Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Independence Day, 2013: From Declaration to Reality - A Joint Project with the Center for Educational Technology

Next week, Israel will celebrate the 65th anniversary of its independence. In 2008, the Israel State Archives marked the 60th anniversary in a joint exhibition with the Israel Museum, "Blue and White Pages," which centered on Israel's Declaration of Independence, the most important document held by the Archives. In the absence of a constitution, the Declaration laid down the principles by which the new state was to be conducted. The exhibition, which included documents in Hebrew and English, reached a large audience, including tourists and groups of high school students.

The Declaration of Independence
This year, the ISA has produced an online exhibition for teachers and students, in a joint project with the Center for Educational Technology. A selection of documents shows how Israel and its citizens met the challenge of turning the principles of the Declaration into reality in the first two decades of the state, ending with the Six Day War. It covers a variety of subjects: immigration and absorption, religion and state, social problems, relations with the Arab minority, Israel's wars and foreign policy, and many more.

The 120 documents include government meetings, Knesset debates, letters from public figures and private citizens, reports, memoranda and laws, photographs, illustrations, audio and video films. They are all in Hebrew, but we will describe some of them here.

Today we showcase an example of a little-known episode of Israel's history, which sheds further light on our post on President Izhak Ben-Zvi and his refusal to accept a salary raise. Israel in the 1950s and 60s faced many economic problems, among them the deficit in the balance of payments and demands by different sectors for pay increases. However it was also a small and close-knit society, with a strong sense of solidarity and willingness to make sacrifices.

In a letter from February 1966, workers in the Israel Military Industries agreed to give up 5% of their wages ­– if all the workers would do the same. This letter was part of a movement led by a group of university lecturers for voluntary wage cuts, during the economic recession which hit Israel in 1965-6. In the Israel State Archives commemorative volume about Prime Minister Levi Eshkol you can read more about this movement, which demanded that the government attack inflation and reduce the deficit by decreasing its expenditure. The government actually agreed.

Eshkol spoke to the nation on the radio on February 21, calling for restraint in Israel's standard of living. Prosperity had led many sections of society to a frenzy in which each grabbed what it could. He praised the wage cut movement and read out a letter from Avraham Shapira, a disabled war veteran, who had returned a large back payment given after his pension was raised, since he thought the country could not afford it. Eshkol ended with the appeal: "If you are really worried about your tomorrow – do something for it today!"

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol
However the movement did not last long. It was abandoned after the recession led to widespread unemployment, which only ended after the Six Day War.

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