Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was considered a good friend of Israel despite a rocky relationship with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, has died.
Mrs. Thatcher died Monday after suffering a stroke. She was 87. Mrs. Thatcher suffered from dementia at the end of her life, which was dramatized in the 2011 movie “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as Thatcher.
The only female to serve as prime minister of Britain, she also was the longest continuously serving prime minister in the 20th century, leading the country and her Conservative Party from 1979 to 1990.
Mrs. Thatcher was supportive of Israel but called Begin, who served two terms in the 1980s, the “most difficult” man she had to deal with, according to the Chronicle. She strongly opposed Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor.
According to recently released documents in Britain’s National Archives, and memoirs of British politicians, Mrs. Thatcher considered Begin’s position on keeping Israeli control over the West Bank “absurd.”
Begin, for his part, was known to continue to dislike England, which harshly ruled pre-statehood Palestine under the Mandate that ended in 1948, and he secretly supplied military arms and supplies to Argentina during its 1982 war with England in the Falkland Islands.
Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu mourned her passing in a statement.
“She was truly a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength; a woman of greatness,” Netanyahu said. “She was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation of political leaders. I send my most sincere condolences to her family and to the government and people of Great Britain.”
In a statement, Richard Stone, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said “Prime Minister Thatcher made a remarkable contribution not only to her country but also to fostering ties between England and the United States. During her entire career she promoted and advanced the Western democratic principles in which she deeply believed.”
Thatcher had a strong Cold War alliance with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, whose tenure largely coincided wth hers, and together they fought communism, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Her cabinets included several Jewish members, including Nigel Lawson, Malcolm Rifkind, Keith Joseph and Leon Brittan, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Steve Lipman contributed to this report.