems likely to lead to another series of wars, which, at the very least, will result in much loss of life for our fellow Jews of Israel and to a continuing unbearable economic burden….”

Sacher’s letter also stated: “The attitude of the present Administration in Israel causes much heart-burning to those of us in the diaspora who have been deeply involved with Zionism and Israel all our lives. We have, ever since the creation of the State of Israel, held the view that it was not our right to comment or criticize Israeli government policy publicly as it was a sovereign state. Our views, therefore, have been expressed behind the scenes. The issues of peace and survival are too important for me to remain publicly silent any longer….”

SUGGESTS BEGIN SEEK NEW MANDATE

Continuing, Sacher stated: “…I do appreciate the security aspects and recognize that time, perhaps much time, may be needed for assurances by Egypt and others to become meaningful. But the direction which negotiations must take is, to me, clear….Perhaps I would be less critical were I to be sure that the view of the people of Israel supported Mr. Begin’s seemingly inflexible approach.

“The Prime Minister makes much play of being the leader of a democratically elected coalition. Perhaps I could remind him that he was elected, fundamentally, on his economic program. The question of negotiating for peace was not a factor in the elections. Should he not go to the polls again, on this specific subject, get the support he presumably believes he has or, if not, pass the leadership of the government over to someone else who may then be in a position to carry on more fruitful negoations for peace with Egypt?”

Sacher’s letter came within weeks of a similar statement in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle by Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits. The rabbi’s pronouncement caused considerable controversy inside Anglo-Jewry and in Jewish communities in other countries. Sacher’s letter is thought likely to do the same.

Sacher is by far the most influential British Zionist to have aired his unhappiness with the Israel government’s foreign policy. Its impact will be all the greater given his deep distaste for public argument. But his declaration that peace is “indivisible from return of territories” is no surprise to those familiar with his views. Early last year he asked Israeli Deputy Premier and leader of the Democratic Movement for Change, Yigael Yadin, to explain the rationale behind the establishment of new settlements in occupied territories to a London fund-raising function.

His suggestion that Begin should seek a new mandate to test public support for his foreign policy goes much further than the remarks by Jakcbovits. Indeed, the Chief Rabbi subsequently denied that he was criticizing the Begin government and claimed he was misinterpreted, saying that he was criticizing only “the intransigent stance” by some “religious elements” in Israel.

PARTS COMPANY WITH COLLEAGUES

In writing to the Jerusalem Post, Sacher parted company with some of his closest colleagues in the JIA. Cyril Stein, a JIA vice president, has publicly deplored attacks on the Israel government by diaspora leaders and called for unity in the ranks. The only concession Sacher made to such a view is that he aired his opinion in an Israeli newspaper rather than a British one. It is characteristic of Sacher, however, that despite eschewing public argument, he did not mince words when he finally decided to speak out.

Sacher is deeply influenced by the Chaim Weizmann brand of pragmatic Zionisn with which his father, the late Harry Sacher, as well as the related Sieff and Marks families were associated. Sacher is vice chairman of the famous Marks and Spencer department store chain, which has been a major contributor to Zionist causes for over 50 years. Sir Marcus Sieff, son of the late Lord Israel Sieff, is chairman. Sacher’s own personal contribution to Israel each year is reputed to amount to many hundreds of thousands of Pounds Sterling.

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