JPR News archive
A Personal appreciation of William Frankel CBE by Tony Lerman
Wednesday 7 May 2008
With the death of William Frankel CBE, JPR has lost a true friend who had an immeasurable influence on the Institute’s development. Rightly known for being an outstanding and crusading editor of the Jewish Chronicle, after stepping down from the editorship in 1968 he favoured a number of Jewish communal institutions with his time and close support. One of these was JPR’s predecessor organization, the Institute of Jewish Affairs (IJA). That close connection continued when the IJA became the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and lasted until his untimely death in April 2008.
The IJA was the research arm of the World Jewish Congress and was transferred to London from New York in 1967. The IJA’s thoughtful, academic and intellectual approach to world Jewish affairs—then including the plight of Soviet Jewry, Israel’s international position, antisemitism and racism, Christian-Jewish relations—appealed to William, who had a deep understanding of the Jewish position throughout the world and particularly strong connections with American Jewry. The then Director of the IJA, Dr Stephen Roth, a formidable Hungarian lawyer whose association with the WJC pre-dated the Second World War, attracted some key Anglo-Jewish figures as advisors and supporters of the IJA, including Lord Goodman, Ellis Birk, Professor Julius Gould, Sir Monty Finniston and William Frankel. While the IJA was funded by the WJC and therefore answerable to the WJC leadership—at that time headed by Nahum Goldmann—this group of Anglo-Jewish friends was crucial in helping the IJA create an audience for its work in the UK. In the early 1980s, Stephen Roth created a small Executive Committee, chaired by Ellis Birk and William agreed to be a member. But this is running ahead.
William knew Nahum Goldmann well—I once bumped into William in the Champs Elysées in 1981 as he was on his way to see the old and ailing Goldmann who was living in Paris at the time—and through that connection, he persuaded the WJC to fund the production of a yearly Survey of Jewish Affairs, with William as its Editor. The IJA had not long moved from its premises in Jacob’s Wells Mews, off Baker Street, to the former Seagrams headquarters in Hertford Street, Mayfair—courtesy of the new President of the WJC, and Chairman of Seagrams, Edgar Bronfman. William needed an office from which he could edit the new Survey and Stephen Roth asked all staff members—I was then a Research Officer—if someone would be ready to share an office with William. Perhaps not surprisingly, no one was enthusiastic—not, of course, because of the person concerned, but because people are notoriously proprietary about their office space and reluctant to share. But that seemed to me most unfair and whilst I did not know William well at that time, I thought that it would be interesting to get to know him better and also that I might even be able to help him edit the Survey—so I agreed to share my office with him. And so began a 25-year friendship.
William was very keen for me to help him with the Survey. It started with suggestions for articles, moved on to help with commissioning and editing, liaising with the publisher—Associated University Presses (AUP)—and helping draft his introductory essay. William fulfilled his task as Editor with great efficiency, good judgement and decisiveness. His introductions were models of crisp, clear writing. He secured first- rate academics and writers and the articles were of a uniformly high standard. After a few years, we ended the publishing arrangement with AUP and struck a deal with Blackwell in Oxford. Eventually, the WJC cut back and then withdrew its funding. William found other sources of funding for a time, but he hated fundraising and the series came to an end in 1992. While many of the articles that appeared are naturally time-bound, a very considerable number are still well worth consulting today.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the future of the IJA looked increasingly uncertain. Stephen Roth retired in 1989 and a new director had to be appointed. At the same time, the WJC reached an agreement with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to share the funding burden and the ADL were given managerial control. Although William was not Chairman when these changes occurred, he emerged as the key IJA lay leader, doing his very best to steer IJA through these choppy waters between 1989 and 1991. He became Chairman in 1990 and soon faced a further crisis as the ADL decided to end their funding and management arrangement in the summer of 1991. The WJC declined to replace that funding and it also became necessary to appoint a second new director.
William handled this difficult time calmly but decisively. It involved making some hard decisions about losing staff and while he recoiled from the human pain it would cause, he nonetheless fulfilled what he saw was his responsibility.
I was appointed Director in the summer of 1991 and it was tremendously reassuring having William as my Chairman. He was as supportive as anyone could wish for and even though he was never one to promise what he could not deliver, there was something about his calm solidity and his unruffled nature which inspired confidence and made me feel that we would pull through—and so it proved.
Through his close connection with the UK Rothschild family we began to be recipients of a major grant from Yad Hanadiv, the family’s Swiss-based charitable foundation operating mostly in Israel. It was the lifeline that the IJA needed and it helped us build on a revival in our fortunes that had already begun.
William was an extremely conscientious chairman. The IJA was one of a number of institutions he gave time to and yet his proactive approach and the concentrated attention he gave to the Institute’s concerns made us feel that the IJA was of the greatest importance to him.
During all this time, William retained a very close interest in the affairs of the Jewish Chronicle and when he was asked to become Chairman of its Board of Directors he could not refuse. Nevertheless, mindful of his IJA responsibilities, he did not immediately resign but persuaded Peter Levy, who was already a Board Member, to become Chairman of IJA jointly with him. IJA was lucky to already have Peter as a Board Member, but I’m sure the fact that it was William who asked him to be joint-chair was decisive in his agreeing to the proposal. After a couple of years of this joint arrangement, William stepped down and Peter Levy became sole chair. That William had taken care of the succession in this well thought-out, decisive and consensual fashion was typical of the man. It proved to be of huge importance to the success of the IJA and paved the way for the transformation of the IJA into JPR. But also of great importance was William’s role in persuading Lord Rothschild to become President of IJA, thereby setting the seal on the organization’s advance.
Although no longer active as Chairman, William played a central role in the transition of the Institute from being dependent on the WJC to an independent policy think tank. With funds from non-WJC sources somewhat more secure, the IJA leadership decided that the organization’s future lay in formal separation from the WJC. But leaving WJC would lead to a funding gap which would take time to bridge. To solve this problem, William suggested linking up with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), an organization he had close ties with from the late 1940s, when he was their European representative, and one that valued independent research.
After confidential negotiations with the AJC, a 5-year agreement was reached. The IJA then informed the WJC that it was becoming independent. To say that WJC were unhappy to have been upstaged in this way is an understatement, but to cut a long story short, an agreement was eventually reached that the IJA would change its name to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the WJC would set up its own research arm, and the name IJA would become history.
The partnership with the AJC, of which William was the midwife, proved crucial in preparing the way for complete independence. William was fully supportive not only of the change of name but also of the change in direction of the Institute, seeing the move to policy work as a way of retaining the organization’s academic credibility while becoming of more direct value to leadership, decision-makers, policy-makers and opinion-formers. By the time the partnership with the AJC came to an end in 1998, JPR had made a significant impact with its new policy research programme, had achieved financial stability and was looking to the future with confidence.
William remained a member of the Board, attending meetings whenever he could and his interest in the Institute never waned. So much so that he was still able to help JPR in a most dramatic fashion in 2000 by being personally responsible for securing an endowment grant for the Institute which provides permanent underpinning for its independence.
In recognition of William’s tremendous contribution to JPR, a special reception was held in 1997 in honour of his 80th birthday and an annual William Frankel lecture on an American-related topic was established in 1998. The distinguished speakers who have delivered this lecture have included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice to the United States Supreme Court, Chaim Potok, Tom Freudenheim and Rabbi Dr Arthur Hertzberg.
In 1993 William was appointed Vice-President of JPR and in 2004 he was awarded the Institute’s Golden Jubilee award for his outstanding contribution to public life.
Even as he entered his tenth decade William remained deeply attached to JPR, always taking great interest in research being undertaken, in the welfare of staff and in the financial position. And he followed very closely the arrangements made each year for the lecture in his name. For some years now he and his wife Claire had been living half the year in Washington, but we had been in close touch over this year’s lecture, to be delivered by Martin Indyk, the former US Ambassador to Israel. William was due to return to England towards the end of April and I was looking forward to meeting him soon after his return to bring him up to date on JPR matters and the lecture arrangements. Sadly, it was not to be, as William died only days before he and Claire were due to travel.
All of us at JPR will feel his loss very keenly. We could not have wished for a more stalwart, caring, dedicated and committed friend. We send our most heartfelt condolences to Claire and to all his family. We look forward to this year’s William Frankel lecture which will give us an opportunity to remember his life and his achievements and the wonderful and invaluable contribution he made to JPR.
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