Thursday, January 31, 2008

On the Altalena

The untreated question

Sir, - David Forman's history of the Altalena affair was a bit off the mark ("Israel's fifth column," UpFront, January 18). His chronology was skimpy, misleading and ignored certain elements.

Already on May 15, after midnight, Menachem Begin informed Yisrael Galili, of the new Defense Ministry, of the existence of the ship Altalena and even suggested that the Hagana purchase it. On May 17, Mossad agent Z. Schind informed Galili that they had been aware of the ship's existence for some time and suspected the British knew of its existence. The chain of events as described by Forman implied that David Ben-Gurion was surprised only on June 11; which was not the case.

But, more important, Forman wrote that "Begin refused to respond to the ultimatum, making a clash inevitable; whereupon Ben-Gurion issued the order to open fire on the Altalena."

It would be more correct to have written that faced with an ultimatum which contradicted the terms of the agreement Begin had concluded with Galili to land the boat at Kfar Vitkin, Begin sought to communicate with Ben-Gurion. IDF troops then opened fire at Kfar Vitkin beach, killing two Irgun men, whereupon the Altalena upped anchor and set sail for Tel Aviv. There, Palmah men opened murderous fire on the ship and at men swimming in the water.

Fourteen more Irgun men were killed at that location by small-arms fire. Ben-Gurion then ordered a cannon to fire on the Altalena, even though Begin had withheld return fire from the boat.

In writing "While there is much debate as to whether the confrontation could have been avoided," Forman avoided the main question: If Begin initiated informing the new government about the ship; had agreed to a major compromise over the distribution of the weapons; had agreed to land at Kfar Vitkin, a Mapai moshav, and almost 90 percent of the arrivals had disembarked and already set off for Netanya - why did Ben-Gurion need to use military force, seeing Begin had proved that, in deliberations, he was willing to seek national unity?

Could it have been that he was seeking to destroy Begin and the Irgun as a political force, or even eliminate Begin altogether?


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 15

Volume 4, Issue 16
January 29, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 373,291

"A Prisoner and a Free Man" Says Benny Begin in Intro to White Nights

Much interest has been aroused by the new edition of White Nights by Menachem Begin in English which tells the story of his imprisonment by the Soviets in the Lukishki prison where he was subject to long complicated interrogations.

In this new edition, documents taken from the KGB archives include their minutes of the interrogation. Begin had reconstructed the interrogation from memory and remarkably their protocols coincide with his recollections.

The book contains an introduction by Ze'ev B. Begin in which he refers to his father's plight in the Soviet prison and during the interrogation and says in conclusion:

In captivity, in the anonymity of a jail, it is difficult to preserve the integrity of one's personality, but he insisted. To do so, he employed several tactics that permitted him in many instances to prevent his interrogators from dictating to him the parameters of their mutual relationship. One method was "study". He loved to study and did so all his life. He considered his tribulations in the Soviet Union an important life-experience. In prison he acquired the habit of concentrating his thoughts while walking back and forth in the cell, a habit that he well used later as a hunted commander of an underground. He considered his services as the commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi as his most important role and instructively, his book, The Revolt, opens with the Lukishki Prison. Aft the "white nights" of interrogations, he was sent for "re-education" to the region of white nights in Russia's north and there defined clearly the approach that guided him also in the underground struggle: "Every end justifies the means? – No! The end justifies all the means? – No! Every end justifies all the means? – No! Never!"

In the humiliating conditions of the prison, hungry and fatigued, he wanted, as he wrote, "to be a 'Mentch", a human being," a word that conveys in Yiddish more than it does in English. NKVD Lieutenant Kianchenko was not all wrong when he denied that he conducted an interrogation. Between him and Betar head Menachem Begin an ideological confrontation took place over many hours. An entire chapter of White Nights is devoted to the climax of this debate, expressed in a human d rama which places a man's dignity on but one point: the interrogators demands that the prisoner sign a statement admitting his guilt in being the head of Betar in Poland. The prisoner, however, his head shaven, is willing only to sign that he admits to the fact that this indeed was his position. He tells of an all-night session, accompanied by shouts, blandishments and threats. A major came to the aide of the lieutenant but to no avail. The prisoner insisted—and the NKVD yielded. As he writes at the end of chapter 8, "he did not even deign to answer me. He tore up what he had written and wrote it out again, as follows:&n bsp; "I admit that I was Chairman of Betar in Poland,…" He writes that he was not the only Lukishki prisoner that distinguished between "admitting the fact" and "admitting the guilt", but again, one may wonder if he accurately described the event.

The pedantry of the interrogator has left for us the essence of that drama. It was a bit shorter than the prisoner imagined: it was the evening of December 13, between 8:30 and 1:00 AM. In the minutes only one question appears, with its answer:

Question: "Do you admit your guilt, according to articles 58-4 and 58-11 of the Soviet Criminal Law, that you were a member of the central committee of the Jewish nationalist bourgeoisie party of the Zionist Revisionists and the head of the anti-revolutionary Betar…?"

Answer: I admit that I was a member of the Zionist Revisionist youth movement Betar…"

"I did not yield," Menachem Begin wrote in his book at the end of this chapter. "I signed. I was taken back to my cell."

He was a prisoner, but he was a free man.

The book is published by Steimatsky and is available in their stores all over the country and in the Tal Klein souvenir store for 69 NIS.

IGF: "Most Exciting" Experience

The government appointed council of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center met on Sunday and heard reports on past activities, future plans and budgetary problems.

One of the items on the program was a presentation by the organizers and some of the participants in the Israel Government Fellows program.

The first group of participants, which is due to complete their 6 months program, are most enthusiastic about it and have described it as the most exciting practical experience they could have had. All of them had been placed as interns in government and other public offices. Three of them spoke of their experiences in the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Justice.

There were brief comments by Tamar Darmon, the Director of the program, and it was announced that the new group of 14 students from five countries is set to begin on 20 February.


Max and Vera Brozin of Johannesburg, South Africa made an unannounced visit to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and were deeply moved by the concept, the structure, the museum and other features in the four-story building.

They asked to meet Harry Hurwitz whom they have known most of their lives. They were happy also to meet Freda Hurwitz.

Max Brozin was born in Middleburg, Transvaal, where the family were staunch supporters of the Revisionist Movement and hosted Menachem Begin on visits to that area where they lived.

* * * * *

Phyllis and Sam Kaminsky of Washington, DC, who are enthusiastic supporters of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center visited on Sunday morning and by chance met with some of the heads of the Begin Center and Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation. They took time to see the temporary exhibit marking 30 years after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and also saw other features in the building.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 15

Volume 4, Issue 15
January 23, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 371,518

Hot Off the Press: New Edition of White Nights in English

The new English edition of White Nights, which includes excerpts from KGB documents that are appearing for the first time in English, is now on sale in selected bookstores connected with Steimatsky publishers and at the Tal Klein souvenir store in the Begin Center.

This is Menachem Begin's second book (the first was The Revolt). It was written and published in Hebrew (1953) and soon after in English (1957). The original text was translated from Hebrew to English by Katie Kaplan.

Begin tells the story of his interrogation and imprisonment by the Soviet authorities who had taken over Lithuania where he was temporarily living. They charged him with being an agent of British Imperialism and sentenced him to 8 years in a correctional labor camp. While he was in the camp Germany invaded the Soviet Union which ente red into an agreement with the Free Polish Government whereby any Polish citizen in a Soviet prison or labor camp would be released if they joined the Free Polish Army commanded by General Anders. Begin did so and traveled with the Army to the Middle East where he was demobilized. Soon after, he became commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi. The book makes fascinating reading even at this time. The book is available for 69 NIS.

"Integrity of our National Rights"

The archives in the Menachem Begin Heritage Center constantly receives important documents, pictures and letters from organizations and individuals all over Israel and abroad.

Recently a family that has been living in Jerusalem for more than 20 years sent a copy of a letter which they had received from Prime Minister Menachem Begin in response to a letter they had sent to him before their aliyah.

In the letter of three paragraphs, he said:

"The principle of Government policy is clear: peace and security with Egypt, thereby breaking the cycle of warfare, sorrow and bereavement which had lasted for more than three decades; and the search for peace with our other Arab neighbors whilst maintaining the integrity of our national rights and the security of Eretz Israel and, at its heart, Yerushalayim, the eternal and indivisible capital of the people of Israel and of the Jewish people wherever they may be."

Begin Center Staff Participate in Conference

The Begin Center congratulates two of its staff members, Ziv Rubinovitz and Yisrael Medad, upon being selected to present research papers at The 3rd Annual Graduate Conference in Political Science in memory of Yitzhak Rabin held last week at the Hebrew University.

Ziv, who works as assistant to Prof. Gerald Steinberg at the Center's Research Department, spoke on The Geopolitics of American Use of Force in the International Arena since 1898. Yisrael, the Center's director of Information Resources, presented a paper on “The Temple Mount To Our Hands and Beneath Our Feet” – The Survival of an Obstructed and Shunned Protest Movement. These were among the 65 papers presented by MA and PhD students from all Israel's univer sities.


John and Jill Roth of Sydney, Australia, visited the Begin Center last Friday morning where they were met and guided by Freda and Harry Hurwitz. John and his brother Stanley made a significant contribution to the Building Fund of the Begin Center. Their contribution has provided the Avenue of the Heritage which sums up Begin's main philosophy as the viewers move from section to section until the Peace Room. At the beginning of the Avenue is the inscription telling of the Roth Family's kind contribution.

A few days later their son, Jeremy, who was here with the Australian Youth Academy group, visited the Begin Center separately and toured the museum.

The Roths were very impressed by the museum and said they would urge their friends to come and visit.

* * * * *

160 members of the national division of Information Technology of Discount Bank visited the Begin Center last Monday. They had a full day at the Begin Center that included all the Begin Center activi ties as well as their annual planning meeting. They broke up into smaller groups and visited the museum, the archeology garden and were given a brief history of the area surrounding the Begin Center. Some groups were taken on a tour from the Begin Center to the King David Hotel. At the end of the day, 50 people from the group were taken from the Begin Center to the Kotel (the Western Wall) in the Old City.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reaction to the Iraqi Reactor Bombing

On June 11, 1981 Schlesinger lunched with the prominent journalist Joe Alsop. The topic was "the sneak Israeli attack on the nuclear installation in Iraq, an appalling action" in Schlesinger's view; but he recorded that Bill Paley, president of CBS, and Alsop, the Wall Street Journal and even Schlesinger friend's the liberal journalist Jim Wechsler applauded the attack. When Kissinger was asked his view at a dinner party, he said, "Privately, I am pleased. I think many Arabs are pleased."


Jan 15, 2008
Revelations of an inquisitive historian

Center Bulletin, Volume 4, Issue 14

Volume 4, Issue 14
January 16, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 369,689

Parashat HaShavua Participants Undeterred by Heavy Security Surrounding Bush's Visit

More than 200 of the regular participants in the Rohr Family Parashat HaShavua program of the Begin Center were not deterred by the security for the visit to Jerusalem by President Bush of the USA last week. Despite the presence of large numbers of police and security personnel blocking all ro ads, these regulars arrived at the Begin Center at the appointed time and took their seats as usual to hear the lecture by Dr. Shelly Goldberg.

The lecture went on uninterrupted and at the end of it the participants rose and went on their way. Shortly thereafter, the security restrictions were lifted as President Bush and his entourage returned to their hotels which were all in close proximity to the Begin Center.

* * * * *

First Parashat HaShavua CD on Sale NOW!

The first CD of the Begin Center's Parashat HaShavua program was released last week and is now on sale at Tal Klein's souvenir store on the entrance level. It comprises 13 of the original series of lectures on the weekly portions in Bereshit given by Dr. Micha Goodman. The technical process for this production was started some years ago before the Rohr Family became involved in the program. All future discs will be part of their comprehensive sponsorship of the program.

Begin Center Against New "Sloppy" Biography of Begin

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center is leading the campaign against a recently published "biography" of Menachem Begin by a young journalist, Avi Shilon, on the grounds that the book is full of flaws, found on almost every other page.

The Chairman of the Begin Center, Herzl Makov, appeared on the Channel 10 television program hosted by London and Kirschenbaum along with the book's author and Prof. Yechiam Weitz.

Makov said that the book has been studied and researched and severely criticized by three well-known historians:

Prof. Michael Bar-Zohar of Tel Aviv University said on the radio station Galei-Tzhal on 1 1 January: "This book is very controversial. A very sloppy book. There are all kinds of quotes and details that are problematic, inexact and wrong. The publisher, Am Oved, claims that they had historians that went over the book. What do we do with such historians? I wouldn't take classes with those historians."

Prof. Aryeh Naor of Ben-Gurion University said in Ma'ariv on 8 January: "There are inexact quotes, facts, dates, which shows that this is not a serious work."

Prof. Yechiam Weitz of Haifa University said on Channel 10 on 14 January: "The boo k is sloppy. There are terrible and horrible mistakes. Good heavens, there are terrible mistakes even in the bibliography."

Staff members of the Center are still painstakingly going over the 500+ page volume.

"Sderot: A Different Country"

A panel discussion and a 50-minute movie on Sderot will take place in the Begin Center on Tuesday, 22 January at 7:00pm.

The event is being organized by the well-known magazine Eretz Aheret ("A Different Country").

The 50-minute movie HaHalutzim (The Pioneers) has been made by the historian Dr. Arele Cohen, who will be one of the speakers in the panel.

Entrance is free and it is advisable to phone for reservations to (02) 621-6112.

In Memoriam

We deeply regret to record the death of Mrs. Sara Mirelman, widow of the late Dr. Josef Mirelman, who died some years ago. They were veterans of the Jabotinsky movement in South America and had worked with Jabotinsky himself.

She is survived by their children and grandchildren: Ruth Gorali, David and Ahuva Mirelman, Julie and Eli Caspi, Ariel and Irit Mirelman. Dr. Mirelman was a member of the International Board of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the whole family.


Vivienne and Abe Ruttenberg of Toronto, Canada, visited the Begin Center on Monday and met with Harry Hurwitz, the Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation, whom they have known for many years. They were most impressed by the building, the museum, the auditorium and the Beit Knesset and also by the current temporary exhibition marking 30 years after the visit of President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem at the invitation of Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

* * * * *

Several hundred WIZO leaders from abroad who were in Jerusalem participating in the WIZO convention visited the Begin Center on Tuesday and spent the required time in the museum and viewed other features in the Begin Center. The Begin Center was part of the Jerusalem program of the convention delegates and visitors.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Future Tour Guides at Archeological Garden

Going to Press

Going to press next week.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 13

Volume 4, Issue 13
January 8, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 358,044

Bush's Visit Will Tie Up the Streets of Jerusalem

Begin Center will Remain Open

The enormous pressure on traffic movement in Jerusalem related to the visit of US President George W. Bush has had some impact on the free movement in and out of the Begin Center—although the rule here is "business as usual."

President Bush will be staying in the King David Hotel and the police and security forces will block off the area around the hotel, sealing off any traffic and no parking will be allowed. The Begin Center is situated just outside the blocked off area. The Center will remain open as usual and most tours of the Begin Museum are going ahead as planned. Hopefully, there will be no serious traffic breakdowns to prevent people from arriving at the appointed hour for their tours.

Positive Response for World View

The very attractive and unique reproduction of the booklet which was first produced in 1951 containing Menachem Begin's "Basic Outline of Our World View and Our National Outlook" has already reached some of the addressees here in Israel and abroad. Their reaction has been most positive and grateful that they are among the first to see and be able to read this historic document.< /SPAN>

A number have sent their comments by email and others have telephoned from abroad to thank the Menachem Begin Heritage Center for having sent them this document.

A limited number of copies are still available for sale for 20 NIS at Tal Klein's souvenir shop on the entrance floor to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

Annual 'Elitzur' Lecture in February

As previously announced the annual 'Elitzur' memorial lecture will take place on Sunday, 24 February at 6:00pm at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. The tribute will be the first part of an event (mainly in English) dedicated to Jewish heroism. The second part will honor the courageous fighters in the Soviet Union who waged a struggle for their right to aliyah 40 years ago. This event is currently commemorated in a special exhibition in Beit Hatefutsoth (The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv), which was set up by a committee headed by MK Yuli Edelstein. He has readily agreed to appear at the 'Elitzur' evening to speak about his own struggle at that time. An excerpt from the movie Refusnik will be shown at the conclusion of his address.

In Memoriam

We deeply regret to record the death of Dr. Matthias (Matti) Cohen of Ramat HaSharon who came to Israel many years ago from Welcom, South Africa. He was a leading physician in Israel and a friend of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his wife, Jean, his children and their families.

* * * * *

Yosef (Borke) Mintz who was a member of Betar in Latvia before his aliyah and then was in the ranks of the Irgun passed away a week ago. He served as Betar shaliach in New York in the 1970s and in other capacities in the organization during his career. He is survived by his wife Thelma and family.


Moe Levy, of the Asper Foundation, Winnipeg, visited the Begin Center on Tuesday morning accompanied by th e Foundation's local representative, Shai Abramson. He met with Harry Hurwitz, the Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation and Herzl Makov, the Chairman of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. There was wide ranging discussion on the activities of the Begin Center, future plans and the financial situation.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Center Bulletin Vol. 4, Issue 12

Volume 4, Issue 12
January 2, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 356,530

The Begin Foundation Reaches Out

A very impressive advertisement of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation appeared in a special supplement of the Jerusalem Post on Sunday with the aim of promoting philanthropy. The advertisement shows Menachem Begin speaking at a podium under the headline: "Menachem Begin speaks to the nation."

It announces that there are still important naming opportunities in the building and that the Endowment Fund has been launched to ensure the ongoing educational, research, publication and museum activities. It is our hope that the Center may benefit from the largesse of Jewish philanthropists so that our activities will not be so dependent on the fluctuations of the state budget.

Visits to the Archeology Garden

Two classes of tour guides in training, one in English and one in Hebrew, spent some time last week at the Begin Center archeology garden named for the late parents of Alfred Reich in Pennsylvania, where they heard lectures and discussions about the biblical significance of the location and findings.

The site at the back of the Begin Center is archeologically very significant. It is dated as being active during the First Temple period (2600-2700 years ago). The hills around Jerusalem w ere a kind of "necropolis"—a city of the dead—as no bodies could be buried within the city walls. Archeologist learned very much about the burial process of the time.

The most significant finding was the silver amulet with the oldest Biblical text ever found—the priestly blessing--"Hashem bless thee and keep thee, Hashem cause his face to shine upon thee peace." (Num 6, 24-26) This text is dated to be 700 years older than the Qumran scrolls. This is the only evidence we have of the usage of biblical texts used in that period. This item and all the other thin gs that were found are part of the exhibits at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

That means that in future more and more people will be brought to the Begin Center by tour guides to view this important attraction.

All this is described in a booklet recently produced by the Begin Center called The Menachem Begin Heritage Center and Its Vicinity" which is available at Klein's souvenir store at the Begin Center on the entrance floor.

Junior Knesset in English

The Junior Knesset program has been revived following a short break because of the school strike. However, the new impetus has come from several sessions of the Junior Knesset in English for the Senior Educators Leadership of Young Judea which were opened and facilitated by Yisrael Medad.

Scholarship Awards 2007

As in previous years the event opened with a tribute to the late Izzy Asper, media magnate in Canada, who was a major supporter of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. One of the scholarships is in the name of the Asper Foundation. In his remarks, Harry Hurwitz spoke of the younger generation's leadership of the strong beliefs and manifold activities for the people of Israel and the Jewish world which characterized the life of Izzy Asper and is now continued by his family.

At the recent, day-long seminar at the Ariel University Center, Leonard Asper had given the keynote address in which he challenged Israeli officials to do a better job of making Israel’s case in the media.

The Izzy Asper Scholarship was given to Uriya Melamed for her work entitled "Lehi Fighters against the British Court, Summer 1944." Six prizes were given, two for graduate level work and four for seminar papers. Herzl Makov spoke on behalf of the Begin Center as its Chairman and Dvora Eldar spoke in the name of the recipients. Hanoch Bazov presented his work "Intellectuals in Egypt and their Attitudes toward Israel and the Peace Process. Prof. Gerald Steinberg, head of the Begin Center's Research Institute and the head of the Political Science department of Bar Ilan University, was joined by Prof. Margolit Shiloh, also of Bar Ilan, and together they presented the awards. A marimba musical interlude was provided by Meir Yeniger.

Memorial "Elitzur" Lecture in February

This year's "Elitzur" memorial lecture will take place on Sunday 24 February at 6:00pm when members of the Friedman family and friends from Israel and abroad will be present.

The second part of the evening will be a recognition of one of the greatest examples of the Jewish people's heroic spirit which was manifested in the struggle that began 40 years ago of Soviet Jewry.

A leading Prisoner of Zion, now Knesset Member, Yuli Edelstein will speak of his experience and those of his generation. He is presently the Chairman of the committee that is organizing the 40th anniversary commemoration in different parts of Israel and the Jewish world. A short movie depicting the struggle will be shown.

The evening will be mainly in English.


Prof. Avi Beker of Georgetown University in the Department of Government, his wife and in-laws visited the Begin Center on Monday. He is a leading researcher at the Intercultural Center in Washington, DC, and is currently working on the Camp David Process of 1978. He met with Harry Hurwitz, Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation.

* * * * *

Rabbi David Fuld and his wife from New York visited the Begin Center and toured its museum. He is a disti nguished leader in the field of Jewish Education in the US.