Monday, December 17, 2012

How Eleanor Roosevelt Became a Political Issue in Israel

Eleanor Roosevelt passed away fifty years ago last month. Some months later, Adlai Stevenson II, the US ambassador to the UN, requested of Zalman Shazar, Israel's President, that Israel strike a commemorative stamp in her honor. Shazar responded positively, and sent the matter on to the Ministry of Postal Services (there was such a thing).

The Postal Minister, Eliahu Sasson, brought the matter to the cabinet on November. 3, 1963. He thought it was a fine idea: true, Shazar hadn't consulted with anyone, but Roosevelt had been a friend of Israel, and according to Stevenson, 26 other countries had already accepted his request--and why not, anyway?

Why not indeed? Because Israel is a complicated little place. As the next speaker, Minister of Welfare Yosef Burg explained:
1.The president doesn't have the authority to tell us what to do.

2. We've decided repeatedly in the past not to commemorate individuals on stamps [for religious reasons, he implies].

3. True, there have been a small number of exceptions, but Stevenson's request wasn't aimed particularly at Israel, and so doesn't justify this being an exception.

4. An American on an Israeli stamp? And what happens when a letter with the stamp gets sent, perhaps, to someone in the Soviet Union?

5. The prime minster should look into the matter. If there's a polite way to refrain, we should.
The rest of the ministers were in favor for many reason's: Roosevelt was worthy, the president's honor, Stevenson's honor, a nice gesture for America's Jews, and so on. Eventually, even Moshe Haim Shapira, Burg's senior colleague from the National Religious Party, agreed that this might be a case for an exception to the rule about not putting faces on stamps, leaving Burg to mutter that Shazar's letter really ought to be looked at.

As such discussions go, it was over quickly (4 pages of stenogram). On the other hand, as such things go, it's doubtful if this was really a matter which should ever have been on the cabinet's agenda.

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