She single-handedly transformed post-colonialist Britain’s “sclerotic” economy;
she bravely defended the United Kingdom’s interests in the Falkland Islands – in
the process precipitating the toppling of Argentina’s ruling junta and restoring
the British pride in nation; she is even credited, together with US president
Ronald Reagan, with ending the Cold War and sparking the ascendancy of
free-market capitalism throughout the Western world and beyond.
the late Margaret Thatcher was asked to share what she felt was her most
meaningful accomplishment, she mentioned none of these many successes. Instead,
Britain’s only female prime minister related her part in helping to save a young
Austrian girl from the Nazis.
As related by British Ambassador to Israel
Matthew Gould in an interview Tuesday on Army Radio and as told by Charles C.
Johnson in a piece that appears on the Jewish news site Tablet, in 1938
Margaret, then just 12, and her sister Muriel, 17, set about raising the money
and persuading the local Rotary Club to help save Edith Muhlbauer, 17, from
Hitler’s Austria. They succeeded. For the next two years Muhlbauer stayed with
more than a dozen Rotary families and for a time bunked with young
That it was this episode in her long life of political activism
that stood out for Thatcher is revealing. Nazism and other variants of
totalitarian forms of government, such as Communism – under which Jews, more
than any other people, suffered – were the antithesis of Thatcher’s
By contrast, the Jewish people, who thrived wherever they were
given freedom and an equal playing field, represented all that Thatcher believed
in: meritocracy, the ability of individuals to excel if given the chance, and
Thatcher witnessed these traits firsthand as an MP
representing the north London borough of Finchley, prominently populated with
middle-class, entrepreneurial Jews.
“In the 33 years that I represented
[Finchley],” Thatcher later wrote, according to Johnson, “I never had a Jew come
in poverty and desperation to one of my [town meetings].”
impressed by the tremendous achievements of the plucky Jewish state as well,
though she was consistently critical of Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the
Palestinians and opposed the Begin government’s airstrike on the Osirak nuclear
facility in 1981 as well as its decision to invade Lebanon in
Thatcher’s admiration for Israel is expressed clearly in her
memoirs: “The political and economic construction of Israel against huge odds
and bitter adversaries is one of the heroic sagas of our age. They really made
the desert bloom.”
It would not be an exaggeration to argue that the 1985
Economic Stabilization Program, implemented by a Likud- Labor (Alignment)
national unity government, was inspired – at least in part – by the increasing
dominance of neo-liberal economic thought popularized by – among others –
Thatcher. After the “iron lady” proved that it was possible to transform a
failing economy with a tyrannizing labor union, anachronistic, nationalized
industries and suffocating bureaucracy, Israel could follow in Thatcher’s
footsteps and take many of the same steps.
Fiscal discipline, later
enshrined in the Deficit Reduction Law, was implemented, bringing down
three-digit inflation to around 20 percent; monetary and capital market reforms
were instituted, gradually opening the Israeli economy to foreign investments
and competition; privatization reduced state involvement in the economy and the
weakening of the Histadrut.
All of these factors, combined with the waves
of immigration from the Former Soviet Union, resulted in a new spurt of economic
growth and the explosion of the Israeli hi-tech industry. The majority of
Israelis rightly continue to believe in capitalism, judging from the January 22
Thanks to the demonstrations of two summers ago, for the first
time in decades socioeconomic issues were brought to the forefront during an
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, with its platform of
free market capitalism, was the big winner. So was the revamped
religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi party under the leadership of hi-tech
entrepreneur Naftali Bennett. Like Thatcher, Israelis understand that
competitive markets and less government intervention create incentive which
leads to innovation.
Throughout history Jews have prospered and excelled
in countries where they were given a fair chance. The same holds true today when
Jews have their own state.
Only by fostering a competitive, productive
economy can the formerly stateless Jewish people ensure that they will continue
to flourish in the land of Israel. This is Thatcher’s legacy for Israel.