Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mazal Tov: A New Book on Golda Meir, Hot Off the Press

We've written here many times about Golda Meir, Israel's fourth prime minister, in posts based on the ISA's forthcoming commemorative volume on her life. We're happy to announce that the book (in Hebrew)  has finally been published and is available from the Archives.

Last week the book was launched by its editor, Dr. Hagai Tsoref, at the Association of Israel Studies conference in Jerusalem. Dr. Tsoref presented Golda's achievements in setting up the welfare state in Israel and the controversy over her role in the Yom Kippur war. But the hottest debate at the session focused on new research by Professor Pnina Lahav of Boston University on gender issues: male attitudes towards Golda as a female leader and whether she was a feminist.

 Golda's stand on these issues displays the duality in her character also found in her attitude towards peace with the Arabs and the social gap between the established classes and poor Mizrachi immigrants. On the one hand she was an "Iron Lady", and on the other a sentimental grandmother. She first came to prominence as an activist in the Council of Women Workers of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labour in Palestine. As one of its joint secretaries, she supported setting up crèches for working mothers in the cities as well as training and financial help  for female workers in agricultural settlements, as you can see in this letter which we found in the Lavon Institute Archives.

In 1931 she came to New York, and raised money for these causes while heading the Pioneer Women's organization. Throughout her life she was deeply concerned with social justice and helping poor families and she frequently quarrelled with economic experts who failed to see the human beings behind the numbers of unemployed or those without a roof over their head.

After her return from the US, Golda moved from women's organizations to the national stage and held important positions in the Histadrut, serving as the head of the Political Department from 1941. Her connections with the Labor movement in the US, her command of English and speaking skills helped her to advance to the leadership, together with her determination and devotion to the cause. In 1946, when the British arrested  the heads of the Jewish Agency political department, Moshe Shertok (Sharett) and Bernard (Dov) Joseph, Golda as a woman was spared and took their place.

Golda's path to power was also smoothed by her association with powerful men, such as  Zalman Shazar, one of the editors of the "Davar" newspaper, and especially with her mentor and lover David Remez, secretary-general of the Labour Federation in the 1930s and later a government minister.

As Minister of Labour between 1949 and 1956 Golda did little or nothing to promote women to positions of influence. It seems that she distanced herself from any identification with women's issues and felt it was not possible to promote special solutions for employing women who could not be sent to labour on public works, like so many of the immigrants

 Professor Lahav showed that her appointment as Foreign Minister in 1956 was met with derision from a journalist who did not believe that a woman could fill this post. But most observers believed that she was chosen instead of Moshe Sharett mainly because Ben-Gurion saw her as a loyal lieutenant and fellow hardliner. Sharett himself (who had deliberately given preference to women in the Foreign Service) wrote bitterly in his "Personal Diary" about her agreement to replace him, which he regarded as a stab in the back from a party colleague, and 
added that she was unfit for the post, not because of her gender, but because of her lack of formal education.

Golda became Prime Minister in 1969 when she was already 71 years old, and in poor health. She ruled her cabinet with a rod of iron, but was often presented as a homely figure, holding important consultations in her kitchen and shopping for arms in the US with her capacious handbag and sensible "Golda" shoes.
"!At last, a man as the Prime Minister''
Caricature by Yosef Bass, 14 November 1969

Golda Meir and President Nixon in Washington, 1 March 1973
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office

Like many of Israel's prime ministers, the end of her career was a tragic one, and she was forced to resign in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war. The documents in the book show Golda's strength and determination during the war, but afterwards she blamed herself for listening to her generals, and not overruling them to order full mobilization of the reserves when warnings of a possible Arab attack arrived. On 10 April 1974 Golda resigned after the publication of the Agranat Report. But she stayed on to complete the 
separation of forces agreement with Syria about which we have already written here. Frightening reports were circulating about the Syrians' treatment of the Israeli POWs, 
including rumours about torture and murder of some of them.  Golda refused to open negotiations with Syria until the Red Cross had visited the prisoners. 

 Here we see the message she sent to Sadat (and through him to Hafez al-Assad) 
on this issue. 
Golda's last act as prime minister was the signing of the agreement which brought 
the POWs back to Israel.
If you would like to order the book, please contact

Friday, June 10, 2016

Scanning archival files appears feasable

At the beginning of April our new website went online, and promptly ran into snags hitches and impediments, as we noted at the time. Various folks were unhappy with us, though mostly unjustified, we feel.

In the meantime some two months have happened. Some parts of the operation are working better, others we're still working on. It's going to take at least a few more weeks to reach the point we hoped to be at in mid-April, and, truth be told, we still have many months of necessary development ahead of us (including some simple fixes that will make the English part work better). Putting the archives online is not a small event nor is it simple.

One thing we've been a bit worried by for the past four years, ever since we launched our industrial-scale scanning project, was about the quality of the scans. We're allocating a sizable chuck of our budget to this; we're scanning 75,000 pages a day give or take 30,000; there are about 70 people working on the process - and what if the quality of the scans isn't up to par? That would be sad.

Well, over the past two months we estimate people have seen thousands of scanned files, well over 100,000 scanned pages - and so far, there have been two complaints pertaining to the quality of the scans which have reached me. Upon investigation, both turned out to be of faded old documents where the scanner picked up the same illegible quality the human eye sees.

So far as we can tell at this stage, color scanning of documents can be done efficiently and also effectively. Which is an important thing to know.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Assurances from Assad: Separation of Forces with Syria, 31 May 1974

The Yom Kippur War was one of the most traumatic events in Israel's history, but it was the catalyst for political and diplomatic developments which changed the face of the Middle East. 
We have already written here about the separation of forces agreement signed by Israel and Egypt in January 1974, the first in a series eventually leading to a full peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
President Sadat did not want to be isolated in the Arab world, and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger led a diplomatic effort to bring about a similar agreement with Syria. Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad (father of current President Bashir al-Assad), waged an obstinate struggle to persuade Israel to give up some of the land captured in 1967, a struggle accompanied by a war of attrition which cost many lives. At first he also refused to give a list of prisoners of war. Even after that problem was solved, the negotiations were accompanied by many crises. At several points Sadat  intervened to encourage both sides. For example, at the end of January he sent this message to Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.

Many in the Israeli public opposed border changes which might endanger settlements in the Golan Heights, and protesters led by the settlers demonstrated outside Golda's house.
Another difficulty was Israel's demand that Assad, like Sadat, should undertake to prevent terrorist attacks across the border. At the beginning of Kissinger's "shuttle" to Jerusalem and Damascus, Palestinian terrorists from Lebanon attacked the town of Kiryat Shmona in Northern Israel and 18 people were killed. After the Israeli air force carried out a reprisal raid on Lebanon, the US voted for a UN resolution condemning Israel. The public and press reacted violently and claimed that the US had abandoned Israel. Both Nixon and Kissinger wrote to Golda. Kissinger, "writing to you, not as Secretary of State but as a friend" assured her that as long as he was responsible for US foreign policy this would not happen. "Preoccupation with the anxieties of the moment" should not be allowed to lead to the failure of diplomacy which would ensure Israel's place  in the Middle East.(Kissinger to G. Meir, 29/4/1974, MFA, File 6857/10)

The negotiations with Assad progressed slowly. Israel gave up land captured in 1973 and agreed to return the town of Kuneitra to Syrian civilian control but refused to give up three hills which commanded it. On 15th May another terrorist attack from Lebanon took place in the town of Maalot. A group of children on a trip were held hostage in a school building. IDF forces made an assault on the school, but 21 children were killed.
IDf soldiers rescuing a girl from the building, 15 May 1974
Photograph: Ya'acov Sa'ar, Government Press Office
The public was deeply shocked and became even more resistant to an agreement with Syria, which was supporting the Palestinian cause.  

On the day of the attack Sadat sent Golda a secret message through Kissinger, who phoned the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Simcha Dinitz. It is shown in these notes:
Sadat condemned the attack and promised to restrain comment in the Egyptian press. Such actions must not be allowed to disrupt the attempts to make peace. If Israel reached an agreement with Syria he promised to cooperate with it to stop acts of murder and terrorism.   

Assad refused to give the Israeli government a written promise to prevent terrorism – but he agreed to give an oral assurance to the Americans. Golda would be able to announce this arrangement in the Knesset. On 30th May Kissinger sent her this letter, which appears in the US series "Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)", Volume XXVI:

"Dear Madame Prime Minister:
This is to inform you that the assurances with respect to guerilla action from Syria conveyed to the Israeli Government have the following characteristics:
1. They were made to the Secretary of State by President Asad on the condition that there would be no publicity whatsoever.
2. President Asad emphasized that any publicity would force him to make a public statement contradicting the assurances and perhaps make it impossible for him to maintain them.
Best wishes,
Henry A. Kissinger"
A U.S. text was provided to the Israeli Government. According to FRUS, it reads, “The position of the United States with respect to the first paragraph of the Agreement between Israel and Syria on Military Disengagement is as follows: Raids by armed groups or individuals across the demarcation line are contrary to the ceasefire. Israel in the exercise of its right of self-defense may act to prevent such actions by all available means. The United States will not consider such actions by Israel as violations of the ceasefire and will support them politically.” 

You can see a clip of Kissinger's meeting with Assad in Damascus later that year here

The agreement with Syria was signed on 31 May 1974 in Geneva. The shooting on the border came to an end, and it has generally remained quiet, despite the upheaval in Syria. Meanwhile Golda, who had resigned  in April 1974 and was heading a caretaker government, was replaced by Yitzhak Rabin. On 6 June the Israeli prisoners of war returned home. Here we see Golda, Rabin and members of the families welcoming them home at the airport in Lod..
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The forgotten story of Dora Liese Ettlinger

Dora Liese Ettlinger was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, on the 2nd of August 1922. She came to Manadotry Palestine at the age of 11, in  April 1934, with her mother: the Nazis had come to power and Jews needed to leave. A few days after her 20th birthday, in August 1942, she applied for citizenship from the British Mandate authorities, and supplied this photo.

At some point after she recieved citizenship she enlisted in the British army. On October 14th 1945, still in the British army, she was killed in a traffic accident and buried in Cairo.

The part about her death we know from the folks who run the commemortive website for the soldiers who have died in Israel's wars; as a volunteer from the pre-indiepndence Yishuv she is counted among them. Until recently they knew nothing more about her than her name, date of death and place of burial. Then our new website went up, and they found her application for citizenship, a 20-page file which includes a letter she wrote supporting her application, and all sorts of other documents. Some of them are even in English, that being the language the British authorities used. Thus, a 21st century archival project helped to reconstruct the memory of a young woman who died more than 70 years ago.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The signature of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Righteous Among the Nations, found in ISA's files

Last Thursday, Israel commemorated Holocaust Memorial day. The occasion gives us the opportunity to present to the public an interesting document from the ISA connected to the story of Jews' escape and survival during World War II.

In the Archives' passport and travel documents collection, we found a passport with the signature of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who was the Vice-Consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania in 1940 and distributed visas to Japan to 6,000 Jews. These visas helped save the lives of their recipients. Sugihara received the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute in 1984 and passed away in 1986.
Chiune Sugihara/Wikipedia

Chiune Sugihara signature (in the middle of the page)

You can read a more detailed description of Sugihara's noble actions in the Yad Vashem entry about him or on the Jewish Virtual Library site here.

The ISA's collection of travel documents and identity cards from all over the world apparently comes from the Immigration Department of the British mandatory government. People receiving Palestinian citizenship were required to give up their former citizenship and passport. The same procedure was followed in the early years of the State until 1951. A sample of the documents was kept by the Ministry of the Interior, which handed them over to the Archives in the 1980s.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Correspondence with MESA about freedom of research at the ISA

Our new website is up. Our initial intention was to go online without trumpeting the fact, and tinker with things for a while. Later this year, perhaps at the end of the summer, we'll make a real effort to tell folks we've arrived, but not yet; at the moment we're still disembarking from the plane, so to speak, and have not fully arrived. Sadly, our critics didn't wait, and launched a campaign to decry parts of our efforts without waiting to see if perhaps the trade-offs we've decided upon might actually be a good idea. So in addition to the challenges of launching the website and operating it correctly, we had to spend a bit of time this week fending off the critics.

The most comprehensive online English-language criticism came from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), who  sent us a stern admonition about how we are about to destroy academic freedom in Israel, or something like that.

Once we had ascertained that MESA would post our response alongside their letter, we took advantage of the opportunity to write about the set of reforms currently underway at the ISA. Here it is in full:

April 21, 2016
Prof. Beth Baron,
MESA President, City University of New York
Prof. Amy W. Newhall,
Mesa Executive Director, University of Arizona
Dear Colleagues,
Had you taken time to learn more about the activities of the Israel State Archives (ISA) before publishing your letter of April 19th 2016, you would have avoided a number of significant inaccuracies as well as some minor ones such as our address and the spelling of my name.
The ISA is in its fourth year of an ambitious 17-year program to put its entire collections online in a free and unfettered form. The program includes high-quality scanning of the entire collections (36 million scanned pages so far); creating a new layer of knowledge management and applying it as an advanced catalogue system; utilization of technological progress such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Business Intelligence (BI) and crowdsourcing, to name some of the more obvious tools. The cataloging staff of the archives is scheduled to multiply more than tenfold, and our budget has been dramatically expanded. This is happening because the Cabinet itself, no less, decided that the existing state of the archives was unsatisfactory and the citizenry of our democracy deserved better access to the documentation of its government; it was the Prime Minster and his colleagues who gave us our new marching orders.
The jewel in the crown will be a tri-lingual website (Hebrew-Arabic-English) where everything will be easily accessible with the help of an embedded version of Google's search engine. A working draft of the website has been online for months, and has been used by many researchers.  As a matter of project management we recently decided that we needed to move from the laboratory to the real world, fully cognizant that this move would initially encounter significant wrinkles which can be discovered and ironed only by being in the real world. I am confident this initial version will be stable and fully operable within a few weeks; more advanced versions will go up in the coming months; we have a budget item for the continual improvement of the website all the way to the end of 2029.
Within a year the ISA website will be one of the most advanced archival websites in the world. The documentation will enjoy all the many advantages that digital data has over paper: flexibility, mobility and portability, replicability, and searchability, to mention but a few. Users will be able to arrange the documents into files of their own. Academics will be able to use high-quality versions of original documents in teaching and collaboration. Most transforming, to my mind, will be the ability to link the documents themselves into academic publications. Instead of footnotes, electronic versions of publications will give direct access to the documentation itself; paper versions will indicate where readers can find the documents on their iPads.

The reading room at the ISA remains open, and researchers with compelling need to see paper files will do so. We will encourage them not to, however. As a matter of principle because the online access will be better; as a matter of preservation, as experience shows that paper files are often harmed by users, inadvertently or otherwise; and as a matter of logistics. One of the most significant aspects of the new website relates to the gap between some one million records in the online catalogue and the first 80,000 scanned files. Whenever a researcher needs a file which is not yet online, we will process it and put it there within about two weeks, free of charge. Even now, with the website still in its infancy, we are receiving orders for more files than before, and the staff in the storage facility cannot deal simultaneously with three tasks (systematic scanning, ad-hoc scanning and delivery of paper files). 
Your fear regarding the censor is highly exaggerated. First, because ca. 95% of the collection will never be submitted to the censor. Second, because the remainder undergoes security declassification anyway, just as in the United States and all other democracies world-wide; the declassifiers and the censors generally agree with each other. Third, because the remit of the censor is strictly limited to a small number of topics, most of which are rarely the object of academic research in the first place. Fourth, because decisions of the censor are subject, legally and in practice, to the scrutiny of the High Court of Justice. And fifth, because the ISA is scrupulous in indicating each and every case where information has been redacted. Researchers who object to specific decisions of redacting can, and do, request remedy first from me, then from the courts.
It's not a perfect world, and the conditions in Israel's archives are far from perfect as well. Yet we are making dramatic improvements in the services we offer, and are rapidly approaching an unparalleled level of openness. We are promoting academic freedom, not violating it. By throwing open the archives to innovative uses and new segments of the public we hope to encourage new research and new researchers.
Precisely the opposite of your fears.
As agreed upon with Ms. Sara L. Palmer of the University of Arizona, I request you publish this response at any venue in which you published your letter of April 19th.
Dr. Yaacov Lozowick
Archivist of the State of Israel

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Graven Images" in Jerusalem? The Story of the Menorah near the Knesset, a Gift from the British Friends of Israel

The menorah near the Knesset building in Givat Ram.
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office, 2005

At the beginning of the 1950s, relations between Israel and Britain, the former mandatory power in Palestine, were still cool.  Lord Edwin Samuel, the son of Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner for Palestine, and MP Clement Davies, leader of the Liberal party, decided to sponsor a project to produce a bronze menorah as a gift from the friends of Israel in Britain to the Knesset, Israel's parliament. 

Benno Elkan with the model of the menorah in his London studio.
Photograph: Tamar Hayardeni, Wikimedia
Some 400 MPs and other public figures and organizations donated £20,000 to finance the work of sculptor Benno Elkan, a Jewish refugee from Germany.

On 15 April 1956, at the start of Israel's eighth Independence Day, the menorah was unveiled  at a ceremony in downtown Jerusalem, near the building of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Knesset speaker Joseph Sprinzak received the gift, which stood four metres high and was decorated with scenes from Jewish history from the days of the patriarchs until the Holocaust and the founding of Israel. British Ambassador Sir John Nicholls and Clement Davies also took part in the ceremony. Today, 60 years later, we present photographs of the menorah from the ISA's recently digitized collection of photographs by Yehuda Eisenstark. We also show documents from the collection of Chief Rabbi Isaac Yitzhak Halevy Herzog, reflecting the controversy in religious circles over the gift.
This video clip shows a newsreel on the unveiling and other events of Independence Day in 1956

The menorah was placed in a small park near the Knesset building, Beit Frumin. On 10 May 1956 Yehuda Eisenstark (1912-2005) who studied photography and journalism in his home town of  Lvov in East Galicia and came to Palestine in 1939, took these views of the menorah.

Like the menorah symbol of the state, the Knesset menorah was designed to symbolize the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, in contrast to the captured Temple menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome. From the beginning of the project religious circles expressed reservations for two reasons: the prohibition on making a seven branched candelabrum like that used in the Temple, and the fear that the design would include human figures, because of the prohibition on worshipping graven images. Eventually it was decided to seek an opinion from Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, and the papers of Rabbi Herzog held in the ISA include an article which he published on the subject in the halachic journal "Sinai". 

Herzog decided that the menorah was permissible under certain conditions, and his brother-in-law David Hillman, a London-based artist, spoke to Elkan to make sure that these conditions were met. They included making sure that the figures on the menorah were in bas relief and not free standing, and that all of them were suitably clothed. The menorah would not include any container for oil, to make clear that it was not intended for use (File P4243/4) .

In the event, the unveiling of the menorah was not accompanied by any public protests. In 1966 it was moved to its present site near the new Knesset building in Givat Ram.