Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at the British Jewish Community’s tribute to Shlomo Argov

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Grosvenor House Hotel, London
Source: Thatcher MSS (THCR 1/7/38): speaking text
Editorial comments: MT left No.10 for the black tie dinner at 1925.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1749
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Civil liberties, Higher & further education, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Middle East), Law & order, Media, Terrorism


My Lord HailshamLord Chancellor, Immanuel JakobovitsChief Rabbi, Your Excellencies, Mrs Argov, We meet this evening to pay tribute to a distinguished representative of Israel.

Shlomo Argov was a remarkable Ambassador, deeply respected in Britain, and in Ireland where he was also accredited. He knew and understood us. And, as his speeches and writings show, he is a true citizen of the free world, who cherishes freedom and justice and is utterly opposed to those who assault them.

A year ago, only a short distance from where we meet tonight, he was brutally attacked in a deliberate attempt at assassination.

Those who carried out that cowardly crime have begun to serve prison sentences of 30 years or more.

The role of the modern diplomat

The attempt on Shlomo Argov 's life demonstrated, as so many other terrible events have done, the special dangers which confront the diplomat in today's world. [end p1] A profession dedicated to the pursuit of peace, to the resolution by civilised methods of problems which may bear within them the seeds of conflict, has become a target for men of violence. But each callous attack serves only to emphasise the need for diplomacy. Countries who disagree must be able to talk, to communicate, to resolve their disagreements through the skill of professional men and women meeting in conditions of security and trust.

Not every problem can be resolved through diplomatic negotiation. Some are too deeply-rooted, or the views of the parties are too disparate. But it is certain that recourse to violence will solve nothing. Attacks on public servants who represent our countries lead only to revulsion and a determination that both the criminals who plan such attacks and the values they assert shall not prevail. [end p2]

As Ambassador of the State of Israel, Shlomo Argov was in this country as our guest. He had earlier served in Ghana, Nigeria, the United States, Mexico and the Netherlands. For centuries the tradition has been that the host state accords safety and freedom from harassment to representatives of other sovereign states. This is not only a mark of respect for the countries they represent; it is essential for the proper conduct of their mission, vital if the civilised practice of diplomacy is to survive.

Terrorism: the historical perspective

The growth of terrorism and its effect on our society is a dark story but there is comfort to be drawn from the way in which we have reacted to it.

We have lived with the present wave of terrorism since the 1960s, when groups of extremists across the world turned to the bomb and the bullet to impose their minority causes.

But terrorism is older than that. [end p3]

The Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police was set up in response to a terrorist threat. This year marks its centenary.

In 1895 a bomb was sent through the post for the first time—in Berlin.

The closing decades of the nineteenth century saw assassinations of several leading statesmen across Europe and in America. MT added in the margin: Tsar Alexander II 1881 Pres. Carnot—France 1894 P.M. Canores—Spain 1897 Empress Elizabeth—Austria 1898 King Humbert of Italy 1900 President McKinley 1901

Those years saw the same viciousness and cowardice masquerading as idealism that we know only too well.

Modern terrorism

The terrorists of our own age talk in military terms. But their deeds are those of common criminals.

Many specialise in the safe, long-distance attack: the letter bomb, the remote control device, the bullet from a secret haven.

Contrast those craven tactics with the bravery and courage we ask of those who have to fight a real war.

Look at the means these evil men use to maintain their internal discipline. [end p4] Punishment shootings, tarring and feathering and the murder of alleged informers have become commonplace in one part of the United Kingdom, as the men of terror become ever more brutalised by their own methods.

The role of the Media

The search for publicity—the food without which these creatures cannot live—is constant. Terrorists thrive on publicity. So they seek ever more spectacular incidents.

This imposes very special responsibilities on the media. The border-line between informing the public and serving the interests of terrorists is a narrow one. The way the facts are reported is crucial.

Gangs of assassins cannot be dignified with the word “Armies” .

Terrorists are not “freedom fighters” .

Brutal murders should not be cloaked with that legal-sounding word “execution” .

There can be no balance, no impartiality, between the bullet and the ballot.

Respectability should not be conferred on these people. If they were in power, they would make short shrift of freedom of speech and every other freedom with it. [end p5]

The role of Governments

Terrorism is a disease which preys on free societies. If terrorists drive us to respond by abandoning freedom and adopting repressive methods they are well on the way to success. Our task is to meet the challenge within the framework of our cherished principles.

Governments must stand firm in the face of blackmail. It can only be defeated by resolution and courage. When lives are at risk it can be hard to stand firm but to give in is to endanger many more lives.

Israel knows that to be true. So does Britain. That was the lesson of the siege of the Iranian Embassy in Prince's Gate.

Since the General Election we have introduced a Bill into the House of Commons aimed at the prevention of terrorism. In the light of attacks such as that against Shlomo Argov, the special powers of arrest and detention are to be extended. MT wrote in the margin: To arrest & detain without a warrant for 48 hrs. Home Sec. able to extend for further 5 days.

They have been available against terrorism relating to Northern Ireland since the terrible bombings in Birmingham in 1974. Now we are asking Parliament to authorise the police to use them against international terrorists. [end p6]

For modern terrorism is an international disease. Terrorists are trained in one country to bomb and murder in another. They rely on international trafficking in arms.

The answer to this assault across the frontiers is closer and closer co-operation between governments—the sharing among like-minded countries of information, plans and techniques—and to that the British Government is strongly committed.

Democracy and oppression

Terrorism assaults individuals, often with the most terrible consequences. And in so doing it seeks to obliterate ideals which are fundamental to our civilisation— —the dignity and sanctity of human life —respect for justice and the law —the idea of government by consent and the tradition that conflicts of view are resolved by democratic debate.

The terrorist seeks to destroy. Rarely does he know or even care what may follow destruction. [end p7] For him the act of ruin is its own justification. This narrow and cowardly egotism is bolstered by the knowledge that if the attempt fails the tolerant laws of a community based on freedom and justice will ensure for its perpetrators a fair trial, something which by their deeds they deny to their victims.

By contrast it is the countries where injustice is most striking and where the people participate least in the political process which have largely been free from this form of violence. In despotism the methods of terrorism become instruments of the state, used against its citizens to extinguish all forms of opposition and dissent.

But this form of terrorism does not succeed either. For in the end it cannot crush the human spirit, the fundamental desire for liberty and justice which is always too strong for tyrants.

It is one of the most heartening features of the history of the world that whenever oppression has seemed at its worst there have always been a few—sometimes a very few—brave souls who have kept alight the torch of freedom by magnificent personal courage and a passionate attachment to liberty and justice.

In the Communist world today there are such people, many of them Jewish, whose fortitude and dedication [end p8] to freedom are a constant inspiration to us all. They ensure by their thoughts, words and deeds that freedom lives on. The power of the few who are thus inspired both exalts and humbles the many. For even the smallest seed has within it the power to grow and, in time, to crack the concrete which bars its way to the light.


When Shlomo Argov was a young student of political science in America he may have read these words from the Constitution of Massachusetts:- “A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessing of liberty.” Against the terrorist, against the despotic regime we assert our fundamental principles—freedom and justice—the cornerstones of our civilisation, the free democracies.

These are fundamental values which Britain and Israel have always shared. Ambassador Argov put it so well in a speech to the York Anglo-Israel Friendship Society in 1982. “In an increasingly cynical, intolerant and authoritarian world, our two countries continue to be committed to a philosophy [end p9] in which man, born in the image of God, is not a mere instrument in the hands of government but rather …   . the ultimate beneficiary of national exertion and therefore its natural arbiter. We believe not in the oppression of man for the sake of some illusory common good but rather in the betterment and flowering of man as the only object of common effort. We, like you, therefore continue to persist in our unflagging commitment to democracy as the only system known to man which is predicated on respect for man.” That was in 1982.

It is to buttress that relationship between Britain and Israel that tonight we create another enduring link between our two countries.

We respond to an act of terrorism by offering a gift of peace in the form of two professorial chairs at the Bar Ilan and the Hebrew Universities.

To brutality, we reply by giving the chance of learning and of contemplation.

In the face of the soulless destroyers, we create a new source of intellectual endeavour. [end p10]

Those who build and maintain the architecture of liberty have an enduring place in the history of mankind.

Long after the names of the practitioners of violence have passed into oblivion, the name will be remembered of the brave man to whom we pay tribute tonight—Shlomo Argov.