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In the 1930s, a girl called Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) was growing up in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Margaret’s big sister Muriel had an Austrian Jewish pen-friend called Edith. When Hitler’s German army occupied Austria, Edith’s worried father asked Margaret and Muriel’s parents if the Roberts family would look after his daughter.

They agreed. Young Edith escaped the tightening grip of the Nazis and went to Grantham to stay with the Roberts. Margaret remembers Edith and the accounts she gave of her life. “She told us what it was like to live as a Jew under an anti-Semitic regime. One thing Edith reported particularly stuck in my mind: the Jews, she said, were being made to scrub the streets.” (Edith eventually moved to build a new life in South America.)

Later, as Thatcher rose to the leadership of the Conservative Party, she continued to earn a reputation as a friend of the Jewish people. She was a popular MP among her constituents in Finchley (which had a high Jewish population) and was a member of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley and the Conservative Friends of Israel. She joined in the singing of Hatikvah at a local event in 1975.

When she took the leadership of the party, Foreign Office mandarins feared her Jewish connections and support for Israel would see her viewed as “a prisoner of the Zionists” by the Arab world. Once PM, her cabinets and behind-the-scenes teams often included many Jewish politicians, prompting Harold Macmillan to quip that she had “more Estonians than Etonians”. (Not the most sensitive of punchlines, but it should be noted that Macmillan too had given shelter to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 40s.)

Thatcher became the first serving British Prime Minister to visit Israel when she spent three days there in May 1986. (She had visited twice prior to becoming PM.) While respecting her for her symbolic trip, I find the fact it took Britain nearly 40 years to send a serving PM to Israel astonishing.

It was not an entirely rosy relationship between Thatcher and Israel. She described Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 as “a grave breach of international law” and a “matter of great grief”. (Then US President Ronald Reagan also condemned it incidentally – so much for the American/Israel conspiracy.)

In 1987 she had a less than harmonious dawn summit with Yitzhak Rabin, which he later described as “the shortest breakfast meeting he ever had”. (Her ‘Iron Lady’ tag is thought to have been inherited from Israeli PM Golda Meir.) She also imposed an arms embargo on Israel during the Lebanon war.

However, the number of Jewish Conservative MPs rose under her reign, and dwarfed the number on the Labour benches. As PM, Thatcher had a very healthy relationship with the then Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits. One of my favourite political books is Sir Martin Gilbert’s Churchill And The Jews. I wonder if a similar tone could one day be written about Thatcher’s relationship with the Chosen People?

16 Responses to “Margaret Thatcher – philosemite?”

  1. Jonathan Hoffman says:

    Great piece, thank you. In around 1964 I interviewed Mrs T’s agent in Finchley. It was clear she was destined to be Prime Minister. It’s indeed astonishing that it took nearly 40 years for a British PM to visit Israel. I wonder if a British Monarch will also visit for the first time in our lifetimes….

  2. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Thanks Jonathan. Maybe the Queen will, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope for Prince Charles. He seems a bit of an Islamophile.

  3. Sten says:


    Perhaps I just don’t get it, but what did “more Estonians than Etonians” mean? I know what’s an Estonian and what’s an Etonian, but how was the fact that Thatcher had many Jews in the cabinet related to Estonia at all?

    I grew up in Estonia and lived there for 29 years before moving to London last year, that’s why I’m interested. Part of the Estonian Jewish Community was deported to Siberia by the Soviets and the rest were murdered by the Nazis in the 1940ies, and Estonian present Jewish Community is only 2,000-strong – I really wonder what made Macmillan to say something like that…



  4. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Sten.

    It was a rather silly joke by Macmillan. An ‘Etonian’ means a man who went to Britain’s most privileged public school – Eton. Conservative cabinets have often included a fair number of Etonians. So Macmillan chose ‘Estonian’ (to signify Jewish) as a play on words. As I noted above, it’s not the most sensitive of punchlines, nor the most accurate.

  5. JJ says:

    Wow didn’t know most of that.

  6. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    I can’t help wondering if Amy Winehouse got her “no, no, no” chant for the Rehab song from Maggie.

  7. naomi says:

    to clarify chas’s answer to sten – many british jews are descended from jews who immigrated to britain from the baltic region during tsarist times. although macmillan uses poetic license to some degree as lithuania and latvia were to my knowledge much bigger sources of baltic jewish immigration than estonia.

  8. Neil says:

    I would suggest that Reagan and Thatcher’s condemnation of the Israeli destruction of (French built!) Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 was not exactly heartfelt. They condemned it and moved on quickly. Just as Britain and the US would do now if Israel destroyed a similar site in Iran.

    • you are correct neil. them pretending to be outraged about Israel doing another war mongering act, is all pantomime. the british and American states are full with Zionists. the jewish fed, the rothschilds and goldman sachs have most control of our BOE and the world. as for the media, jeez, it’s Talmudic central. our politicians are puppets for them. those “wars” were not just to steal oil, but also to secure Israel in the stolen lands by us destroying some of their many enemies for them. thatchers mentor and speech writer was a jew. Sherman I believe his name was. we should be taught in school about them being expelled from over 100 nations and cities before the camps. also, we should be taught that after we helped close the camps, jewish terrorists murdered over 300 british officials in Palestine. hanging soldiers and shit like that. we are only the goyim, so it matters not.

  9. Brad Brzezinski says:

    There’s a story out there that Carter deliberately did not inform Reagan of Israel’s intention to bomb Osirak. He found out later reading Carter’s notes.

    Certain elements of the British government were intent on stifling the nascent Jewish State in 1947/8. They went against “official” policy and I’m not certain if the politicians knew and winked, or were fooled. In all likelihood the FO was at the core and the animosity has remained.

  10. 60210 says:

    Hey Chas

    Your mate Rupert has replied:

    libellous? pretentious twat

    I resent the fact he imagines it was done for short-term political gain against the Greens. I like many of the Greens and a lot of their policies. Good to hear he’s not an anti-semite. Definitely not. No way.

    But why are they always so obsessed with Israel?

  11. Judy says:

    The jibe about the Old Estonians was a quite specific jibe about the presence of Leon Brittan and Nigel Lawson in her Cabinet, both of whom had parents who were immigrants from
    Eastern Europe—one of them did actually have a father who came from Estonian. Macmillan was famous for having more Old Etonians in his Cabinet than any other Prime Minister.

    As well as your other evidence re Mrs T’s Philip-semitism. her first job after Oxford was as a research chemist for J Lyons, then an entirely Jewish firm, where she was reputed to have felt herself well treated.

    Her first major mentor who played the key role in positioning herself as the future leader of the Tories was Sir Keith Joseph, for whom
    she had intense respect, whereas he wS regarded as mad by most of the then Tory mainstream.

    She was also a great admirer of Lord Young-she said other Cabinet colleagues came to her with problems, but he came to her with solutions.

    Finally, I remember reading a speech she gave at a Youth Aliyah dinner, where she warmly praised one of it’s founders, Recha Freier, as an example of how one person can make a real difference.

    She was certainly very at ease with and appreciative of the qualities and talents of Jews who made no attempt to hide their origins. Ranks with King Edward VII, Churchill & Tony Blair.
    Prince Charles is anti-Zionist and has never allowed himself to be associated with any Zionist organization. He adopted support of a Krakow Jewish charity to avoid any possible insinuations of having an anti-Semitic agenda. Both the Duke of Ed and the Queen have visited a range of Jewish charities.
    She never showed any response at all to the repeated criticism
    of her for having so many

  12. Blair says:

    Hey Chas,

    Very interesting article. Thanks for writing it.

  13. Attention!
    A lot of people writing here wrongly assumes that Israels bombing of the Osirak reactor in 1981 was a good thing, which unfortunately reveals their inherited willingness to support Israel no matter what. The bombing was a gross breach of international law, as Margaret Thatcher rightly pointed out.

    What would the world be like if you was just allowed to fly into another country and bomb their facilies? It is Israel that is the greatest cause of trouble in the Middle East and the world. It should be reigned in an administered by the international community. this sort of behaviour shows what happens when shit rise to power.

    There is no evidence to this day that Iraq actually wanted other than mastering the nuclear cycle, as is their sovereign right. The bombing now made them hellbent on archieving this, to an extent that the weapons inspectors, who entered Iraq after the Gulf War, was very surprised to see how advanced the programme was.

  14. [...]…philosemite/25 Jul 2009 – In the 1930s, a girl called Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) was growing up in Grantham, … Margaret’s big sister Muriel had an Austrian Jewish. The Volokh Conspiracy » Margaret Thatcher and the Jews [...]

  15. [...] Margaret Thatcher – philosemite? | OyVaGoy! (Chas Newkey-Burden) I can hear the wailing in Tel-Aviv [...]

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