Sunday, December 22, 2013

When Nelson Mandela Met the Mossad

Over the weekend, there's been some media attention on a document pertaining to Israeli agents having contact with Nelson Mandela in 1962. Here's the document [link] (file חצ 3388/1):

For more information on Israel and Mandela, see the special publication presented by the Israel State Archives on December 8, 2013, on attempts to prevent a death sentence in the Rivonia Trial.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Israel Bans the Beatles

The Beatles in America (Wikipedia)
Attempts to bring the Beatles to Israel in the 1960s walked a long and winding road before the Liverpool lads were turned down by the Israeli committee in charge of hosting artists and performers.

Following vociferous public debates that reached as far as the High Court of Justice and the Knesset, the committee ultimately decided to keep the Beatles out of Israel. The band's music, they said, was of "no artistic value," and there was fear their phalanxes of fans might cause a security problem.

To mark 33 years since John Lennon's assassination in New York on December 8, 1980, we've published a number of documents from the Israel State Archives on this dispute. You can see the originals on our Hebrew blog here.

Why were the Beatles kept out of Israel? You could blame it on teen heartthrob and singer Cliff Richard, for one, whose 1963 appearance here had the committee recalling the madness that had accompanied the visit, as it often did on the Fab Four's itinerary, and worrying about a security risk.

Hundreds of crazed Cliff fans had gone to Ben-Gurion Airport to greet him and some even gathered on the tarmac. They welcomed him with screams and yells and the police were unable to keep order. That wild reception contributed to the fear of public disorder if The Beatles were allowed entry.

This, however, was only one of the reasons that the cultural committee--established in the mid-fifties, and tasked with coordinating bringing performers to Israel and evaluating their artistic level, as well as preventing problems during their performances--opposed The Beatles's visit.

The decision was presided over by then-Education Ministry Director-General Yaakov Schneider, father of future left-wing MK and education minister Yossi Sarid.

"There is some kind of fable that my father prevented The Beatles from entering Israel," Sarid said in an interview on Ynet in 2008. "I tried to look into it and didn't find any evidence to support this. I decided, however, that it's a nice legend, so who am I to destroy it?

"I assume that they told my father, who wasn't a great Beatles expert, that the band members have long hair and take drugs, and will surely corrupt Israeli youth."

The committee included representatives from the Education, Finance, and Interior ministries, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and other government bodies. Deputy Education Ministry Director-General Avner Israeli headed it, and their work revolved mostly around the Israeli promoters, or as they were called, "the impresarios."

In January 1964, Israeli promoters Avraham Bugtier and Ya'acov Ori asked the committee for approval to invite The Beatles to perform here.

The committee turned them down on the grounds that it feared the band would have a bad influence on Israeli youth (Document 1). The two appealed the decision in February. A month later, the committee decided not to allow John, Paul, George and Ringo to perform in the Holy Land because the band's music was of no artistic value and its appearances had led to mass hysteria among the youth where they performed. That decision (Document 3) was based on numerous foreign and local newspaper articles about the group and impressions of the Foreign Ministry's Division for Cultural Relations.

It prompted Baruch Gilon, head of the Israeli promoters association, to write a letter of protest to committee chairman Israeli. He accused the committee of overstepping its authority, arguing it had not been authorized to judge the artistic level of any bands. He asked the committee to retract the ban and allow The Beatles to appear, adding that the committee's authority was limited to matters of values and security (Document 3). In response, the Education Ministry's legal adviser wrote that the committee had explicitly been formed -- based on the original letter outlining its responsibilities -- to "ensure the professional level" of performers appearing in Israel.

In August 1964, committee chairman Israeli wrote to the two promoters that even a Washington official dealing with youth had called for banning the group from performing, based on problems that had occurred at their concerts: rioting, mass hysteria (teenage girls screaming, fainting, and massing in places where the group was scheduled to appear), causing injuries and the need for police intervention. No serious promoter should take the risks that accompanied The Beatles concerts, he argued.

In response to a letter of protest (Document 4) from a teenage girl expressing her disappointment over the committee's ban, the Education Ministry spokesman wrote that in this case it was not a matter of the generation gap between the "square" older people and the youth. It was not an attempt to deny them pleasure, the spokesman wrote, but a real fear of negative phenomena which had accompanied the band's appearances elsewhere.

The Beatles debate made it as far as the High Court of Justice. In April 1965, it ruled that the committee indeed had the authority to ban foreign performers and bands from abroad from performing in Israel.

In February 1966, the Beatles issue even rocked the Knesset. MK Uri Avneri posed a parliamentary question to Deputy Education Minister Aharon Yadlin regarding the committee's reasons for not allowing the Beatles to perform in Israel (Document 5). He explained that the band members, who had also become favorites with members of the British establishment, had even received awards from the Queen.

In his response, Yadlin too noted the band's low artistic level. "From an artistic standpoint, this group of singers has no real value," he said, adding that the mass hysteria that broke out when they appeared would require the call-up of many police. He concluded by noting that Beatles performances in other parts of the world ended in brawls, sending some people to the hospital.

The dispute over The Beatles reflects how the band was perceived by the Israeli establishment. The committee, as a representative body of that establishment, expressed in its decision its fear of foreign influence and the undermining of Israeli youth's values.

In the end, however, the Israeli government saw the error of its ways. At a ceremony at The Beatles Museum in Liverpool in January 2008, Israeli Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor met with John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird, and presented her with an official letter, YNet reported. The letter read: "There is no doubt that it was a great missed opportunity to prevent people like you, who shaped the minds of the generation, to come to Israel and perform before the young generation in Israel who admired you and continues to admire you."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December 9th, 1917 - General Edmond Allenby marches into Jerusalem

 We promised to bring more posts on concerning the centenary of the First World War, and here's the first one – How the British army conquered Jerusalem on December 1917.

The Palestine theater of war (there was another battle zone in the Middle East – the war in Mesopotamia/Iraq in which the British suffered one of their worst defeats – the siege of Kut el-Amara) was secondary to the European war (especially the western front, but also the eastern front) but on the other hand, it was a more dynamic and fast going war, unlike the static and indecisive war on the western front.

Turkey entered the war on November 2nd 1914, after concluding a secret pact with Germany. The war in the Middle East started at the end of that month, when a British force, sent from India, landed in Basra and conquered it. On February 1915, a Turkish force (under German command) attacked the British-controlled Suez Canal - and was repulsed. The British decided that the best way to defend the Strategic Canal was by capturing the Sinai Peninsula and advancing on Palestine. On January 1917 the British took Rafah and on March and April tried to capture Gaza (the gate to the land of Israel since ancient times) and failed.

After the failure in the second battle of Gaza (in which the British used Gas and Tanks), the British commander, General Archibald Murray was recalled and replaced with General Edmond Allenby. Allenby, a veteran cavalry officer, had commanded the 3rd British army on the western front and commanded the Arras offensive in France in the spring of 1917.   Although the initial stages of the attack were successful (relatively for the western front) the battle soon deteriorated into regular static trench warfare. Allenby was removed from his command and was returned to Britain.

Allenby received the command of the Palestine front in the summer of 1917 and started preparing  for another attack on Gaza, but this time in another fashion: He made the Turks and the Germans believe that he was about to attack Gaza again but instead attacked Beersheba. Australian, New Zealand and British cavalry (The Palestine front saw the deployment of large cavalry forces – including French and Indian cavalry units – something that the western front's trench system and fire power did not allow) and conquered it after a fierce fight. From there Allenby's forces moved north from Gaza to outflank the Turks. The Turks retreated towards the Yarkon River and Jerusalem. The British moved towards Jerusalem in the end of November 1917 in three main routes – north of Jerusalem (today's Route 443 – the ancient road to Jerusalem), the main highway to Jerusalem (today's Route number 1) and from the south – via Hebron and Bethlehem.

At the beginning of December 1917 the Turks began to retreat from Jerusalem (the Germans managed to dissuade the Turks from their plan ofexpelling the Jews of Jerusalem, as they did to the Jews of Tel Aviv and the neighboring towns) and on December 9th the mayor of Jerusalem, Hussein el Husseini, went out with a group of dignitaries to present to the British the surrender of Jerusalem. With them came an American photographer, a member of the American colony in Jerusalem, named Lewis Larson. According to SimonSebag-Montefiore in his book "Jerusalem – the biography", the delegation met two British soldiers, cooks of a commander in the 60th Division (a 'Cockney' unit from east London) who were in a mission to find eggs for their commander's breakfast…The cooks refused to accept the city's surrender – "We don’t want the surrender of the 'oly city, we want heggs for ur hofficer" (I hope I got the cockney accent right…). The delegation moved on, and soon encountered two more British soldiers (from the same division), sergeants Sedgwick and Hurcomb, who were scouts for their unit. They too refused to accept the surrender of the Jerusalem but were willing to be photographed with the delegation and accepted cigarettes from them… (At the place where this meeting happened, a monument was erected in memorial to the surrender of Jerusalem to the British army and the soldiers of the 60th division that fell in the First World War. The monument can be found today behind Jerusalem's central bus station, in the Romema neighborhood).

After being rejected by a British artillery officer, the delegation met Brigadier Watson, commander of the 180th brigade, who accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. After the short ceremony, Watson informed his commander, General Shea (commander of the 60th division) the he had accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. Shea canceled the surrender to Watson and demanded that el Husseini surrender to him. Husseini again came out of Jerusalem and surrendered to Shea. Shea entered Jerusalem and declared martial law. He then informed Allenby that he accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. Allenby cancelled the two former surrenders and demanded that the city surrender to him and to him only. At this point el Husseini became ill and the third surrender took place without him. (He later succumbed to pneumonia – no doubt from too frequent exposure to the cold Jerusalem December mornings).

Allenby rode his horse to the Jaffa gate but entered the city on foot – as a sign of respect to the holiness of the city (and in striking contrast to Kaiser Wilhelm II pompous entry to Jerusalem 20 years earlier) with his staff marching after him. He walked to the entrance of Jerusalem citadel (known as Tower of David), met the heads of the different communities in the city and declared martial law in the city.

The war in Palestine continued until September 1918. After a winter and a spring of static warfare, Allenby attacked the Turkish lines with his typical deception, feinting an attack on Trans Jordan while sending a large cavalry force covered by large numbers of airplanes towards Nazareth and Haifa. It was a textbook operation, still regarded to this day. The British arrived in Damascus on October 1st and on October 31st Turkey surrendered.

The Israel State archives hold several movies and photos showing Allenby's historical entrance to Jerusalem:

1)      A part of a newsreel from the First World War, 10 minute long, which shows Allenby marching into Jerusalem.
3)       Posters of the declaration of martial law in Jerusalem written in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Russian. 

Israel and Nelson Mandela, 1962 -1965: A Call for Freedom

Following the passing of Nelson Mandela, the Israel State Archives posted a publication documenting the effort Israel made to prevent the execution of Nelson Mandela and his comrades in 1964. These individuals were tried for different charges, including forming a terrorist organization and training for terrorist acts. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, led by Golda Meir, initiated a joint manifesto by philosopher Martin Buber and writer Chaim Hazaz, calling for the release of the defendants and ending apartheid in South Africa.

This publication is the forerunner of a wider publication--part of a series on Israel's foreign relations--on Israel's relations with South Africa during the 1960s, which will be published on the archives' web site in the coming weeks.

The importance of the publication on Mandela (and the larger publications following it) is challenging the mistaken and often malicious claim that Israel supported South Africa's apartheid regime. Israel did not sympathize with apartheid and did not support it. Israel expressed its opposition to the racial discrimination in South Africa and voted against it in the UN. Israel had contacts with the African National Congress (ANC), and invited its exiled leader, Oliver Tambo, to visit Israel in 1964. Israel, as will be revealed in the documents soon to be published, recalled its Legate from South Africa (Israel didn't have an embassy in South Africa but held a legation) at the end of 1963, and replaced him with a Chargé d'Affaires until the 1970s. All this was done in accordance with UN Resolution 1761, which called all states in the UN to break off their relations with South Africa. Israel didn't completely end relations with South Africa out of consideration for the large and important Jewish community there.

The relations between Israel and South Africa began to warm after the Yom Kippur War. Other African states, in which Israel invested money, manpower and goodwill, broke off relations with Israel en masse during and after the war (several, especially Uganda, broke off relations already in 1972). In reaction, Israel improved its diplomatic, economic and even military relations with South Africa. Nevertheless, Israel continued opposing apartheid, but not as intensively as she did during the 60s. More on this to come.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Commemorating the 35th anniversary of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s death

Following the sudden death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in February 1969, Golda Meir was chosen as the Prime Minister of Israel, thus becoming the world’s second woman to hold this position, receiving the vote of confidence from the Knesset.
Thousands paying tribute at the grave of former prime minister
 Golda Meir at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem.
December 1978 / Government press office
In tribute to Golda Meir, the Israel State Archives has prepared an online collection of audio visual recordings. Below you will find an interview conducted by correspondents from abroad with Golda Meir before the elections for the 7th Knesset. 

Golda was asked if Israel was drifting towards another war.  She replied, I believe not. It's not reasonable to think that Israel will launch an attack against Egypt in the near future. Had Nasser not called for war, the borders would still be peaceful. Hence, there is no intention from our side to start a war. 

To listen and see more Hebrew and Yiddish clips, such as Golda's journey to the United States, click here.