The IBCA Annual Balfour Dinner - Monday 9th November 2015
Greer Fay Cashman wrote in The Jerusalem Post on 11th November:
"[Those present] at the Annual Balfour Dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton, had a great time on Monday night laughing uproariously at Johnson's sophisticated ability to poke fun at himself.
But what heartened them even more was Johnson's unmitigated admiration for Israel. Johnson, 51, had first come to Israel as a 20-yearold to volunteer on a kibbutz. He had dreamed of picking oranges in a kibbutz orchard in the Galilee, but instead was put to work washing and sorting dishes. He quickly came to the realization that this was a waste of his economic potential, but this in no way diminished his admiration for Israel, and in later life he returned to visit.
He finds certain similarities between London and Tel Aviv and London and Israel, with innovation at the top of the list. He had become very enamoured with Israeli innovation after then-ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub had given him a copy of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. Johnson quoted the succinct definition of Israel's innovation as coined by Peres: "from oranges to Apples."
Israel has more companies on the London Stock Exchange than any other country in the world," said Johnson, adding that he had unconsciously modelled himself on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. In fact, earlier in the day, the two had gone on a bicycle tour of Tel Aviv.
After stating that both Britain and Israel have moved away from state socialism to stronger free markets, Johnson made the point: "You can't have free markets without the democracy that permeates Israel and London." The society that is willing to frequently change governments is more likely to change everything else, he said, adding that argument, exchange and debate are signs of a society that is free, plural and open.
"A free and open society in this part of the Middle East is the most amazing legacy of the Balfour Declaration," asserted Johnson. Whatever criticism of Israel there may be, it is still the case that Israel is by far the most democratic country in the region," he said, "which is why I reject completely the suggestion that of all the countries in the Middle East, this country should be the subject of a boycott."
YESH ATID chairman Yair Lapid, who was the Israeli speaker at the dinner - IBCA Balfour dinners always feature one British and one Israel speaker - after thanking Johnson, whom he has known for years, for being "a true friend" of Israel, chose to focus on the basic good of individuals in high office. "The real truth is that in relations between nations and between leaders, more often than most people think - and definitely more than most journalists think - the real driving force is actually a higher purpose, significant, even noble."
While every month there are thousands of people who join the ranks of Islamic State and other terrorist groups, said Lapid, many more join charities and dedicate their lives to a greater good. "The vast majority of humanity will do anything for their children, for their elderly parents, for their friends - not because it is in their best interest, but because it defines them in a profound way."
In the 98 years since the Balfour Declaration, the world has proven time and again that it is willing to act against its interests in the service of the right idea, said Lapid.
"When history judges these 98 years, it will be forced to admit that human nature is not motivated only by territorialism, greed and lust for power. In contrast to everything the cynics say, the world is driven most of the time by the need to create a better universe, more caring and generous."
It was this attitude, he pointed out, that achieved victory over the Nazis, brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall and inspired Dr. Martin Luther King's Million Man March, Gandhi's nonviolent revolution and the movement for women's liberation.
Lapid defined the Balfour Declaration as "a moment of political kindness - a moment in which empathy overcame interest.... It is made up of only nine short lines, but what sits between those lines is an ability to really see the other, to understand his pain and to take action to help."
Harking back to 1917, Lapid said that in those days it was already clear that oil would power the world and that whoever stands with Jews will pay a price.... But it was the right thing to do, he insisted. "The Jewish people waited 2,000 years to return to their homeland. At that moment in time, Britain was the only country that was able to bring that tormented journey to an end and allow the Jews to return to their land." Jews are people with a long historical memory, Lapid concluded. "We will not forget this act of goodness....""
SEE THE PICTURES FROM THE DINNER
Photographs by Richard Halon