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    Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association

    A short resume of its history

    A year after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, a number of people, with the encouragement of the British Embassy, decided that an organisation was required to maintain and develop contacts and relations between Israel and the United Kingdom and the countries of the British Commonwealth. This was considered especially important in view of the important role that Britain had played, and continues to play to the current time in the region, and the tensions that had developed between Britain and the Yishuv in the years before 1948. At first they met informally. It was not until 1953 that a formal Association was established under the title of the "Ottoman Society" which was later changed to its current name. In 1980 IBCA was registered as an Amutah (a non profit in accordance with Israeli law).

    The objects of the Association, from its inception, were "to encourage, develop and extend social, cultural and economic relations between the peoples of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth." In pursuit of these aims the Association has developed close links with the embassies of Britain and the countries of the Commonwealth. Meetings are held on a regular basis addressed by prominent politicians, diplomats and academics and attended by many members of the Diplomatic Corps. This has enabled a dialogue and exchange of views to develop between representatives of Israel and the other nations.

    In addition to these regular meetings, for many years an Annual Dinner has been held in November to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, issued on November 2nd, 1917. This document was the British Government's seminal contribution to the return of the Jews to their homeland and the establishment of the State of Israel, following the resolution of the United Nations, in 1948.

    Many prominent people have addressed these dinners. In 1987 the Dinner was held in the Knesset under the patronage of the Speaker, Mr Shlomo Hillel. The Guest of Honour was the President of the State of Israel - Chaim Herzog, who, twenty years previously as Chairman of the Association, had presided at the Dinner held in the Knesset to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration. In 1987 the Guest Speaker was the British Ambassador, William Squire For that occasion a booklet was published entitled "The National Home becomes a State", the purpose of which was to trace the British historical connection with the Zionist concept, culminating in the Balfour Declaration. In 1989 the Dinner was addressed by the-then Earl of Balfour (Arthur's great-nephew) and Yitzhak Rabin then the Israeli Minister of Defence. Rabin, as Prime Minister & Minister of Defence, again spoke at the dinner in 1994 together with Malcolm Rifkind, who was at that time the British Secretary of State for Defence. The current President of the State, Shimon Peres, together with Lord Weidenfeld were the guest speakers in 1990. The former United Kingdom Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was the principal guest speaker in 1995. Other guest speakers have included Martin Gilbert, the well-known historian and biographer of Winston Churchill, and Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls (the second most senior member of the British Judiciary), Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary.

    Israeli speakers have included the then President of the State of Israel, Chaim Herzog; the current President of the State, Shimon Peres Yitzhak Rabin; Professor Amnon Rubinstein; Professor Shlomo Ben-Ami; Tzipi Livni, Leader of the Opposition, and Dan Gillerman.

    The first Chairman of the Association was Max Seligman. He was followed by Chaim Herzog, who later became Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations and served two terms as President of the State. He was succeeded by John Furman, who served in the post for many years and who extended the work of the organisation, strengthening and expanding the links between the diplomatic and political communities, both in Israel and abroad. His vice-chairman, Ralph Rurka, established a study grant whereby IBCA was able to send young Israeli business men and women to the UK to work in major British corporations and so increase their experience and knowledge of business management methods and practice. Marks and Spencer was an important participant in this project. In 1995 IBCA facilitated a special programme whereby twenty student teachers from the David Yellin Teachers' Training College in Jerusalem were enabled to participate in an intensive study course at the Solihull College, Birmingham in the UK.

    Under the chairmanship of Lewis Harris, who succeeded John Furman in 1995, the John Furman Scholarship Fund was established, for the purpose of sending nurses from Israel to The Royal Marsden Hospital in England to obtain advanced specialist training in cancer nursing. The Fund was in memory of John's work for IBCA. In 1995 the Association had published a special edition of Furman's book, "Be Not Fearful". This was the story of his escape from a PoW camp in Italy and his subsequent involvement with the network, which had been built to provide accommodation and succour for the significant number of escaped PoWs who were living in Italy under German occupation.

    Subsequent chairmen who have continued the work and development of the organization were Michael Fox, Harold Hart, Brenda Katten, Austen Science, Alan Webber and Alex Deutsch. The current chairperson is Brenda Katten.

    Over the years the Association has provided financial support for English Amateur Drama in Israel and sponsored the 1990 and 1991 Annual English Drama Festivals held in Tel Aviv, performed by the many groups which flourish in this country. In subsequent years financial support has still been given to the festival. Study Grants have also been provided for professionals in the theatre world to study in the UK.

    For a number of years the Association supported the Israeli Debating Society, Siah vaSig. The Society promotes and teaches the arts of public speaking, oratory, logical thinking and debating in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

    The John Furman Fund has in the past three years granted scholarships for young Israeli colorectal surgeons to attend advanced training courses in the United Kingdom.