Eric Graus, 1927-2018

Remembering the life of an important British Zionist.

Star of David (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Star of David
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There’s many a spy story with a scene in a London street where the proprietor of an antiques shop is involved in a lot more than meets the eye. Eric Graus, who died last week at the age of 90, might have fitted well into such a scene.
President of Likud-Herut UK and the proud holder of the State of Israel Fighters Medal, his was an important life in Zionist history.
Eric was born in the Slovakian town of Bratislava.
His family emigrated to England in 1939 where he soon became active in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist Movement. In 1947, he joined the Lehi underground branch set up by Yaakov Heruti. As a result of the special role that was assigned to him in the critical months before independence, he developed subsequently a strong fealty to both Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, both future prime ministers of Israel.
As a young man Eric was introduced to the London antiques market and by 1952, he met and married Suzy Adler, a refugee from Budapest. While raising a family he acquired an impeccable reputation for fairness and honesty in the antiques trade, from London to the Far East, and soon moved up to a Bond Street address.
In April 1970, during a UK visit by Moshe Arens, Eric formed the British Herut Movement, with a manifesto to advocate for the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria and take the lead in activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Two years later he invited Begin, then leader of the opposition, for his first visit to London.
This provoked universal outrage, with Jewish MP Gerald Kaufman loudest in the calls to deny an entry visa to this “terrorist.”
While Eric’s people managed to enlist the help of Hendon MP Peter Thomas to help clear the visa application, the Jewish establishment was not so easy. No United Synagogue or other communal organization was willing to provide its premises for Begin’s welcoming dinner.
It took a caterer with an Auschwitz tattoo, Mrs Lisser, to come forward and offer her ultra-Orthodox Kedassia Restaurant in New Oxford Street in honor of Begin.
And so it was, as Eric fondly recalled so many times, that when Begin later returned to London as prime minister, he turned down all offers to cater him at Downing Street and insisted that only Mrs Lisser should have that honor.
In the 1970s Eric and his comrades, Joe Gellert and Malvyn Benjamin, were at the forefront of activism against the Soviet Union for its imprisonment of Jews wanting to emigrate to Israel.
From loudspeaker vans blasting protests outside the embassy, to mice being released at the Bolshoi Ballet and the picketing of Russian tourist offices, there was no peace for the Soviets in London.
Eric was one of many protesters arrested for disorderly conduct, and Malvyn’s lawyering skills were regularly called upon to get people bailed out. In 1975, Eric succeeded in revitalizing the Betar youth movement in England which had existed there before Israel was established.
Eric’s greatest joy was Likud’s surprise victory in the 1977 elections, bringing Menachem Begin to power after 30 years in opposition.
He renamed his movement Likud-Herut and, as its president, staged annual celebrations of Jerusalem Day, which was his favorite holiday.
It was especially sweet that Eric lived just long enough to witness the historic and outspoken recognition of our eternal Jewish capital by the president of the United States.
Eric is survived by his dear wife, Suzy, son Jeremy, who resides in Israel, and two daughters Aviva and Nomy.
He now rests in the land he loved and among the people he fought for in a very special way.
The author lives in London.