By James Marlow
It was around 1.15 pm last Friday when I checked my emails for the last time before Shabbat and saw a press release from the Board of Deputies announcing the passing of Brian Kerner who had died the previous night.
I was greatly saddened that such a statue of a respected and loved leader had departed from this world and immediately telephoned his family.
I met Brian in 2000 when I finally left the ITN run Euronews network based in Lyon and said to him that I was now looking for a communications role in relation to Israel due to so much negative and aggressive coverage Israel was receiving despite signing the Oslo Accords seven years earlier.
At the time Brian was raising funds for the new BICOM unit and recommended myself to either head it or lead the communications side. However, it did not launch at the end of 2000 as expected because Brian was insistent that BICOM would have enough funds to run for a minimum of 3 years.
I agreed to wait for another 3 months whilst preparing an entire communications plan to deal with the media and audiences before I would look elsewhere for a job.
In the meantime, Brian introduced me to Israeli minister without portfolio Danny Naveh, who was working in the Prime Minister’s office at the time. Danny invited me to join a new media unit launching from the PMO and I relocated to Jerusalem on 1 May 2001.
BICOM eventually launched in London in July 2001 but the media unit in Jerusalem which I was was excited to be part of did not – just my luck.
The internal infighting between the PMO and Ministry for Foreign Affairs as to who would be the official spokespeople was quite breathtaking and I was suddenly exposed to huge ego’s that I had never ever experienced before, despite dozens of Israelis being killed almost every week at the time.
As far as I was concerned anyone who had the talent and ability to get a message across with strong communication skills in English should have been given an opportunity to be part of this special spokesperson unit. But as government officials argued with each other, suicide bombers were hitting Israelis all over the country and yet most of the world’s media were surprisingly hostile towards Israel and its dead victims.
I myself fell into communications and media training for those in Israel who believed good professional training could only enhance one’s abilities and personal development and the following year was also appointed official Jerusalem correspondent for LBC Radio.
Brian often visited Israel as Chairman of the UJIA and then as a board member for Keren Hayasod (United Israel Appeal). On many occasions, we met up to discuss BICOM and so many other topics across the spectrum including family.
I have to say Brian and I disagreed hugely on Israeli politics but I had so much respect and admiration for him and indeed what he achieved in the community and his professional life. He introduced me to many influential people in Israel and tried so hard to help anyone.
Even Knesset Members asked me to introduce them to Brian so they could sit down and get his insights on so many issues and he found time for all of them – even those on the right who he vehemently disagreed with.
Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum summed it up to so well to me this week by saying “Brian was uniquely skilled to bring people together.”
Jonathan further added “that our community has produced many leaders of great distinction, widely admired and widely loved” and Brian was definitely one of them.
I will miss him very much, but his family should know Brian Kerner achieved great things for the community and Israel. May G-d comfort them along with other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.