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October 27, 2016 / 25 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Gurion’

Holocaust Museum Rebuffs FDR Backers

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Defenders of President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust were dealt a blow last week when a study by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum rejected a claim they have made regarding the U.S. failure to bomb Auschwitz.

Officials and supporters of the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, New York, have claimed for years that David Ben-Gurion opposed bombing Auschwitz, for fear of harming prisoners. Roosevelt supporters have made the claim to deflect criticism of FDR for the U.S. rejection of requests to bomb the death camp.

A newly-completed two-year study by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has concluded, however, that Ben-Gurion opposed bombing the camp only for several weeks when he believed it was a slave labor camp, and then reversed himself when he learned more about the true nature of Auschwitz.

Ben-Gurion’s Jewish Agency colleagues in Europe and the United States then repeatedly pressed Allied officials to bomb the camp.

“There is now broad agreement among Holocaust historians regarding the question of David Ben-Gurion’s position on bombing Auschwitz,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which had been urging the U.S. Holocaust Museum to review the subject in depth.

“Roosevelt’s apologists can no longer use Ben-Gurion to whitewash the Roosevelt administration’s refusal to bomb Auschwitz.”

The Wyman Insitute has issued a study of its own, “America’s Failure to Bomb Auschwitz: A New Consensus Among Historians,” which is available at www.WymanInstitute.org.

Among the Jewish leaders who called on the Allies to bomb Auschwitz in 1944 were World Zionist Organization president (and later president of Israel) Chaim Weizmann, senior Jewish Agency official (and later Israeli prime minister) Moshe Sharett, veteran Jewish leader Nahum Goldmann, and Palestine Labor Zionist leader (and future Israeli prime minister) Golda Meir.

Combined News Services

52 New Immigrants Arrive in Israel

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

The State of Israel welcomed 52 new citizens from the United States on Thursday who made aliyah through the organization Nefesh b’Nefesh.

Among the new arrivals is Genna Brand, who is joining ASA Tel Aviv, Israel’s National Women’s Soccer Champion team.  Geoffrey Rogg, formerly of Great Britain and then New York, originally considered making aliyah in 1971, after a conversation with Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.  Rogg, who had organized an event to raise money for Negev development in London, was invited by Ben Gurion for a visit in Sde Boker.  After briefing the Prime Minister on fundraising efforts, Ben Gurion replied “Young man, all this is well and good but what really interests me is when will you make aliyah to Israel?”

To date, Nefesh B’Nefesh has assisted 29,000 olim, 97% of whom have remained in Israel.

Malkah Fleisher

The Best Thing JFK Ever Did For Israel

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I have written about John F. Kennedy in several Media Monitor columns over the years, focusing primarily on the media myth of Camelot that attached itself to the man and his administration almost immediately following his assassination (the term “Camelot” was never once used to describe the Kennedy presidency while Kennedy was still alive).

A couple of those columns dealt specifically with Kennedy’s record on Israel and made the argument that he was not nearly as supportive of Israel as later legend or rose-colored memories made him out to be. Those columns, as might have been expected, drew an inordinate number of responses from readers, some of them supportive, others not nearly so.

With this week marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s election as president, and with last week’s front-page essay by Uri Kaufman briefly touching on Kennedy’s relationship with Israel and that of his successor, Lyndon Johnson, it seemed appropriate to cull the highlights of those earlier columns and revisit the issue in one longer essay.

In the 1960 presidential election, John Kennedy received better than 80 percent of the Jewish vote. The fact that his opponent that year was Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president certainly didn’t hurt: Not only had Richard Nixon served in an administration that was never very popular among Jews, but Nixon himself had always had problems connecting with Jewish voters.

Kennedy nevertheless was something of an unknown quantity to the American Jewish community, and his background hardly inspired confidence. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was one of the country’s most notorious anti-Semites, and it was no secret that he had been a major behind-the-scenes influence on his son’s political career.

Nor could liberal Jews find much solace in John Kennedy’s performance as a congressman and senator, the highlights of which were a relatively conservative voting record and solid support for the various investigations, by Joseph McCarthy and others, into Communist subversion in America.

About a month before election day, with polls showing Nixon and Kennedy running neck to neck, Kennedy told his friend Charlie Bartlett about an experience he claimed to have had at a meeting in New York the night before.

“I went to this party,” Kennedy said. “It was given by a group of people who were big money contributors and also Zionists and they said to me, ‘We know that your campaign is in terrible financial shape.’ The deal they offered me was that they would finance the rest of this campaign if I would agree to let them run the Middle Eastern policy of the United States for the next four years.”

What to make of this bizarre story (reported by, among others, Seymour Hersh in his 1991 book The Samson Option and Richard Reeves in his 1993 book President Kennedy: Profile of Power)? Were there actually Jews foolish enough to think they could buy American foreign policy – and brash enough to suggest it out loud? And if the incident occurred as Kennedy told it, why has no other American presidential candidate during the past 50 years come forward with a similar tale? After all, if certain individuals were willing to approach Kennedy with such an offer, would they not have tried it with someone else?

Or was the whole thing a gross exaggeration or even an outright fabrication – an attempt by a callow politician to impress a friend? And if it was a concoction, what does it say about a mind that would do such concocting? At the very least, the incident raises disturbing questions about how John Kennedy viewed Jews, as the story plays on some of the most familiar – and sinister – Jewish stereotypes: a cabal of rich Jews, operating in clandestine fashion, dishonest and disloyal and out to secretly take control of government policy. (Besides, could the Kennedy campaign, with Papa Joe’s checkbook on standby, really have been in such dire financial straits?)

* * * * *

The Kennedy administration made no attempt to change America’s longstanding policy of even-handedness in the Middle East. But Kennedy, who knew his razor-thin margin of victory in 1960 owed a great deal to Jewish votes in several key states, tended to speak of American support for Israel in a more public and forthright fashion than had either Eisenhower or, for that matter, Harry Truman. On a personal level, his knowledge of Israel was limited – surprisingly so in light of his visits to the country in 1939, when it was still called Palestine, and again in 1953.

Kennedy’s first encounter with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion took place in a Manhattan hotel room in the spring of 1961. Ben-Gurion was in New York on a fund-raising mission and Kennedy happened to have been in the city on some other business, so an impromptu meeting was set up for the two men and several key aides. At one point during their get-together, the president pulled Ben-Gurion aside and said quietly, “You know, I was elected by the Jews. I have to do something for them.”

Ben-Gurion described himself as “shocked” by Kennedy’s crudely political approach: “I’m a foreigner. I represent a small state. I didn’t come to him as a Jew, as a voter.”

According to Reeves, the prime minister was more than just shocked. “Ben-Gurion was offended. He was the founder and leader of a nation, not a politician from Brooklyn.”

Whether or not Kennedy was sincere in his ham-handed attempt at ingratiating himself with Ben-Gurion, the Middle East was in fact relatively low on his list of priorities.

“I would have to play down the Middle East as a matter of deep concern to [him],’ Kennedy’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, acknowledged years later. Rusk (who had adamantly opposed the creation of Israel when he headed the State Department’s UN desk in the late 1940s) added that he couldn’t “remember that Kennedy had any fresh ideas about the Middle East crisis.”

Former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz agreed with Rusk’s assessment. “[Kennedy] had no original ideas; I am not sure he had any ideas at all,” Podhoretz told Gerald and Deborah Strober in Let Us Begin Anew, their oral history of the Kennedy presidency.

About Kennedy’s secretary of state, Podhoretz observed that “What we now know – what I was not aware of then – is that Dean Rusk was violently anti-Israel. I assume he always had those feelings.”

* * * * *

Fortunately for Kennedy, the Middle East at the time was going through a rare period of calm; even the Israeli front was quiet as Egypt and Syria were distracted by internal matters and inter-Arab politics. Unaffected by the placid state of affairs, however, was the American fascination with Gamal Abdel Nasser: Like their predecessors in the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy’s chief foreign policy aides were obsessed with befriending the Egyptian president.

Where Kennedy differed from Eisenhower in courting Nasser was in the assumption that Arab nationalism, far from being a breeding ground for Soviet influence and infiltration, might actually constitute a bulwark against Russian advances in the region.

“Only a few years ago,” said Undersecretary of State Chester Bowles in 1961, “all thoughtful observers were clearly concerned about Soviet penetration into the Middle East. Many thought that Egypt…was on the road to Soviet control. Yet today Nasser’s nationalism fiercely combats internal Communism and his relations with the U.S.S.R. grow increasingly cool.”

As part of his all-out effort to win Nasser’s affection, Kennedy pushed hard for large increases in aid to Egypt, and in early 1962, following an Israeli retaliatory strike in Syria, instructed his UN ambassador to vote to condemn Israel in the Security Council.

Nasser rewarded Kennedy a few months later by publicizing the contents of an extraordinarily craven letter he had received from the American president. The letter’s disclosure was a humiliation for Kennedy, not only for its tone of abject supplication, but also for its suggestion that Kennedy supported the tough measures Eisenhower had employed against Israel during the Suez crisis six years earlier.

“I am…proud of the real encouragement which my government and the American people have in the past given to your aspirations and those of your countrymen, especially in the critical days of 1956,” Kennedy wrote Nasser, directly contradicting his previous public statements on the matter, particularly those made during his campaign for the White House.

Nasser’s decision to go public with Kennedy’s letter was the beginning of the end for any hope of improved relations between the U.S. and Egypt. In October 1962 Nasser injected his army into a bloody civil war in Yemen, and in the spring of 1963 forces sympathetic to Nasser were attempting to undermine the pro-American government in Jordan. Kennedy, like Eisenhower before him, had come to the realization that the Egyptian leader was not someone to be depended on, and that any attempt at friendship was bound to end in frustration.

* * * * *

From his earliest days in the White House, Kennedy prodded Israel on the issue of Arab refugees (they weren’t called “Palestinians” yet). Secretary of State Rusk wanted Israel to agree to take back at least ten percent of the total number of Arabs who had left Israel since the creation of the state.

The issue would come up time and again in talks between American and Israeli officials all through the Kennedy presidency, and a special representative appointed by the White House to deal with the problem proved to be a constant irritant to the Israeli government. American proposals were seen as one-sided by Ben-Gurion and Foreign Minister Golda Meir, and the Kennedy administration in turn viewed the Israelis as unreasonable.

Another point of dispute between the U.S. and Israel involved the development of nuclear weapons. In the waning days of the Eisenhower presidency, the Americans had learned that a facility on the outskirts of the Negev town of Dimona was not, as the Israelis were claiming, a textile plant, but rather, in the words of CIA director Allen Dulles, “a nuclear complex [which] probably included a reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.”

Aware that the secret was out and that further prevarication would alienate the U.S., Ben Gurion publicly announced, on December 21, 1960, that Israel had indeed received a nuclear reactor from France, and vowed that it would not be used for military ends.

But the true scope of Israel’s nuclear program was far greater than Ben-Gurion was prepared to divulge, and the Israeli government had its hands full as it tried to allay the Kennedy administration’s growing unease. When, after much wrangling and delay, the White House finally agreed to sell Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Israel – the first arms deal between the two countries – one of the conditions the U.S. insisted on was that it be allowed to inspect the Dimona facility. Ben-Gurion agreed, but an inspection of the actual plant was the last thing he had in mind.

As Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman wrote in Friends in Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, “Abba Eban recall[ed] that when a team of American inspectors arrived at Dimona, ‘it cost us…a lot of money to arrange it so their inspectors wouldn’t find out what was going on.’ False walls were erected, doorways and elevators hidden, and dummy installations were built to show the Americans, who found no evidence of the weapons program secreted underground.”

* * * * *

Kennedy’s presidency was cut short in November 1963 after just 34 months. While it would be stretching it to describe him as a great friend of Israel, there is no denying that American-Israeli relations during his time in office were better than they’d been under Eisenhower. Kennedy’s administration was the first to sell arms – albeit defensive arms only – to Israel, but it also maintained the policy of neutrality that had characterized the U.S. approach to the Middle East under both Truman and Eisenhower.

The U.S.-Israel relationship would really begin to bloom during the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson – a man Kennedy despised and whom he chose as his vice-presidential running mate reluctantly and grudgingly. Johnson had been one of Israel’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill throughout the 1950s, and once the trauma of Kennedy’s assassination began to wear off and LBJ settled in as president, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel soared to new heights.

First off the table was the nuclear issue. In The Bomb in the Basement, his history of Israel’s procurement of nuclear weapons, Israeli author Michael Karpin wrote that “as soon as [Johnson] entered the White House the pressure on Israel on the Dimona issue ceased.”

And while Kennedy’s final budget, for fiscal year 1964, allocated $40 million in aid to Israel, Johnson’s first budget, for fiscal year 1965, set aside $71 million – an extraordinary increase of 75 percent. The amount nearly doubled in 1966, to $130 million.

Beyond the numbers, the nature and terms of the aid signaled a dramatic break with past American policy. Development loans and surplus food had constituted the extent of U.S. aid under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and the anti-aircraft missiles sold to Israel by the Kennedy administration required a cash payment. Johnson changed all that: Not only did he become the first American president to sell offensive weapons to Israel, but from now on the Israelis would be permitted to buy American arms with American aid money, which meant no funds would have to leave Israel’s hard-pressed government coffers.

As a result of the new arrangement, the percentage of American aid to Israel earmarked for military expenditures rose dramatically, more than tripling between 1965 and 1967. By the middle of 1966, the Israelis were purchasing military hardware the type of which would have been unthinkable under prior administrations, including four-dozen Skyhawk bomber attack planes and more than 200 M-48 tanks.

And while Johnson told Israel in June 1967 that the U.S. could not support a preemptive strike against Egypt and Syria, he would, in the aftermath of what came to be called the Six-Day War, refrain from pressing Israel to relinquish any of the territory it conquered.

Shortly after the war, during a summit meeting in Glassboro, New Jersey, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin asked Johnson why he insisted on supporting a tiny, relatively poor country like Israel over the numerous oil-rich Arab states. “Because it’s right,” Johnson replied.

In the end, the best thing John Kennedy ever did for Israel – inadvertently, of course, and holding his nose all the way – was choosing Lyndon Johnson as his running mate.

Jason Maoz

Dust Settles on Bootlickers Too

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I stood on the dusty road leading to one of the innumerable resting places of the pious people of Israel. Having said my prayers, though never enough, I waited somberly for a taxi to appear. I leaned against the palm tree to escape the sun’s enthusiasm. It was a Jewish palm tree, planted by Jewish hands in the Jewish land. I was on the left side of the sturdy bark. On the right, rested an elderly woman topped by a colorful kerchief. She was like many others I have walked beside in the Machaneh Yehudah marketplace, like many others I sat beside in the white plastic chairs before the Western Wall, like many others who minded their own humble business and worked hard for their share in life.

I’m not sure who spoke first, or how the conversation began, but before long, we were talking. She had finished her house chores for the day, a full hour ahead of schedule. I could imagine her modest apartment building with its peeling paint and chipped Jerusalem tiles, now gleaming after the sponja sluice. She was on her way to enjoy the end-of-the-week produce sales, foldable carry bag in hand, when she decided to spend this bit of extra time at the righteous man’s burial place. Although her feet were not kind to her lately, she still persisted with these treks because bus fares add up.

And who was I and what was I up to, she wondered conversationally with the unabashed inquisitiveness of a Sabra. I communicated in my not-too-polished Hebrew some information about myself, trying not to sound like the young, indulged American tourist that I was, taking a break between studies. It was not hard to realize that our commonality began with our Jewishness and ended with our brief moment of respite under the palm’s shade after sending prayers heavenward and before continuing with our day. I told her I was happy to be in Israel and content to find it the same holy, busy place I had left it on my last visit.

But much did change since many years before, she said pensively. The wrinkles suddenly stood out on her weathered face as she explained, with a hint of pride, that she had come to Israel by boat to sleep in a tent, walk on unpaved roads, stand in line for bread, and sweat in her beloved land of the Jewish nation. She arrived when Israeli civilization was in the making some seventy years ago, a little girl lucky to escape the carnage that would quickly overtake Europe.

Did she know how fortunate she was, considering the Zionist leadership’s quiet obedience to Britain’s White Paper policy which severely limited Jewish immigration when the burning Jews of Europe needed it most?

Did she know how fortunate she was considering Ben Gurion’s unabashed explanation at a meeting in Britain, “If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Israel, then I opt for the second alternative”?

Did she know how fortunate she was considering Dr. Chaim Weizmann’s dared utterance about the souls who were not wrestled out of Death’s grip by their brethren, “I was asked, ‘Can you bring two million Jews to Palestine?’ I replied, ‘No’…. From the depths of the tragedy I want to save two million young people…The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They were dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world…Only the branch of the young shall survive…They have to accept it.”

Perhaps they would not have turned into ashes had the governing group of elitists, functioning under the British Empire, pulled heaven and earth in protest and insisted that the port of Israel remain open to the suffering Jews of Europe. For the likes of Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, however, political life was too filled with British bootlicking.

It was made clear that all Jews were not equal. The Jewish Agency made efforts to save “prominent Jews,” but the rest of the Jewish masses, people with their own dreams and skills, however simple, were left for the crematoriums. Yet it was “simple Jews,” and not only Ben-Gurion and Weizmann who built Israel, who fought ferociously in the Irgun and Lehi, and who demanded a Jewish state independent of Britain. It was the “simple Jews,” like the wrinkled, weathered woman I met under the palm tree who built Israel. There could have been scores more welcomed to the homeland, but they went up in flames as the leaders sat in near silence.

It is a painful part of recent Jewish history, but why is it better left unsaid? Bystanders share the guilt of perpetrators. Everyone, especially governments, have a dark side. The dark side was shamelessly shown during that time. The dark side, we fervently pray, that never finds expression again. But it makes us wonder, given today’s performances in the circus of international affairs, can authority be entrusted to authority-bedazzled people? And, is appeasement worth the price?

The answers are clear in the Irgun’s defiant bravery, their willingness to stand strong in the face of world pressure, and their deeper desire for accomplishment rather than honor or publicity – powerful contributions to the creation of the State of Israel.

Julie Cohen

Protecting Our Children

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I wait at the airport for the arrival of my youngest son, along with his wife and baby. Upon arrival, they will rent a car and make their way in an unfamiliar city to his oldest brother’s house.

I took two connecting trains to get here. I have no idea how to travel by car from the airport to my son’s house, as I am also a visitor.

But I’d rather pace at the airport than in my son’s living room. I’d rather wait here and greet them, and sit with them in their rental car as their GPS guides (or as often happens misguides) them to our destination. This is better than tossing and turning in bed while fighting the temptation to call every few minutes, asking, “Where are you?” – and annoying and distracting them to no end.

Why the worry and anxiety? After all, my son and daughter-in-law are intelligent, competent young adults. The answer is obvious. Age, ability and brains aren’t guarantees against disasters.

Years of traveling – mostly between Canada and the U.S., with some overseas travel – and of hearing too many stomach-churning stories about accidents to and from the airport, missed or canceled flights, and “interrogations” by overzealous, possibly anti-Semitic border guards and security personnel, have made me very wary and uneasy. So to keep my blood pressure at a safe level, I make it my business to be informed of my traveling kids’ whereabouts.

Summer goes hand in hand with traveling. Young people especially are on the move, and many go backpacking through Europe or Asia, or tour on their way to Israel during their post-high school yeshiva or seminary year. Although the great majority travels safely and with no hassles, mishaps can and do happen. Thus I suggest the following travel rule:

If the traveler is going alone to the airport, he should let someone know that he arrived safely. If he is going on an international flight, he should call after clearing security, perhaps after he has boarded.

The reason: If, chas v’shalom, he does not show up at his destination, those concerned will have an idea of where to start looking – and where not to look.

It is not unheard of for travelers, especially young people, to be subjected to extra questioning while crossing a border. This once happened to my son in Turkey, and to me years ago when I flew from Toronto to the U.S. I was taken to a private room and asked if I was from Jamaica. My guess is that a driver’s license that I had lost a year earlier had somehow surfaced there in the wrong hands.

Here are the facts: identity theft is on the rise, or due to a name similar to someone on a criminal/terrorist watch list, you can be detained. This might be why I was held for over an hour, almost missing my flight.

Several years ago one of my sons flew in from Israel for his older brother’s wedding. He was taking a cab from Yerushalayim to Ben-Gurion airport, and arriving at dawn on Sunday. I urged him to call and leave a message once he was at the boarding gate. It was still Shabbos in North America and I would not be able to call his cell phone.

To my great relief he called from the plane after boarding, saving my mental health because the next morning, while waiting at the airport, he did not exit – at least not with the rest of the flight. I waited and waited, and started worrying when passengers from a later flight began exiting from the restricted area.

But because of his call I knew that he had safely arrived at Ben-Gurion, and that he had made it through security.

So despite being a no-show more than an hour after landing, I knew that he made the flight and I would not have to look for him in an Israeli hospital or detention cell. He was in New York, and possibly being delayed by immigration/customs at JFK. I could deal with that. As it turned out, he had been searching for the missing bag that carried his brother’s wedding present. Apparently, it did not make it onto the plane.

Without the phone call letting me know he was boarding his flight, I would have – for a horrendous long hour – imagined the worst.

The kids might think you are overreacting by asking them to check in. But the world isn’t perfect, and bad things happen to the best and smartest people. It’s in both their best interest to call, and your own peace of mind for them to invest in that 10- second call. It’s a win-win situation.

It’s also a must for anyone leaving their house, even for a short while, to carry ID with an emergency contact number or two. If there are babies or non-verbal toddlers involved, it is crucial that family members be immediately found and notified so that the already traumatized children can be quickly placed with soothing, familiar faces.

A little foresight and thoughtfulness can go a long way in preventing needless emotional distress.

Cheryl Kupfer

Israel’s Founding Revisited

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

If asked, “Who created the modern state of Israel?” most Jews would offer such names and institutions as David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, the Jewish Agency, and the United Nations. A newly translated memoir, however, completely upends this popular perception.

In The First Tithe, Israel Eldad, who ran the underground Lehi movement (sometimes known as the Stern Group) together with future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and Nathan Yellin-Mor, argues that the British would never have left Palestine in 1948 had the Irgun (headed by Menachem Begin) and Lehi not forced them out. He also defends his group’s deadly terrorist tactics and unique Zionist vision, which included the building of the Third Temple.

After Israel’s founding, Eldad – who held a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Vienna – became a high-school teacher, but Ben-Gurion, fearing Eldad’s influence, ordered the Ministry of Education and Culture to fire him. Eldad continued writing ideological books and articles (he also translated most of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works into Hebrew) until his death in 1996. His son, Aryeh Eldad, currently serves in the Knesset.

To mark Yom Ha’atzmaut, The Jewish Press interviewed Zev Golan, who translated The First Tithe into English. Golan has authored three books in his own right and directed the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem from 1992-2003.

The Jewish Press: Do you agree with Eldad’s take on Israel’s founding – that the Irgun and Lehi, not the Haganah or the Jewish Agency, are responsible for the British leaving Palestine?

Golan: Of course. It would be absurd to claim the British left Eretz Yisrael because of the Jewish Agency, which was cooperating with the British and asking them to stay and help them hunt the Underground.

They left because they were blown out of the country. When they left, they said that 84,000 British soldiers and policemen in the country couldn’t preserve law and order. And it wasn’t the Haganah and Jewish Agency that were blowing up their buildings. It was the Irgun and Lehi.

Very few history books tell the story in this manner.

Well, he who writes history determines what’s in the history books, and there’s no doubt that the Labor Party took control of Israel, wrote the history books, and wrote the Irgun and Lehi out of them.

People also often credit the UN vote of November 29, 1947 as instrumental in creating Israel. However, while many Jews in Palestine danced in the streets the night of November 29, Eldad walked around depressed. Why?

Eldad compares that night to the time when Israel danced around the Golden Calf and said, “This is the god who took you out of Egypt.” Here they were looking to the United Nations and saying, “This is the god who has given us the state,” and it wasn’t.

The people who created Israel were the people who sat in prison and the people who were shot or hanged by the British. The facts on the ground are that the British would have left even if the United Nations had not voted for a Jewish state.

Eldad also felt depressed that night because they were not celebrating the Jewish state that had been dreamt of for thousands of years and that he and others had been fighting for, but rather a truncated, shrunken Jewish state that would not have survived were it not for a miraculous war that followed.

Eldad writes of some fascinating encounters with Menachem Begin. One of them took place in June 1948, the day after the IDF, on Ben-Gurion’s orders, fired on the ammunition-laden Altalena ship, killing 16 Irgun fighters. Eldad and Begin discussed the possibility of the Irgun and Lehi founding an independent state in Jerusalem’s Old City. Can you speak about that meeting?

First, Eldad was friendly with Begin before they came to Eretz Yisrael – they escaped from Poland together when the Nazis invaded – and he was friendly with him afterward during the Underground years and later. But they did not view matters 100 percent the same way.

So, in ’48 with the Altalena ship, Begin said, “I won’t allow a civil war. If they shoot at us, we’re not going to shoot back.” And Eldad said, “We need to take power; we can’t let power stay in the hands of people who are shooting at us and killing Jews.”

Well, it’s a different way of looking at things. Eldad was a total and complete revolutionary, willing to go to the very end of that revolution, no matter how cruel or hard, in order to realize the complete Jewish redemption. Menachem Begin was not such a revolutionary; he was a soldier.

So if it had been up to Eldad, the Jews on the Altalena would have shot back?

Without a doubt. He would’ve shot back and made a move elsewhere to take power…


…and create a separate Jewish state in Jerusalem.

Right, that’s what he wanted to do. But at that point, not only was Begin not on his side in terms of strategy but neither really was Lehi, which had moved leftward.

Many would consider the thought of shooting back at fellow Jews to be horrific.

The horrific thought is not that Jews would shoot back at people trying to kill Jews and prevent the salvation of Israel. The horrific thought is that Jews would take that first shot at Jews whose only goal was to help Israel.

And if the Jews who are fighting to save the country announce in advance that they will not fight back if the government comes to kill them, why fight at all? If you announce that in advance, the other side really can get away with anything it wants. So Begin had lost as soon as he made that announcement. He was saying essentially, I don’t care if Ben-Gurion runs the country.

Now, if you believe that the argument over who runs the country is not that important and that both sides more or less want the same thing, then that’s an acceptable way of looking at things. But if you believe, as Eldad did then, that the people shooting at the Jews did not intend to save the country, indeed did not even want to set up the country, then you’re obligated to be willing to fight back. The Chashmonaim didn’t fight the Greeks; they fought the Jews, and we celebrate that victory today as the greatest Jewish victory for freedom in our history.

But why start a civil war when both sides really want the same thing?

If that’s your attitude, indeed you’re obligated not to start a civil war.

Were the Irgun and Lehi that different from the Jewish Agency that a civil war might have been necessary?

Lehi was fighting for a Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Irgun was fighting for a Jewish state that included Transjordan. Both of those organizations were fighting for a Jewish state with the capital in Jerusalem. In addition, Lehi was fighting for a Beit Hamikdash in the center of Jerusalem and to bring all the world’s Jews to Israel. In other words, complete redemption.

They both were fighting to prevent the British from staying in Eretz Yisrael, and Ben-Gurion according to them was doing the opposite. If you see Ben-Gurion as doing the opposite, what’s the point of turning power over to him?

What do you mean when you say Ben-Gurion was doing the opposite?

Eldad’s and Begin’s view was that the state as set up and accepted by the Labor movement could not survive. Now you can say in hindsight they were wrong, the state did survive. And since they were wrong, then not shooting back was a good thing because it prevented a civil war. But then you could also argue – there’s no way to answer this question – that had the Irgun and Lehi fought back, the masses would have supported them and the country would look not like it looks today, but a lot larger, more powerful, and not negotiating over whether we should give the Palestinians the cities of our fathers but rather whether they will give us more territory closer to the Nile.

All this is pretty critical of Ben-Gurion.

The First Tithe was written in 1949-1950. Eldad’s view of Ben-Gurion changed over the next four decades. I’m not saying he viewed Ben-Gurion as a hero, but he recognized later that Ben-Gurion did things that no one else did. He set up the Jewish state, built a Jewish army, and led the country. Nobody did that except him.

You mentioned Eldad’s vision of a Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates with a Temple in Jerusalem and all the world’s Jews living there. Did he really see this as a practical goal?


And if, hypothetically, Eldad had been in charge in 1948 and he received a state with smaller borders?

If he got smaller borders, the borders would have been used to expand.

In terms of aliyah, at least, it seems Eldad’s vision was no different from Ben-Gurion’s.

That’s completely wrong. When Ben-Gurion started negotiating with American Jews and taking their money, he stopped believing that all the Jews had to come to Israel. Eldad did not. The Bible says clearly that exile is a punishment and anywhere we go in the Diaspora we will suffer. Ultimately, according to Eldad, exile and Diaspora lead to one of two things: shmad or hashmada, assimilation or extermination.

You write in the introduction to The First Tithe that Eldad was instrumental in your own aliyah to Israel. Can you elaborate?

I read a booklet of his that said something I had never heard before, which was that the goal of Zionism was not the creation of a Jewish state but that the state was a tool to realize Zionism. As soon as I understood that we were not yet where we have to be and we have a road to travel to redemption, I moved to Israel.

And then when you met Eldad in Israel, you told him you were thinking of moving back to the States because of difficulties in finding a job and a home.

That’s true and that’s the wrong answer. Eldad told me that I’m here because I’m a Jew who’s come home and just like any person in his own country, you look for a job and a place to live and you move around until you find one. You don’t get up and leave the country.

In Eldad’s conception, after world Jewry makes aliyah and the Third Temple is rebuilt, what then?

The Temple is the place where we unite heaven and earth, and that’s almost a metaphysical point. To what exactly it leads I don’t know, but it’s the reunification of heaven and earth, the ladder in Jacob’s dream that unites heaven and earth, the kingdom of God on earth.

Was Eldad’s vision, then, essentially a religious one?

I’m not sure if Eldad would use that term. It wasn’t in fulfillment of commandment number two hundred and fifty something or other. But there’s no doubt that his vision of redemption is the biblical, prophetic and traditional view of redemption. Avraham Stern [Lehi’s founder] put the building of the Temple into the principles of the Stern Group and called it a recognition, a symbol, of redemption.

In The First Tithe Eldad criticizes Palestine’s chief rabbis, Isaac Herzog and Benzion Uziel, but highly praises – almost idolizes – Reb Aryeh Levin (subject of the book A Tzaddik in Our Time). Can you explain why?

I’d rather not make specific references. But I will say that a lot of the underground leaders and fighters were very disappointed at the apathy of religious leaders who left the field of Jewish redemption to others.

And that’s one of the reasons why Israel today has such a non-religious character: because religious Jews spent a lot of time fighting over soccer fields being open on Shabbos and how women should dress – which are both important – but then ignored the questions of how to get Jews out of Europe on the eve of World War II and how to get the British out of Eretz Yisrael who were locking the gates to the country.

There were rabbis of course who did concern themselves with what we could call “ultimacies,” matters of ultimate importance. One was Rabbi Kook and one was Rabbi Aryeh Levin. And there were many others. Eldad, as many of the other freedom fighters, had an incredible regard for these rabbis.

Was Eldad religious?

He was from a traditional home. I cannot testify as to whether he kept all the mitzvot; I was not in a position to see or know that. He didn’t wear a yarmulke, but his son, MK Aryeh Eldad, told a story in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago of how his father would walk with him every Nissan to kasher all of the pots and pans in the house for Pesach. Well, if you want to say he’s not religious, what’s he doing kashering his pots and pans?

Can you translate Eldad’s philosophy into contemporary Israeli politics?

If the Jewish people are going to deal in small politics, negotiating with the non-Jews for our right to live, then we’re back in the shtetl. In order for us to survive, it’s not only useful but necessary that we have a strong, large Jewish state that does not shrink but rather gets larger, and the place for all the Jews in the world is in that state.

Another application concerns the Iranian threat. Many hope the world will take care of this threat. Eldad would say that the purpose of the Jewish state is that we take our destiny in our own hands. If we cannot resolve the Iranian nuclear threat on our own then perhaps this entire experiment of the Jewish state was pointless.

Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter.

Elliot Resnick

Ike and Israel: The Apogee of Neutrality

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Much has been written in recent weeks of the Obama administration’s possible tilt toward a more evenhanded U.S. Middle East policy. Contrary to popular perception, however, if such a change were indeed implemented, it would constitute not so much a new and revolutionary approach as it would an old and reactionary one.

It would, in fact, be several giant steps backward to the approach pursued by the U.S. for the first decade and a half of Israel’s existence, never more faithfully than during the eight-year tenure of Dwight Eisenhower, who died 40 years ago this week at the age of 78.

Everyone, as the popular slogan went, liked Ike – everyone, that is, but the majority of American Jews, who in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956 overwhelmingly preferred his Democratic opponent, former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson.

To all outward appearances, Eisenhower was the personification of the typical American at mid-century: a non-ideological moderate uncomfortable with extreme partisans of any ideology; a genial sort whose greatest concerns centered on improving his golf score and reeling in a really big fish.

That might have been the Eisenhower image, but it belied a shrewd political mind and a stubborn streak that vexed friend and foe alike. As would be true of Ronald Reagan three decades later, Eisenhower was often slighted for being nothing more than a jocular pitchman whose aides saw to the serious side of government. Disdain for Ike was a fact of life in academic and literary circles during his presidency and for years after he left office.

Gradually, historians began to develop a new appreciation for Eisenhower. Nostalgia for a more innocent time in America, even among cynical intellectuals, may have contributed to this changed perception. But what really opened eyes in the mid- and late-1970s was the declassification of Eisenhower-era government documents.

Scholars discovered that Ike had been the master of what the historian Fred Greenstein dubbed the “hidden-hand presidency”; that behind the smiling, grandfatherly exterior there lived a highly-competent chief executive who was indeed his administration’s ultimate decision-maker.

It follows, then, that the Eisenhower administration’s attitude toward Israel – one that can only be described as irritable ambivalence straining for proper cordiality – must have come directly from the man at the top.

* * *

Eisenhower remarked on more than one occasion that, had he been president in the late 1940s, he would not have supported the creation of Israel. He added, however, that since the Jewish state was now a reality, he wished it well. And though it is impossible in all fairness to question the sincerity behind the latter sentiment, the record of the Eisenhower administration toward Israel does at least call it into question.

In the summer of 1952, Senator Richard Nixon, whom presidential candidate Eisenhower had just chosen as his running mate, was only too prescient when he remarked to some friends active in Jewish organizational life that in the event of an Eisenhower victory in November, it would be a mistake to expect Ike’s likely secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, to be friendly toward Israel.

Dulles (who would serve as Eisenhower’s secretary of state from 1953 until his death in 1959) and his brother Allen (who headed the CIA during the same period) were pillars of the American foreign policy establishment, a rarefied club of well-born WASPs who moved in the kind of circles where the mere sighting of a Jew was an unusual occurrence.

Reports through the years about the extent of their anti-Semitism have often been unreliable, with some of the more negative stories coming from anonymous or questionable sources. But one can say with a reasonable amount of certitude that the welfare of the Jewish people was not something to which the Dulles brothers devoted a great deal of thought.

As for Eisenhower, no serious allegation of personal anti-Semitism has ever been leveled against him. Though he was not known to have had any close Jewish friends – growing up in Abilene, Kansas, he certainly had no contact with Jews in his formative years – he was not a man given to trafficking in casual ethnic or religious slurs.

Eisenhower was genuinely horrified by what he saw when Allied troops liberated the Nazi concentration camps. “The visual evidence of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering,” he said about one such camp. “I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give firsthand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’ ”

Long after the war he reminisced about his standard procedure in those days for dealing with officers who made anti-Jewish remarks: The offending individual would be sent on a detailed tour of Dachau or Auschwitz – “and that,” said Eisenhower, “would cure him.”

* * *

Relations between the Eisenhower administration and Israel got off on the wrong foot soon after Ike assumed the presidency in January 1953. That summer, Israel undertook an ambitious effort to divert water from the Jordan River to irrigate the arid Negev. The project was loudly denounced by Jordan and Syria as an act of thievery that would cost them their share of the river’s water.

The United Nations, with the U.S. in full agreement, demanded an immediate halt to the project. The Israeli government refused, and the tone in U.S.-Israel relations was set for the next eight years. The Eisenhower administration, from that early skirmish on, viewed Israel as an unpredictable nuisance at best, a threat to the region’s stability at worst.

It was a negative assessment that would be reinforced in the midst of the Jordan River controversy as Israel stumbled into a public relations disaster entirely of its own making.

Incursions into Israel by Arab saboteurs had been going on for several years, and retaliation by the Israeli army was a given. Because these attacks and counterattacks were relatively small-scale operations, carried out not in Israel’s cities but in and around the country’s borders, they hardly drew the attention of the outside world. That would all change with what happened in an Arab village called Qibya.

In October 1953, a unit of Israeli commandos, under the leadership of a young colonel named Ariel Sharon, crossed over the border into Jordan after Arab terrorists killed an Israeli mother and her two young children. In Qibya, which had been a base for terrorists preparing attacks against Israel, Sharon’s men blew up a number of buildings thought to be empty. When it was over and dozens of civilians were found dead in their demolished homes (hundreds of other residents had been allowed to leave the area), international condemnation quickly rained down on Israel. Even the country’s staunchest defenders found it difficult to explain away the tragedy.

Rather than leave bad enough alone, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, according to Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, “instructed Ambassador [Abba] Eban to tell Washington and the UN that the raiders had not been Israeli soldiers but enraged farmers and settlers.”

The story was too obvious a concoction. “No one,” write Raviv and Melman, “believed that tale, and it only fueled the Eisenhower administration’s anger.”

The deadly violence in Qibya and the clumsy attempt at deflecting blame, following so closely on the heels of the water diversion dispute, led to the first-ever suspension of U.S. financial aid to Israel. Feeling the pinch, Ben-Gurion finally agreed to put a stop to the water project, and the aid was restored.

Relations between the two countries would be distant though not particularly unfriendly for the next few years, with Washington’s attention focused on winning the support of the Arab world in the global fight against Communism.

The Eisenhower administration’s main foreign-policy objective was the containment of Soviet expansionism, which in the Middle East meant keeping the Russians away from the oil resources so critical to the West.

For much of Ike’s first term the U.S. attempted, with mixed results, to create coalitions of like-minded nations in regions deemed geographically and politically strategic. The linchpin of any such regional alliance in the Middle East was Egypt, and the Americans went out of their way to solicit the affections of the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

But Nasser played hard to get, tacking pro-U.S. one day and pro-Soviet the next. Eisenhower, tiring of Nasser’s penchant for playing off East against West, decided in early 1955 to back the formation of the Baghdad Pact – a defensive alliance comprised of Britain, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Nasser countered by entering into a large arms deal with Czechoslovakia, and the Communists had their first real link with the Arab world.

By flirting with Nasser while naively underestimating his determination to restore Egyptian pride and Arab unity, the U.S. had made a terrible miscalculation.

* * *

On the home front, the Middle East receded from the headlines in the mid-1950s. Americans, when not distracted by the new plaything called television, were focused on the ongoing dramatics of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin Republican who since 1950 had been mesmerizing the country with charges of Communist subversion in high places.

McCarthy wasn’t entirely wrong, but he was a blustery, boozy opportunist prone to exaggeration, and as such was an unfortunate spokesman for the anti-Communist cause.

One thing McCarthy apparently was not, though some of his enemies tried to portray him as one, was an anti-Semite. As historian David Oshinsky notes in A Conspiracy So Immense, “[McCarthy] never engaged in anti-Semitic diatribes or made the loaded connection between Jews and left-wing radicalism. Despite the unrelenting hostility of organized Jewry to his crusade, McCarthy still praised the state of Israel [and] condemned the Soviet persecution of Jews. ”

“[T]he McCarthyites,” concurs Benjamin Ginsberg in The Fatal Embrace, his study of the historical relationship between Jews and government, “had no use for anti-Semitism as a political weapon. Indeed, several of McCarthy’s most important aides … were themselves Jews.”

The fact, however, that Jews were over-represented in radical and Communist circles was an uncomfortable reality in 1950s America. Though no anti-Semitic backlash materialized in reaction to the trial and execution of the convicted Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or to the preponderance of Jews called to testify at hearings conducted in Washington by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), many Jews still worried that they were considered less than loyal by non-Jewish Americans – a fear that couldn’t help but contribute to a reticence among Jewish groups in confronting the Eisenhower administration over its Mideast policies.

* * *

Eisenhower vowed that his approach to the Middle East would never be dictated by political pressure, which was a polite way of saying he wasn’t about to be influenced by the Jews (or, as he so euphemistically put it in his diary, “our citizens of the Eastern seaboard emotionally involved in the Zionist cause”).

Unlike Truman in 1948, Ike in 1952 had not needed Jewish votes and knew he would not need them in 1956. He was not shy about pointing to that domestic political reality when Republicans would voice concern about his handling of Israel.

Eisenhower’s disregard for domestic politics was more than evident in October 1956, just a month before the presidential election. Egypt’s Nasser, in response to the retraction by the United State of an offer to refinance work on the Aswan Dam, had nationalized the Suez Canal Company, which was under British and French ownership. The prime ministers of Britain and France hatched a complicated plan to retake control of the canal by force and somehow convinced Ben-Gurion to have Israel join in.

The operation was doomed from the start. Each of the countries involved had its own motives; the coordination of the actual attack was bungled every which way; and the Soviets threatened to take military action in defense of Egypt while the Americans, furious at Britain, France and Israel, remained silent in the face of Russia’s threats.

The Israelis, for their part, had managed to capture the entire Sinai, and enormous pressure was now brought to bear on them to withdraw. Ben-Gurion refused at first, but Eisenhower, who felt Israel had launched an unprovoked attack on Egypt simply because Britain and France were providing a convenient cover, wouldn’t stand for it.

The U.S. suspended all financial and technical aid to Israel, and when Ben-Gurion still balked at withdrawing, the administration let it be known it was ready to support a United Nations plan for sweeping sanctions that would cripple Israel’s economy in a matter of weeks. There was also talk of ending the tax-deductible status of charitable contributions to Israel by American Jews.

Ben-Gurion finally buckled, and on March 1, 1957, four months after the ill-conceived and short-lived Franco-British-Israeli alliance, the official announcement was made that Israeli troops would leave the Sinai.

(In 1965 Eisenhower would admit to Jewish organizational leader and Republican fundraiser Max Fisher that he had come to “regret what I did. I should never have pressured Israel to vacate the Sinai.”)

Secretary of State Dulles boasted that most Americans supported the Eisenhower policy, adding: “I am aware how almost impossible it is in this country to have a foreign policy not approved by the Jews. I am going to try to have one.”

It should be noted that those remarks were made at a time when Israel was receiving from Washington a relatively small amount of financial assistance and no military aid at all; a time when Israel existed behind the precarious 1949 armistice lines and Jordan and Egypt controlled, respectively, the West Bank and Gaza; a time when Jewish organizations were keeping a considerably lower profile than would be the case years later (AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations were formed in the mid-1950s, AIPAC to better present Israel’s case to U.S. lawmakers, the Presidents Conference to give the Jewish community a more unified voice).

* * *

The final years of Eisenhower’s second term were relatively quiet with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Relations between the U.S. and Israel, which had come close to unraveling in late 1956 and early 1957, gradually returned to where they were pre-Suez, which is to say not particularly close but relatively free of tension and mutual mistrust.

There would be better times ahead in the U.S.-Israel relationship, but it would be years before the two countries could, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as actual friends rather than, at best, friendly acquaintances.

Jason Maoz

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