Friday, August 31, 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
A Honeymoon Goes Sour: The Crisis Between the Israeli Government and Willy Brandt's West Germany after the Munich Massacre
The election of Willy Brandt as Chancellor of West Germany in October 1969 led to a steady improvement in relations with Israel. Brandt had been a member of the anti-Nazi resistance and as head of the Social Democrat party was a friend of many leaders of the governing Israeli Labor party. His good relations with the Soviets meant he could serve as a channel for messages about the issue of Jewish emigration; West Germany with its strong economy was very important in Israel's relations with the Common Market, and in particular, Israeli Prime Minister Golda wanted to strengthen her ties with Brandt and other Social Democratic leaders in Europe and to put Brandt at the head of this group. Golda was dubious as to the ability of the Great Powers to bring about a Middle East settlement and wanted Brandt and Israel's European friends to be more involved. At the same time, she wanted Germany to block proposals for a settlement unfavorable to Israel by other European countries.
Throughout 1972, the two kept up a correspondence on political issues and Golda invited Brandt to visit Israel. On September 4, a day before the Munich massacre, she sent Brandt a letter urging him not to assist initiatives which might harm new chances of progress on a settlement that had arisen after the expulsion of the Soviet military advisers from Egypt (see our earlier blogpost).
On this backdrop, the Munich disaster raised major questions about Israel's relations with Germany. The documents in the publication show that the Israeli government went through three stages. At the beginning, they made every effort to prevent anger over the botched German rescue attempt harming these relations, and to restrain expressions of anti-German feeling in Israel and among Jews abroad. General elections were about to take place in Germany, and the decision-makers in Israel had no interest in harming Brandt's chances of re-election. On September 6, the government decided to praise Germany's decision not to give in to the terrorists and to try to free the hostages by force. Golda even wrote personally to labor leader Yitzhak Ben-Aharon to prevent attacks on Germany at a trade union congress.
Upon the return of Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who was in Munich during the rescue attempt as the representative of the government, the tone of the Israeli reaction began to change. His damning report led Golda to regret the friendly message she had sent Brandt earlier and the praises in the government statement. She sent Brandt another message demanding a speedy investigation. Furthermore, the differences between Zamir's written report and the report of the German inquiry led to a chain of reactions, accusations and counter-accusations by German and Israeli bodies involved in the affair. Nevertheless, a friendly and business-like tone was maintained.
A major crisis in West German-Israeli relations came at the end of October, after the German government surrendered to the demands of Palestinian terrorists who hijacked a Lufthansa plane and freed the three surviving terrorists from the Munich massacre. The Israeli ambassador to Bonn was recalled for "consultations", the Knesset and the government bitterly condemned the German actions and the public and Knesset members attacked Germany with "no holds barred", even bringing up that country's Nazi past.
Even so, the Prime Minister made it clear that nothing would be done to harm Israel's interests, which included relations with Germany. After intense diplomatic activity, these relations returned to their former course, reaching a peak in Chancellor Brandt's visit to Israel in the summer of 1973.
The publication itself is too long for a blog format: it's essentially a small book. We encourage our readers to find the half hour and read the introductory essay; dipping into the documents themselves will require more than one language though Hebrew is the main one. In the coming days we'll publish focussed looks at segments of the publication, along with short translations into English of sections of some of the Hebrew (or perhaps German) documents. (Here's the first of the followup posts)
The sections of the publication are:
The initial reports of the attack reach Israel
The decision not to halt the Olympic games
Initial Israeli attempts to dampen anti-German sentiment in Israel
Zvi Zamir, head of Mossad, reports bitterly from Munich
Hans Dietrich Genscher, Germay's foreign minster, down-plays Zamir's report
Israel investigates its own failures
Golda Meir: Perhaps I ought to resign, but the turmoil would be too great
The Knesset: go get the murderers!
Abba Eban: the German release of the surviving terrorists condemns future Israelis to death
Monday, August 27, 2012
But no, surprisingly. There were two meetings that week, on June 14th and June 16th, and they mostly dealt with security and war-related matters; since the protocols don't give details on these topics, these two particlar ones are rather frustrating. This series, remember, presents the protocols, not the stenograms, and they compress what may have been long and fascinating meetings into one- or two-page summaries. (Someday we'll start a series of putting the stenograms online, but today isn't that day).
So what non-security matters were discussed? David Remez was tasked with ensuring that Israel woud join the international mail protocols. And the minister of justice was tasked with preparing two draft versions of laws to protect plants and to regulate citrus crops. On the edge of the military-civilian divide, Ben Gurion told about efforts to promote various matters whle the guns were silent: paving a road to Jerusalem and bringing in food (the populace was on the verge of starvation), while preventing mass departure from the city. Improving the army's organization and training. Setting up new settlements. In addition, various subcommittees were set up to deal with various sensitive topics.
During the meeting of June 16th a number of ministers posed questions about various things that troubled them - equality of food distribution in Jerusalem, and who is doing what in empty Arab villages; fascinating as the questions might be, Ben Gurion responded that he'd have to find out and the protocol supplies no answers.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
The venue is in the building that was once the home of Meir Dizengoff, one of the founders of Tel Aviv and its first mayor. Late in life he bequeathed it to the city, and it served as an art museum. In recent years, one must admit, it has largely gone downhill, in spite of its importance and central location on Rothschild Avenue. Over the next few months it will be given a face-lift; in the background there's already a team working on a major redesign so as to restore its ability to tell its story in an adequate way. This restoration will take a few years.
Anyway, the first part of any construction project always has to be putting up a sign, which has been done.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Madam Prime Minister, did you honestly mean what you said? Or have you changed your mind? The entire people is following with deep anxiety the signs and reports of erosion in the government's position, in the face of the war of attrition by the murderous Syrians and the false and misleading policy of the American secretary of state – who is tempting us to enter a fatal trap.
At this late hour we call on you, before the fateful decision is taken […]to stop the deteriorationto prevent the execution of the plan bringing forward the destruction of the stateto prevent the withdrawal from the GolanDon't give a prize to the aggressors!Don't give bases to the Syrian artillery!Don't breach the wall of the settlements!Don't abandon the Golan!Don't endanger Israel's security!"
The second meeting took place on October 3rd 1967, and dealt almost entirely with one single topic, with one odd exception described below. That topic was the plaza in front of the Western Wall. There were essentially two proposals. One called for dividing the plaza into two sections, a lower one in front of the Wall for prayer, and a higher one behind it for visitors. The other proposal called for one single sloped plaza. Then there were side issues, such as where to put public toilets, whether paving the plaza would create permanence, and whether this was a good thing or if the assumption was that there would be a subsequent stage of development which ought not now be pre-empted. The members of the committee were unhappy that the Ministry of Religious Affairs (which, interestingly, was not represented on the committee) was already digging at the site, lowering the the level of the plaza and thus raising the hieght of the Wall. Clearly, there were different opinions at this stage about the jusridiction of the area.
It's also interesting to note that the committee assumed there would be a portable mechitza, partition, to be used during times of services betwen men and women, but moved aside at other times.
At the end of the meeting some of the members went off together to visit the site. Before setting off, however, they quickly dealt with one other matter, qouted here in its entirety:
A request to repair a kitchen. Ibrahim E. in the el-Saadiya neighborhood of the Old City requests permission to repair his kitchen which was destroyed during the Six Day War. The committee authorized the request on the condition that an engineer confirm the safety of the construction.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
The first meeting was mostly procedural. As we follow the meetings of the subcommittee in future posts, let's hope some of them are dramatic and all are significant. (I've only read the first two myself). This one started with a discussion about how many consultants to hire (many) and how often to convene (weekly, for the time being).
There was a statement of principle, about how all construction in East Jerusalem must be done in accordance to the Israeli procedures, licences and zoning rules. (This did not happen).
Finally, near the end of the meeting the members got into a discussion about a specific matter: the future of the Western Wall: what should the open space in front of it look like? Terraced? Sloping down? Paved? Where should the public toilets be? Everyone agreed that the area should be done correctly, but they didn't manage to agree what that might mean. So they made two decisions. One, to relate to the entire area from the Wall down to Dung Gate. And two, to send some of the members and consultants over to have a look and come back with proposals.
Source: file גל-4010/18
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Predictably, many Muslims were convinced the fire was an Israeli plot, and the subsequent trial and conviction of Rohan failed to dent this conviction. Daniel Pipes has a list of links to Arab and Muslim websites which continue to propagate this myth; here's a link to what appears to be a Palestinian (or pro-Palestinian) website which offers such a narrative even today.
The fire and the imagined threat to Al Aksa seem to have been the immediate motivation for a large Muslim convention a few weeks later, out of which grew the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest international grouping after the UN.
Meanwhile Israel's cabinet had a series of meetings about the incident. The transcripts and decisions were top secret, but since they happened a long time ago, and the incitement is still ongoing, it's interesting to look behind the scenes.
The cabinet convened on the day of the fire and decided to set up a commission of inquiry with the participation of a justice of the Supreme Court; to have the army lead the efforts to maintain public peace; to ensure peaceful services in the Mosque on the coming Friday, and to publish a statement. The statement was attached to the cabinet decision, and included a condemnation of the attack, but also a demand that it not be used to incite against Jews or Israel, mentioning that there had been previous fires at the mosque, most recently under Jordanian rule in 1963.
On August 31, the cabinet decided Rohan's trial should take place as soon as possible; to delegate the discussion of the security measures on the Temple Mount to a sub-committee of ministers; and to improve the fire prevention capabilities at the Holy Places.
On the same day (August 31, 1969), the Minister's Committee on Jerusalem convened and decided that two top civil servants would meet the heads of the local churches and explain that their participation in the condemnation of "Israeli aggression" is incitement; meet the heads of the Muslim institutions and discuss the issues; and also prepare a full discussion in the cabinet of Israel's relations with the religious leaders (Muslims and Christians) in Jerusalem.
On September 25th 1969, the same committee appointed Police General Shaul Rosolio to prepare a detailed plan to secure the mosques, churches and other major holy places in Jerusalem, including the option of setting up a specific police unit for this purpose. In addition, Rosolio was to meet the Muslim authorities and determine how to re-open the gates to the Temple Mount.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Against this background the Ministry of Tourism made a film showing how beautiful everything was. Two photogenic young singers, Shula Chen and Gadi Yagil, were put on a scooter and sent around the country, singing popular songs as they went. We can raise an eyebrow at the naivety of it all; or we can raise the other eyebrow at the simplicity of the country as it then was, not to mention the outlandish idea of a young couple touring the country on a scooter; or we can lean back and remember that: yes, such a film wasn't nearly as outlandish then as it seems now.
Except for the section in Jerusalem. For that section, you really have to know what you're looking at to see how much the town has changed - because most of the section was filmed in the Old City, and the Old City, being Old, hasn't changed all that much in the flicker of time which is half a century.
Some statistics: in 1968 there were fewer than 3,000,000 people living in Israel, alongside fewer than one million in the West Bank, Gaza, Golan and Sinai; Jerusalem had a total population of about 250,000. There was one "skyscraper", the Migdal Shalom tower in Tel Aviv (briefly seen in the section of the film).
In the late 1950s and well into the 1960s Chacham was something of a cultural hero in Israel, for an achievement which today wouldn't garner more than 15 minutes of fame: he knew the Bible almost by heart, and demonstrated his knowledge by winning various national and international contests in the late 1950s. (The contests required of the participants to retrieve sentences or parts of them from all over the Bible in the original Hebrew, so the international contests were sort of like the Baseball World Series: they were only notionally international).
Reconnecting the Jews to the Bible was one of the many aspects of Zionism, enabled by the resurrecting of Hebrew as a living language for daily use, and connected to the return of the Jews to the very hills and valleys on which the Biblical stories had played out. There was also a socio-political aspect, expressed by no-one more adamantly than David Ben Gurion: the Bible is the story of the Jews as a normal nation, and it’s time to return to the normality while reading the immortal book about it.
Here's a letter Ben Gurion wrote on April 10th 1954 to Moshe Haim Gevaryahu, a prominent Bible scholar:
The letter was published in our book of documents about Ben Gurion, and includes a photograph of Gvaryahu, President Shazar, Golda Meir and others listening to Ben Gurion giving a speech about the Bible in 1963.
Did it work out as the Old Man intended? Well, not really, though that's a topic for a different blog than this one. Jews are complicated, and if there has been a steep rise in the study of traditional Jewish books, the steepest rise has been in the study of the Talmud, a layer of Jewish creativity Ben Gurion saw no need to celebrate. Just two weeks ago 90,000 people convened on the MetLife Staduim in New Jersey to celebrate the completion on the 12th cycle of studying Daf Yomi, a program in which people throughout the Jewish world study the entire Talmud in seven and a half years, all doing the same page each day. No-one knows precisely how many people participate in this program, but the number is in the hundreds of thousands. So the rejuvenation of the Jews in the past sixty years, ironically, seems to have enhanced the study of what Ben Gurion might have regarded as the "wrong" part of the national heritage. Except that much of the Talmud was created in this land, and its creators, there can be no doubt, all knew the entire Bible by heart. (I once wrote about the Daf Yomi program here).
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Kissinger's virtuoso diplomacy aroused both criticism and admiration, but left few indifferent. The agreement with Syria about which we wrote here yesterday was one of his most impressive achievements. You can see more about this and other Middle East negotiations in FRUS Volume 26 which is available online. We hope in a few months to present a publication of documents from our archives on the Israeli side in these talks.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Golda Meir to Kissinger, May 1974: "The only natural resource that we can build on is the spirit of the people"
In its third week of existence, Israel's provisional cabinet was very busy, and convened four times, on Sunday (May 30th), Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (June 4th). The deliberations continued to focus on the nitty-gritty of creating a functioning administration, running a war and negotiating a peace, forging relations with other countries, and the minutiae of symbols.
Eliezer Kaplan reported on the work of a committee which was drawing the jurisdictions of the various ministries (probation officers will be in the ministry of welfare; citizenship in the ministry of the interior; marriages and divorces in the ministry of religious affairs, and so on). These are not insignificant matters: deciding that marriages are a religious matter rather than a civil one, for example, reflects a value system, as does the understanding of what system probation officers are part of.
Two other overlapping topics were the ongoing discussion of how to respond to UN pressure to agree to a cease-fire, and the legal status of territories beyond the 1947 partition lines: if everyone stops and goes back to the partition plan, so will Israel; until then, here's how we'll apply our law to the newly acquired areas.
Ah, yes: and the British income tax laws will stay in place for the time being. You can't have a functioning state without taxes.
Tuesday June 1st 1948: The cabinet discussed putative terms for accepting a UN cease-fire. The principle was that fighting must cease, new arms must not be brought in (this was a UN demand), but that military achievements not be whittled away.
The government needs a loan. ($8,000,000, which was a lot in those days and in this country).
The Lehi organization has merged into the national army. The Etzel seemed close, but the negotiations weren't quite completed. The Etzel wished to preserve a measure of identity within the larger army. The government authorized a version of an agreement. As we know, this matter was not fully resolved, as the Altalena story would dramatically demonstrate within a few weeks.
Wednesday, June 2 1948: the government dealt with a series of administrative matters.
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the first and last days of Sukkot and Pessach, along with Shavuot, were decreed to be vacation days. On the other hand, a committee was formed to decide what the work hours of the ministries would be. (The wags might say: well, the hours of employees being in their offices, at least). There was discussion of a law describing the operations of the courts, the line between military and civil authority, the name of the ministry of agriculture (the upshot of the discussion was that its name would remain unchanged) and other such mundane matters which an administration needs to have so as to function.
Borders: the cabinet reiterated its commitment to the partition plan only if the other side accepted the plan. This matter, as we're seeing in this series, preoccupied the cabinet frequently, almost daily.
The name of the section of Tel Aviv in which some of the ministries resided was changed from the German Sarona to the Hebrew Hakirya.
On Friday June 4th the cabinet reconvened for the sole purpose of hearing reports about the war and the negotiations with the UN. No decisions were made.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
On November 15 that year Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban responded in a letter to the UN Secretary General.
Letters such as these, written by diplomats for diplomats, need not be taken as the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, just as many utterances of many officials and other people often need to be understood as statements of positions in context. One of the primary tasks of the historian is to seek contrasting sources and try to evaluate them and reach a plausible interpretation. Thus when Eban notes, for example, that the number of East Jerusalem voters who participated in the municipal election of 1969 was greater than the total of eligible voters in Jordanian Jerusalem, his facts are correct. Under the Jordanians only some 5,000 propertied citizens could vote, and then the mayor was appointed by the government anyway. Yet his statement elides the fact that most East Jerusalem eligible voters didn't, in practice, use their eligibility.
Of course, when Eban ridicules the UN position that Jerusalem must be returned to its June 1967 circumstances, he's quite right. Dividing the city with a hostile and at times violent border, preventing any Jews and all Israelis including the Arab ones from reaching the holy sites in the Old City, and even merely pretending that time wasn't happening and that no municipal policies could be undertaken, was not a serious option, no matter how many members of the UNSC voted for it.
The most interesting part of the entire discussion, however, at the UN and in Israel's response, is the total lack of any mention of the Palestinians. The word is never mentioned in either document, nor does there seem to be anyone in the discussion giving them any thought as a nation (as a community and as individuals, the Arabs of East Jerusalem are of course mentioned). This is not intended as a reflection on any current debate, merely as a historical note: in late 1971 the international community was very interested in Jerusalem, but was not thinking about the Palestinians as a partner to the discussion.
Monday, August 13, 2012
So here's a letter by Ben Gurion. It's not one of the weighty ones, in which he defined Israeli society for generations. On the other hand, it is rather startling. On May 10th 1962, Ben Gurion was responding to a letter from Drora Levitin, whose soldier brother, Amnon Lifschitz, had recently been killed. Levitin's letter was bitter and angry, and Ben Gurion must have responded in his own words: no staff writer would have dared put the letter's sentiments into the mouth of the prime minsiter. Come to think of it, not that many leaders would have used such words themselves, either. It's a profoundly human letter, but there are no apologetics in it, nor any weasel words or cliches.
I read your letter with a shudder and deep sorrow. I empathize with you, and although I can't say I share your pain for the loss of your brother Amnon Lifschitz - that would be an insincere exaggeration - while reading your letter I nonetheless felt the brunt of your pain and sorrow.
Nor can I say that there is no basis for your bitterness. Not all your complaints are justified. When you ask "if it's just that able-bodied soldiers serve in Sarafend or Sdeh Dov [two "safe" bases near Tel Aviv] because they have important fathers," you aren't justified. I cannot explain in this letter why some soldiers are based here and others there. No-one can say all the arrangements in the army are ideal and that there's no room for improvement. There's no such thing. Yet some soldiers need to be in Sarafend, and when there's need to send them elsewhere they go, and sometimes they don't all return alive. Yet they get sent, and they go.
I have focused on that particular sentence in your letter, because in your all too natural grief you said something about our soldiers which they don't deserve. There are no soldiers in the army who are preferred because of their fathers. In saying this I am not angry at you, because I understand the deep grief which speaks from your throat. Yet I must disagree, because you are wrong.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about most of the other things in your letter.
What I can say to your complaints - and there's no need for you to apologize for writing "in pain and bitterness" - is that we don't yet live in an ideal system that would have prevented your brother's tragic death. We're doing our best, with some success, but we're still very far from where we'd wish to be...
You're fully correct on one point: the bereaved mother deserves consoling words, though what words might I say that would console her? I know a bit about mothers' hearts, and there is nothing - except the existence of the nation - which perturbs me more in my work as minister of defense than the pain mothers may suffer in this or that action we must take...
I know I can't argue with you. I must regard these matters rationally, and that I can't demand of you; as a bereaved sister, I cannot require you to apply cool logic. Nor, I'm afraid, will I be able to mitigate your pain; such pain isn't to be mitigated.
I haven't responded to all your complaints; but I'd wish to remove your anger at the army and the soldiers. We have nothing more precious than this army, because our existence depends on it. I regret this. I wish we could live surrounded by peace, and not need this army, but that's not the reality. If our army isn't ideal - no army is - we needn't be ashamed of it. Believe me, dear Drora, even you, a bereaved sister, have nothing to be ashamed of by our army.
D. Ben Gurion
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Here's an example from the rich and varied website of NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, the archives of the American federal government: a draft of a statement to be read by President Nixon in the tragic event of an accident which would prevent the return to Earth of Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, the first two astronauts to land on the moon, 43 years ago this month. (The link comes from this page.) The statement was written by William Safire - and interestingly, the scenario it envisions is that the two men are still alive, just not able to get back.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Kollek was a larger-than-life sort of person, as this fine obituary from The Independant demonstrates. He was also famous for dosing off while listening to other peoples' speeches, so that fact that his interviewer describes him as being tired is merely par to the course. The interview itself is important in that it seems to offer a candid presentation of how Kollek saw Jerusalem a month after it's liberation, with a combination of small details and a very large picture. Interestingly, he doesn't dwell on the historical importance of Jewish control over the entire city or related philosophical matters; what fired him up was the opportunity to create a city in which Jews and Arabs would successfully live together, and his intentions of making that happen.
It didn't happen in the way he described, but given that making predictions is always hard and especially predictions about the future, his thoughts at the time are no less interesting.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Well, if you thought that the formation of a national committee of inquiry into Israeli Olympic performance was merely a quirk of history, you were wrong. After a series of failures by Israeli athletes and this year's delegation's failure thus far to secure a single medal, an Israeli sports op-ed columnist calls for ... an official commission of inquiry into Israel's Olympic performance. "Sports Minister Limor Livnat," writes Avinoam Porat, "you need to establish a state commission of inquiry to uncover the reasons for failure."
If we archivists may be so bold as to as to offer some friendly advice to today's editorialists and disappointed Israeli sports fans, though, we can do no better than the Cowboy from "The Big Lebowski": "Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you." Sports, we should remember, sometimes involves losing too.
Some of it's legalese, and some of it's technical. But the crux of the matter is simple. Had RFK lived a normal life span, upon leaving whatever final official office he might have held the papers in his office would have been sent to the archives; over time they would have been catalogued, de-classified and opened to the public. Tragically, that's not the way it happened, and after his assassination the archivists and the family reached an agreement which must have reflected the emotional sensitivity of the matter, but didn't serve the public interest; almost 50 years later some extremely important (and most likely fascinating) documents are hidden away in a private Kennedy installation and no-one has access to them.
It would be nice to say that such things never happen in Israel, and departing politicians never take official documents with them, nor do their survivors hold onto the files because they don't have them in the first place. It would be nice, but alas, it wouldn't be true.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
At the height of the policy, however, the government was very serious about it, and set up the inevitable bureaucracy needed to run and enforce it. Here's one document illustrating what that meant. On March 24th 1949 Eliyah Frumczenko, the general manager of the Elite chocolate factory in Tel Aviv sent an irate letter to Eliezer Kaplan, the Minister of Finance, as well as to assorted other top officials, explaing that the emerging policy of prohibiting him from producing high-quality chocolate pralines was imbecilic (he used politer language but the sentiment is quite clear.)
The chocolate industry is one of the few industries in the contry which has managed to rise above basic quality and thereby to export its produce... The main difference between basic chocolate and high-quality pralines is the labor-intensive designing and shaping of each praline. If you forbid us to make them we'll have to fire hndreds of highly qualified workers, and we'll lose our markets abroad... This year we expect 20,000 foreign tourists: what do you think tourists buy as presents for their local hosts? Chocolate! And what do you think they buy as presents for their friends and families when they return home? Chocolate! Your decree is about to cost us anywhere between IL 100,000-250,000! Our exported chocolate is proof of the value of Israeli industrial products; if you forbid us to produce it, you'll be harming the reputation of the whole country. You must prevent this economic and moral damage!
Monday, August 6, 2012
The content of the reports from the 1948 battlefields didn't make it into the protocols, merely the fact that there were such reports (given by Ben Gurion himself apparently). Greater attention is given, however, to the attempt to end the fighting by a UN resolution. Someday someone needs to write a book about how UN resolutions have added urgency to some military campaigns (and not to others) by adding the option of ordering the sides to desist. (Imagine what the 30 Years War might have looked like had there been a Security Council!) The Israel-Arab war of 1948 was once of the first where the UN had a role.
What the role was, though, isn't clear. The first cease-fire of the war started on June 30th, not in May, and much of what seems to have been happening in the cabinet was posturing: Israel will stop if the other side stops; but Israel won't stop if stopping means the Jordanian will control Jerusalem.
The institution building component of the protocols is straightforward, but interesting for its sequence and the fact that it took place with a backdrop of a war for the very existence of the state. First, the backdrop: it doesn't seem to have made any difference. The ministers went about the process of creating institutions or promulgating the decrees needed to activate them as if there was no war going on. It's impossible to know from these protocols if they worried about the possibility that there'd be no state to need the institutions, but if they did, it doesn't show. True, one of the first decrees created the IDF. But there was also a vote on whether to create a ministry of religious affairs (Yes, by a 5-3 vote), and to send one of the ministers to come back with a proposal for the logo of the state-run train company. The ministers also decided that the judges who had functioned under the British Mandate would now function as Israeli judges, and the protocol includes all their names. Six of the 20-some had Mizrachi names, since you asked, and none were Arab: one assumes the Mandate-appointed Arabs were expected to be judges in the other country.
There was also the issue of physical locations of the ministries. Shoud they all be in the Sarona part of Tel Aviv, or might it be more circumspect to spread them around? Jerusalem was not feasible at this point because it was mostly cut off from the rest of the country.
Finally, the politics: by the end of their second week in office, the ministers had yet to determine who would head which ministry - a standard quandary for all Israeli prime ministers ever since. Though, truth be told, at least in this case they had the reasonable excuse that the ministries themselves hadn't yet been created, at least not as official national institutions. So they set up committees, and sub-committees, and working groups, and they deliberated away. By the end of the week everyone knew that Ben Gurion would be minister of defense in addition to being prime minster, but one of the committees (four members) was given the task of negotiating the terms he was demanding.
Prof. Yosef Klausner, whom we've identified with your help last week; he may be a guest of honor, if you note his high-backed chair and positioning immediately in front of the speaker.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
There must be serious explanations for the inclination of young Israelis to backpack in large numbers in India and Sri Lanka, Central- and South America, New Zealand, and recently Vietnam and Laos. One overlooked explanation - or demonstration, at any rate - is that Israelis have been trekking up and down the hills for as long as they've been Israelis.
Here are two films, one from 1963 and the other from 1970, of the marches the grandparents of today's hikers embarked upon. Those were simpler days, the ethos of the travel was strikingly different, and the paved roads were narrower - but perhaps the urge may have been the same.
Friday, August 3, 2012
The Passing of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and a Look Back at his Friendship with Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Herzog
Two weeks ago, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the spiritual leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community and a renowned halakhic decisor, passed away at the age of 102. Not many know that Rabbi Elyashiv served from the early 1950s through the 70s as a judge in the rabbinical courts of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate--first in the district court of Jerusalem and afterward in the Great Rabbinical Court there. Likewise, few are aware that Elyashiv was personally close with the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Herzog, who selected him for those appointments. Herzog was a famed Zionist rabbi of great Jewish learning, and also a man of vast secular knowledge with a doctorate from the University of London. Thus, the relationship between him and Rabbi Elyashiv, a Haredi rabbi who was not a Zionist, is a matter of some fascination.
The State Archives contains several interesting papers documenting Rabbi Elyashiv's work as a judge, as well as his connection with Rabbi Herzog. Here we offer a sampling of these to the general public. Most of the documents are drawn from Rabbi Herzog's personal archive, a choice selection of which can be found on the web site of the State Archives. The first document is an official letter from the Chief Rabbinate to Rabbi Elyashiv from the end of 1950 informing him of the decision to appoint him as an acting member of the Jerusalem rabbinical court. It is signed by Rabbi Herzog and the Sefardic Chief Rabbi of the time, Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel. The next document is a section from a letter from 1951 written by Rabbi Elyashiv to Rabbi Herzog in which he praises him for freeing an agunah (a woman unable to remarry according to Jewish law), and refers to Rabbi Herzog with the august honorific "עטרת צבי וצפירת תפארה הגאון האמיתי" ("The crown of nobility and beacon of splendor, the true genius"). The archives also contain several halakhic responsa written by Rabbi Elyashiv. Here is one from 1954 on the subject of sending a get (religious writ of divorce) and a corresponding letter from Rabbi Herzog commenting on this responsum.
All of the documents above are typed, but the archives also possess a selection of handwritten letters from Rabbi Elyashiv, most of which relay to Rabbi Herzog his opinions on various candidates for rabbinic ordination. Here is one such letter from 1958, for anyone who wishes to have a look at Rabbi Elyashiv's own handwriting.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
The ISA isn't the best place to go for documents about Wallenberg, since he lived, and probably died, before the creation of the State of Israel and his activity was elsewhere. Still, given his importance we did a spot of digging and came up with some documents. The first two, here and here, are telegrams from Nazi diplomats in Budapest, Otto von Erdmannsdorff and his boss Edmund Wesenmayer, from December 1944. Apparently someone in the Swedish embassy in Berlin had been asking if anyone had been threatening Wallenberg. Their answer: well, yes, Eichmann had, because Wallenberg was interfering with the efforts to deport the city's Jews, but his intention had been to frighten Wallenberg off, not to harm him. (These documents were collected from German sources in preparation for the Eichmann trial of 1961).
A month after Wesenmayer's telegram the Nazis were gone from Budapest, and Wallenberg had disappeared forever. He was arrested by Soviet troops, who seem to have been following the "arrest first and maybe somebody else might ask questions later and if not who cares" method.
Then there are these two telegrams from Moshe Er'el, Israel's ambassador to Sweden in the mid-1980s, reporting about efforts to find Wallenberg, if he's still alive in the Soviet Union, and if not to learn when he died. (The Soviets, according to Er'el, were still insisting he had died in 1947; Er'el was skeptical.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Today we're launching an additional series of a different type: the cabinet protocols. It will be marked with the "govt protocols" label.
Israel's cabinet generally meets once a week, normally on Sunday morning (which is the beginning of the work week, not part of the weekend). The discussions are transcribed in their entirety; the transcriptions are often dozens of pages long and at times many hundreds long. After each meeting a very brief protocol is published, from which one may learn about the topics of discussion and the decisions made. Nowadays the cabinet decisions are put online (Hebrew).
The transcripts themselves are classified, obviously, as they are in any country. Depending upon their sensitivity, declassification will be likely after 30 to 50 years, though some transcripts can be published early, and some sections of others will remain sealed for longer, of course.
Today we're starting to put online the short protocols of the cabinet session in a systematic way one ofter another. Some touch upon fascinating or memorable matters; others tell about forgotten meetings by forgotten officials about forgotten issues: much of the human endeavor is not preserved in communal or even individual memory. (Does anyone remember the daily concerns of Henry the II? How many people remember the existence of Henry the II, beyond that he came six Henry's before Mr. Eight?) Our assumption is that such an orderly presentation of the matters which reached the table of Israel's cabinet is in itself an interesting service to our readers, even without the full transcripts.
We may also start putting the full transcripts online, but those need to be waded through. They're quite wordy.
So here goes:
The first three meetings of the provisional government of Israel took place on May 16th, 19th and 20th, 1948. May 16th, you'll remember, was a Sunday morning; the previous Friday, May 14th, Ben Gurion had proclaimed the creation of the State of Israel; by Sunday morning the US had recognized the new state, and the neighbors had all invaded. The meeting that morning started with a mildly optimistic report about how the American recognition had happened, and what efforts were being made to acquire more recognitions. The first official decision was to approach the Arab governments.
Moshe Shertok, the acting foreign minister took upon himself to present a proposal for appointing ambassadors.
Ben Gurion reported on the state of the battlefields (after Shertok's report. An interesting sequence).
There was initial discussion of how to decide who would head what ministry.
Pinchas Rosenblit presented a draft decree of founding the State. (Unlike the declaration of the previous Friday, this was an essential legal neccessity).
Dr. Haim Wiezman was chosen as the provisional President.
May 19th 1948, five days into statehood and five days into the invasion:
Ben Gurion reported on the state of the war.
There was further discussion of the Founding Decree, with a few corrections.
David Remez was appointed to propose a flag and stamps. (Remember those?)
It was decided to have an aditional meeting the next day to decide about the ministries and ministers.
It was decided to demand naval assistance from the British to protect the ships bringing refugees from Cyprus - to which the British had deported them.
The Tel Aviv hospitals should be put under Red Cross auspices (Tel Aviv was being bombed).
May 20th, 6pm:
Reports from the war. Including a decision to enquire if the Soviet Union would be willing to send a diplomat to Israel, and also offer military support. Regarding the British, they were to be asked what its position was regarding the war with Transjordan.
The United Nations was to be informed that Israel would not respect the partition lines of 1947 unless there was an Arab partner (today we would call it a Palestinian state) as stipulated in the Partition Plan of 29th November 1947.
Three ambassadors were appointed: to the US, France, and Czechoslovakia.
The clock was turned forward by two hours.
A budget was allocated to remove women and children from some battle zones.
A legal device for the aquisition of Arab property was to be promulgated.
The flag would remain unchanged: that of the Zionist Movement.
A subcommitte of four was appointed to submit a plan for creation of ministries and appointment of ministers.
David Ben Gurion was appointed prime minister.