Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Kidnapping of Yossele Schumacher – A Domestic Quarrel that Divided Israel in the 1960s

The Yossele Schumacher affair was basically a domestic quarrel that got out of hand. It took two Supreme Court decisions, a nationwide police search and ultimately a joint Mossad-Shin Bet operation to find the kidnapped boy. The affair exposed a rift between religious and secular Jews. The cry "Where is Yossele?"directed in defiance towards ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jews became a rallying call, if not a battle cry, for the secular Israeli public of the early 60's. The father of this writer remembers vividly seeing a truck full of soldiers in one of the main streets of Jerusalem singing this chant when they saw a Haredi man walking in the street.

Since the affair was initially an internal Israeli one, the vast majority of documents we are publishing here, including police reports, letters from both sides to the president and to Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, stenograms of government meetings and more, are in Hebrew. See them on our Hebrew blog.

Yosef (Joseph or 'Yossele', an affectionate Yiddish nickname) Schumacher was born in 1952 in the Soviet Union. In 1957, Yossele and his parents, Ida and Alter, came on aliya. Due to economic hardship the parents left Yossele with Ida's father, Nachman Shtarks, who lived in the Haredi Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula.  Shtarks was a former prisoner in the Soviet gulag, where he was tortured for his steadfast religious beliefs. He didn't falter.
After settling down and improving their economic status, the parents asked the grandfather to return their son. The grandfather refused. Shtarks wanted Yossele to learn in a Haredi yeshiva. He believed that his son-in-law (with whom he wasn't on the best of terms) was a communist and wanted to return to the Soviet Union. He claimed that Alter was subjecting his grandson to Shmad – forced conversion to another religion (in this case – to Communist atheism). Shtarks received a Psak Din (a religious verdict) from Jerusalem's chief rabbi, Pesach Zvi Frank, which allowed him to keep his grandson in his custody, in order to prevent him from being forced to leave Judaism. (It later became clear that Rabbi Frank was not in full possession of the facts.)

After filing a complaint with the police, the parents took the case to the Supreme Court of Justice. The Supreme Court issued a Habeas Corpus order on 10/2/1960, ordering the grandfather to return the child to his parents. The grandfather refused. The court issued another order a month later demanding the immediate return of the boy and instructed the police to carry out the order. The grandfather did not comply, basing his objection on Rabbi Frank's Psak Din. In May 1960, the court ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Nachman Shtarks until he complied with the order. The grandfather remained in jail until the end of the affair in autumn 1962.

But what had happened to Yossele?  After the complaint to the police and the first verdict, the boy was taken out of his Yeshiva in Rishon leZion and moved to different locations, including the Haredi village of Kommemiut (in the south of Israel, near Ashqelon) and later the city of Bnei Brak.

New faces entered the fray, such as Neturei Karta (Guardians of the Walls in Aramaic), the extreme anti-Zionist Haredi group, which joined the efforts to hide the boy and invited a Frenchwoman--a convert to Judaism named Ruth ben David--to help them in their efforts to smuggle the child abroad. Ben David (whose original name was Madeleine Ferraille) was a successful Maquis resistance courier during World War II and managed to smuggle Yossele out of Israel as her daughter (here is an article from the Jerusalem Post about her).  Passport control at Lod airport was looking for a boy – not a girl.

Yossele was moved to several European countries – Switzerland, France and Britain. In July 1960, a police report mentioned the possibility that he was in London, from hints in postcards sent by Shtark's son Ovadiah who lived there. In March 1962, the principal of a boarding school in Gateshead, a major center of the Haredi community in England, complained to the Israeli ambassador in London, Arthur Lourie, about a search of the school. Feldman wrote that the local police and representatives of the Haifa police had descended on the school during morning prayers and held all those present for questioning, although there was no evidence that the boy was there.

Meanwhile Yossele was transferred to New York, under the supervision of the Satmar Hasidim, who (like the Neturi Karta) were virulent anti-Zionists. Meanwhile the parents' lawyer, Shlomo Cohen-Zidon, formed a public committee to return Yossele to his parents, and a wide range of public figures were approached to try to end the dispute. 

Due to the Israel Police's failure to find Yossele and rising tensions between religious and secular Israelis, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the head of the security services, Isser Harel (the overall director of both the Mossad and Shin Beth) to find the boy. Dozens of Mossad agents and volunteers were sent to Jewish communities in Europe, especially Haredi ones. Ruth Ben David's name came up and Harel believed that she could be the key person in the affair. Ben David was lured to a house in France and was held there for weeks, while Mossad agents tried to convince her to tell where Yossele was being held. Ben David refused to cooperate and only when Harel himself arrived and convinced her that it was for the boy's own good, she agreed to tell them the truth. Harel was so impressed that he offered her a job in the Mossad – but she declined.

Yossele was found in Brooklyn, New York in the residence of Rabbi Zanvil Gertner, a Satmar Hassid. He was reunited with his mother in the Israeli consulate in New York.
Following the return of Yossele to Israel, the government decided to stop all legal proceedings against the people involved in the kidnapping, except for Shalom Shtarks, Yossele's uncle, who denied involvement and left Israel to live in Britain. After his involvement was revealed, he was extradited to Israel after a long legal battle (here are the minutes in the House of Lords concerning the extradition of Shtarks), in which he claimed that as a resident of Jerusalem, Israel had no jurisdiction over him (which didn't endear him on to many of Israel's citizens). He was sentenced to 3 years in jail, but received a pardon in 1963. These moves were made to reduce tensions among the Israeli public. 
                                             Here is a part of a newsreel showing the return of Yossele to Israel
Yossele Schumacher joined the IDF in 1970 and served as an officer in the artillery corps. He worked in IBM Israel and lives today in Sha'arei Tikva (near Rosh Hayin).

Monday, July 13, 2015

13 July 1953, Creating Facts: The Israeli Foreign Ministry Moves to Jerusalem

In July 1953 the Israeli Foreign Ministry was about to move its offices to Jerusalem. Israel's leaders knew that this was a controversial move, since, on 9  December 1949, the UN General Assembly had passed Resolution 194 on the internationalization of Jerusalem under UN control. In 1947 Israel had accepted internationalization of Jerusalem as part of the Partition Plan. But after the Arabs rejected the plan and tried to prevent its implementation by force, Israel no longer felt bound by it.

On 5 December 1949 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared in the Knesset that Jewish Jerusalem was an organic and inseparable part of the State of Israel.  At that time Israel agreed to international supervision of the Holy Places, most of which were in any case under Jordanian rule.  We've already shown here the draft of his statement Ben-Gurion  sent to Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, in which he threatened that Israel would leave the UN if the resolution was adopted.   
After the resolution passed,  despite opposition from Britain and the US, Ben-Gurion announced the transfer of the Knesset and the government ministries to Jerusalem.  Sharett  opposed the announcement and believed that there was no real danger of steps to carry out internationalization. He even threatened to resign  – see his reaction here.

Ben-Gurion, Sharett and Minister Moshe Shapira
 in the first Knesset building
in Jerusalem (Frumin House), 1952
Photograph: Wikimedia
The Knesset and the Prime Minister's Office were transferred to Jerusalem immediately, but other government offices followed gradually. A complex of one storey bungalows in the Givat Ram area of Jerusalem was built to house the Foreign Ministry. Meanwhile Sharett ran the office from the Kirya government buildings in Tel Aviv. In May 1952 the move was announced, to be carried out in the summer of 1953. 

In May 1953 the new US Secretary of State J.F. Dulles visited Israel as part of a tour of the Middle East. He hoped to organize an anti-Soviet defence organization similar to NATO but found little enthusiasm among the Arab states. During the trip he met Sharett, and, according to a letter sent to the secretary in July, the foreign minister told Dulles about the imminent move to Jerusalem, and the secretary did not protest. He asked that the move not take place while he was in the area, and suggested that Sharett repeat previous statements on Israel's attitude to the Holy Places. Sharett gave a statement in the Knesset recognizing Israel's obligations to protect the Christian Holy Places under its control.
Nuns crossing into Jordan at the Mandelbaum Gate
 Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office

On his return to the US, Dulles gave a radio speech on his tour. He said that the new Republican Administration should act to allay the fears of the Arabs and to restore the reputation of the US, which they believed was giving one sided support to Israel.  He described his feelings on seeing Jerusalem, which was split into armed camps, but was above all a Holy Place. Dulles, son of a Presbyterian minister, said that the link to Jerusalem felt by religious groups all over the world was a claim preceding the political claims of Israel and Jordan. Headlines in the Israeli press claimed that he had supported the internationalization of the city, the return of some of the Arab refugees and the strengthening of the Arab League.
On June 7 the government discussed the speech. In Sharett's  references to Jerusalem (pp. 5-9) he emphasized that there was no change in US policy. Israel could gain if the Holy Places were put under international control, as it might get access to the Western Wall and to Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. He warned his colleagues against the illusion that unilateral action by Israel, and faits accomplis such as moving the government offices, could actually solve the problem of Jerusalem.  The rest of the world, and especially the Catholic church, which had much influence in France and Latin America, did not accept Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The unclear situation could be exploited by the Arabs, even though they cared for the Holy Places "as the snows of yesteryear'.  Ben-Gurion also commented on Dulles' speech but his comments centered on other issues.

In the guidelines he sent Israel's diplomatic representatives to explain the coming move, Sharett asked them to emphasize the practical reasons involved. He described at length the difficulties suffered by the Ministry staff, and especially the minister himself, in commuting between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the harmful effects of their remoteness from the centre of decision making. 

The Foreign Ministry moves in, 9 July 1953.
 Photograph: Yehuda Eisenstark , Israel State Archives
 Sharett knew that the embassies would not leave Tel Aviv but did not expect any particular problem with official visits to the Ministry in Jerusalem. Arab protests were loud, as can be seen below.

 The American reaction was  also harsh, and together with  other Western countries, they announced that they would not conduct any official business in Jerusalem, even if invited by the minister. Sharett wrote to Dulles, arguing that plenty of time had been given to the UN to deal with the Jerusalem issue in a more realistic way, but it had not done so. Before the move the US ambassador and their staff had had no difficulty in visiting government offices in Jerusalem. He added that no change in Jerusalem's status was involved. "New Jerusalem has in any case and to all practical purposes been our capital since 1949, and would have continued to be our capital, with the Foreign Ministry or without it." 

Gradually the ban was relaxed, and on Independence Day, 1954, most of the diplomatic corps attended the president's reception in Jerusalem. 

Most diplomatic representations in Israel remain in the Tel Aviv area, but today all official visits by heads of state are received at the Foreign Ministry . The ministry remained in the hut complex for 50 years, until an impressive new building  was opened in 2003 near the Supreme Court in Givat Ram.  

The Foreign Ministry today
Photographs: The Israeli Association for Diplomacy