Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In an article published in Haaretz (here), Dr. Meir Zamir, a professor of Middle East history in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, traced a Mandate incident regarding a clash of British and French interests in Syria, which had potential quite negative ramifications for Zionism.

The Irgun is mentioned in passing and below are relevant extracted passages:

Britain's treachery, France's revenge
1 February 2008

In the summer of 1944, when soldiers of Free France were still fighting alongside the British against the Nazis in Europe, the two colonial powers were engaged in a clandestine struggle in the Middle East. That summer, French intelligence scored a major coup over its British counterpart in the region. The French recruited a Syrian agent who had access to top-secret correspondence between Syrian leaders - among them President Shukri al-Quwatli and Foreign Minister Jamil Mardam (who later became prime minister) - and leaders of neighboring states. French intelligence also obtained reports sent by Syrian diplomats in London, Washington, Moscow, Paris and a number of Arab countries.

...After the war the French sought to regain control of Syria and Lebanon, but Syria constituted a distinctive problem, in that its independence had been declared already in 1941, after joint forces of Britain and Free France liberated the country from the rule of the Vichy regime. From then until 1945, de Gaulle tried to force a treaty on Syria that would ensure France privileged status. After he understood that a Syrian-French agreement was not possible due to Syrian and British opposition, de Gaulle decided in April 1945 to send military reinforcements to Syria and Lebanon. This move, coupled with the harsh response of the French on May 8 in the city of Setif, Algeria, where French forces massacred thousands of Algerians who were demonstrating for their country's independence, badly rattled the Syrian president. Quwatli feared that he would suffer the same fate as Emir Faisal, who was expelled from Damascus by the French in July 1920.

At the end of May 1945, French forces attacked governmental institutions in Syria. On May 30, General Bernard Paget, the commander in chief of the British forces in the Middle East, issued an ultimatum to the French to hold their fire immediately and return to their barracks, or face a confrontation with far superior British forces. De Gaulle and the provisional French government had no choice but to comply. In the weeks that followed, with the tacit consent of the British, Syrian nationalists massacred scores of French citizens, and looted and destroyed the offices of French companies and French cultural, educational and religious institutions. Thus did French rule in Syria reach its violent and abrupt end.

In one of the most dramatic moments of the Syrian crisis, General de Gaulle told Duff Cooper, the British ambassador to Paris: "We are not, I admit, in a position to open hostilities against you at the present time. But you have insulted France and betrayed the West. This cannot be forgotten." On that same day, June 4, 1945, Cooper wrote in his diary: "He is genuinely convinced that the whole incident has been arranged by the British so as to carry out their long-planned policy of driving the French out of the Levant in order to take their place."

It now emerges that de Gaulle had concrete proof that "perfidious Albion" had struck again. That proof is contained in Syrian documents from 1944-1945, and some from 1947, which are preserved in the French archives and have now been made available to researchers. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and the rest of the British diplomatic corps persisted in their denials. Britain, they asserted, had no surreptitious motives in Syria and Lebanon, and in fact had mediated between Syria and France in an effort to reach an agreement. Britain's dsision to intervene was the direct result of de Gaulle's aggressive policy, and his suspicions concerning Britain's role in the Levant bordered
on paranoia and Anglophobia.

...Arab historians have described the crisis of May-June 1945 as a heroic uprising by the Syrian nationalists, who expelled the French from their country and thereby ensured its full independence....

...On August 5, 1944, Spears sent Riyad al-Sulh, the Lebanese prime minister, on a secret mission to Damascus. So strict was British security that Sulh learned the exact purpose of his mission only when he met with the British consul in the Syrian capital. The consul dictated to Sulh a proposal from His Majesty's Government to the Syrian government; Sulh was to convey the proposal to Saadallah al-Jabiri, the Syrian prime minister, who was also Sulh's father-in-law.

The British proposal included, among other points, Syria's unification with Transjordan and Palestine to create "Greater Syria."...To persuade the Syrian leaders to agree to these terms, Britain was ready to commit itself to defend Syrian independence in the face of external aggression, continue the White Paper policy in Palestine and put a complete halt to "Jewish ambitions."

This clandestine British proposal to the Syrian government shows that, contrary to what has been believed until now, in August 1944 the British government gave its representatives in the Middle East the go-ahead to implement Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said's "Fertile Crescent Plan." This entailed forming Greater Syria by integrating Syria with Transjordan, Palestine and Lebanon. At a later stage, Greater Syria would be united in a federation with Iraq. The Christian minorities in Lebanon and the Jews in Palestine would enjoy autonomy.

The document elaborating the British proposal shows that after three years of objecting, Churchill and Eden finally accepted the approach of their representatives in the Middle East and adopted a strategy congruent with the surging force of pan-Arabism. The obstacles were formidable: Britain had to oust France from the Levant, violate its commitments to the Zionist movement just when the scale of the Holocaust in Europe was becoming apparent, and depose Jordan's Emir Abdullah...

...The final stage in this British campaign of intrigue, provocation and pressure was played out in May 1945, with the aim of coercing Quwatli to sign an agreement with Britain. The secret British efforts to expel France from Syria were coordinated by Colonel Walter Stirling (who sometimes operated in the guise of a correspondent for The London Times).

...The British continued to exploit Damascus' fear of the return of the French and further heightened it by emphasizing the Zionist and Soviet threats, as well
as the ambitions of Emir Abdullah to crown himself king of Greater Syria.

At the end of 1945, the new Labour government took advantage of Syria's fears of a possible change in British policy to ensure that Damascus would uphold its May 1945 undertakings to Britain...However, the major obstacle to the Anglo-Iraqi-Syrian plan was not France, but the thrust of the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

...In the period 1945-1948, the most effective French weapon against Britain in the Middle East was its support for the struggle of the Zionist movement. In a meeting held on October 6, 1945, with Marc Jarblum, head of the Zionist organization in France, de Gaulle stated that "the Jews in Palestine are the only ones who can chase the British out of the Middle East." On November 10, in a visit to Paris, David Ben-Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency, was told by foreign minister Bidault that France supported the Zionist cause.

Syrian documents recently uncovered shed new light on events that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and call for a reexamination of certain basic beliefs concerning British policy in Palestine from 1945-1948. The British proposal to Syrian leaders in August 1944 and the secret Anglo-Syrian agreement of May 29, 1945, reveal that Britain had assured Syria - a country not previously known to have been under British hegemony - that it would limit Jewish immigration and thwart the emergence of an independent Jewish state in Palestine. The agreement also reveals that by the summer of 1945, Britain had already formulated a Middle East policy based on an Iraqi-Syrian alliance, which included a plan for the formation
of Greater Syria, which was to include Palestine. That policy patently could not accommodate the creation of an independent Jewish state in any part of Palestine.

...The Syrian documents enhance understanding of two significant events on the road to Israel's establishment: President Harry S Truman's letter of August 31, 1945, to British prime minister Attlee, demanding that Britain allow the immigration of 100,000 Jewish refugees from camps in Europe to Palestine; and the well-known speech by Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko in the United Nations on May 14, 1947 endorsing the establishment of a Jewish state.

...According to one diplomat, the British were responsible for the chaotic situation there, and he cautioned his Syrian interlocutor that Britain was exploiting the Jewish-Arab conflict in order "to achieve control in all the Arab states."

...A more intriguing question is whether the French passed on information from their Syrian source to the heads of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. Was Ben-Gurion?s almost prophetic ability during 1945-1948 to foresee regional and international developments and prepare the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) for a military confrontation with the Arab states based on prior knowledge of British and Arab secret intentions? Did his distrust of Britain's role in Palestine, portrayed by historians as "obsessive" and "paranoid," derive, like de Gaulle's suspiciousness, from accurate intelligence? Was Ben-Gurion?s belief that the British were involved in a secret conspiracy with Arab leaders to prevent the
establishment of a Jewish state based on information provided by the French? And did his fateful decision to declare the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 - and later to impose major operational decisions on his generals - stem from secret information he received from the French about the Arabs' military plans?

Initial research was carried out in the last two months in three archives (the Ben-Gurion archives in Sde Boker, the Haganah archives in Tel Aviv and the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem), and Ben-Gurion's diaries, particularly his war diaries for December 1947-July 1949, were also consulted, with the aim of discovering whether information from the Syrian documents was made available to Ben-Gurion and whether he knew its exact origin. Also examined were the modes by which intelligence information was transmitted and those who were possibly involved on the Israeli side.

...By September [1945], it had become apparent that the Labour government did not intend to modify British policy in the Middle East. The French learned this from the Anglo-Syrian correspondence. On October 1, Ben-Gurion sent his well-known directive from Paris to Moshe Sneh, the head of the Haganah, instructing the defense forces to cooperate with Etzel and Lehi in armed resistance against British rule. The establishment of the united resistance movement was seen at the time as an extreme measure and was strongly criticized by some of Ben-Gurion's colleagues, as this ended a quarter-century of close cooperation between the Zionist movement and Britain.

In the next two weeks, Ben-Gurion placed the Yishuv on alert; forces were mobilized and sent to the Galilee, and Jewish settlements were fortified. Some historians have viewed this as an overreaction and a sign of panic, while others see it as merely a military exercise intended as a warning to the British. But if we take into account the information obtained by the French from their Syrian source on the close collaboration between Sulh and Clayton, which they had surely conveyed to Ben-Gurion or to the Haganah, Ben-Gurion's reaction is more readily understandable.

...These examples, and others not cited here, do not by themselves necessarily constitute unequivocal proof that the French shared information they gleaned from the Syrian documents with the Israelis. However, if we take into ccount the secret Anglo-Syrian agreement, the intense French hostility toward the British in the aftermath of their expulsion from Syria and Lebanon, and the close collaboration between France and the Zionist movement during 1945-1948, this possibility appears quite reasonable. In any case, the Syrian documents uncovered so far in French archives will oblige historians to reassess British policy in the postwar Middle East in general, and in Palestine in particular.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 20

Volume 4, Issue 20
February 26, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 378,144

Third Annual "Elitzur" Lecture a Success

"Only Menachem Begin could link the heroism of the 1940s during the struggle against the British Mandate and the heroism of Soviet Jewry in the 1960s onwards for their right to go to Eretz Israel," said Harry Hurwitz, Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation when he opened this year's "Elitzur" lecture program. He quoted from Menachem Begin's speech at the first Brussels Conference on Soviet Jewry where he said in essence: "Our generation witnessed the renewal of Jewish heroism—in the cont inuous endangering of personal freedom and life in the Underground." And then he went on to pay tribute to the fighters in the Soviet Union.

"Even we who fought, the few against the many, acknowledge that far more difficult than our way is that of those who are fighting in Communist Russia, without arms, for Zion. … In the name of those who fought in days gone by in Eretz Israel, may I be permitted to say to you from far and near: We bow our heads before you, our brothers, heroes of the revival. … That was heroism of the highest order. We know from our history that when Jews are ready for Kiddush Hashem, they may not yet be victorious, but they become invincible."

Dr. Jonathan Friedman, the son of "Elitzur" Friedman, spoke of his father's role in the Irgun as a solider and officer in that organization. Members of the Friedman family and friends had come from the US for this occasion.

This was followed by the screening of a half-hour excerpt from the film Refusenik, which showed mainly Natan Sharansky and others who stood up to the Soviet regime until they and the wider community achieved freedom to leave.

L-R: Jonathan Friedman's two girls; Wilma Friedman; David & Miriam Krakow; Mrs. Estelle Friedman

One of the young refuseniks at the time - who is now a Member of Knesset and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein - described his own experience at the hands of the Soviet secret police until his tenacity obliged them to set him free. He was given a standing ovation by the audience.

The event was organized by Moshe Fuksman-Sha'al and his committee.

Gluck Family Honored in New York

Staunch supporters of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Eugen and Jean Gluck, were the honorees in New York on Monday night at a concert by the Israel Chamber Orchestra conducted by the well-known conductor Elli Jaffe.

The Glucks have sponsored the flag plaza at the entrance of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and are now also supporting the Endowment Fund. They are frequent visitors to Jerusalem and always visit the Begin Center to see its development and to hear about future plans.

Menachem Begin Yahrzeit

On Tuesday, 11 March, following the religious ceremony at the grave of Menachem Begin, a program of Remembrance will be held at the Begin Center starting at 5:30pm. The participants in the event will be Zvi Harry Hurwitz, Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation; Yechiel Kadishai, Chairman of the Public Council of the Begin Center; Prof. Moshe Are ns, former Minister and Ambassador; Knesset Member Efi Eitam; Herzel Makov, Chairman of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center; Yair Stern; the poet Eliaz Cohen; and the author Dr. Udi Lebel whose book On the Road to the Pantheon has just appeared in its second edition.

The formal program will be followed by songs performed by Shalva Barty.

The invitation (in Hebrew):

Farewell to the 1st Session of IGF

They were sad to leave, happy to have been here and proud of their achievement. This would sum up the mood at the farewell to the first group of Israel Government Fellows that spent half a year in the country under the auspices of MASA and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

They had come to Israel on this new exciting project from six different countries—United States, England, Australia, Switzerland, Argentina and Hungary.

The farewell was conducted by Alon Shani who had worked with Tamar Darmon, the dynamic person in charge of the program.

Some of the students are returning to their homes and universities to pursue their careers and studies in their home countries, but in their hearts they feel very close to Jerusalem, Israel and the Begin Center.

Herzel Makov, the Chairman of the Begin Center, paid tribute to them and expressed pride in their achievement. Harry Hurwitz, Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation, called on them to become ambassadors for Israel, for Jerusalem and for the Begin Center.

Other speakers were Tzachi Gavrieli, the former advisor to the Cabinet Secretary, to represent the government offices; Mrs. Rachel Gershoni, the National Coordinator of the Battle against Trafficking in Persons from the Ministry of Justice, representing the mentors who worked daily with the Fellows; a few of the students wished to express their gratitude for the program—Karen Smadja, Donna Benji, Shayna Fensten and Samuel Wecker; and finally, Tamar Darmon, Director of the IGF program.

The students were presented with a diploma and a copy of The Revolt by Menachem Begin in English from the Center, handed out by Herzel Makov and Harry Hurwitz.

The second group of 15 is already in the country and they have started their six-month program.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Letters in JPost on Begin Biography

Begin book that fails the reader

Sir, - Shimshon Arad's sarcasm - it was sarcasm, wasn't it? - in writing that Avi Shilon's new biography of Menachem Begin, Begin 1913-1992, "reveals quite a few unknown facts about the former prime minister" was right on the mark ("Dispassionate about Begin," UpFront, February 15). For in truth, there are many "facts" in the book of which even Begin himself wasn't aware.

On page 16, Shilon writes that Begin was born on a Friday, when he was born on Shabbat, August 16, 1913. On page 32, he informs us that Menachem Begin married Aliza Arnold in 1937 after a three-month courtship. Actually, they married in 1939 after a two-year courtship. On page 52, he writes that Begin heard about the split in the Irgun in 1940 while he was in Poland. Begin was really in Vilna.

On page 87, Shiloh asserts that Begin wrote in The Revolt that 1,500 Irgunists were handed over to the British during the Saison. In truth, Begin wrote that Richard Crossman noted that number, but he estimated a good few hundred only. On page 168, when the Begins leave for a month's vacation in Europe, their children, Benny and Hassia, are left with a friend, Shilon claims. What happened to their sister Leah?

Apropos being left out, Shmuel Tamir's 2002 autobiography is not mentioned - which is quite amazing. For anyone looking for dramatic tales, Tamir has them.

In my reading of Shilon's book I found an error of date, name or place, as well as false footnotes, on average, every second page. The are also numerous typos. Moreover, he leaves much out of Begin's life, incidents that other biographers such as Eric Silver, Ned Temko, Amos Perlmutter and others thought important.

For example, Shilon makes much of Begin's love-hate relationship with Amichai Paglin, but fails to note that in summer and fall 1948, Begin ordered Paglin to return from Europe, where he was engaged in underground activities. Begin had decided to end any independent existence of the Irgun and heed the laws of the state. Paglin refused until late November. The correct thing would have been to highlight Begin's democratic behavior and explain that perhaps this was the undercurrent of antagonism.

Shilon fails the reader. His omissions are as bad as many of his commissions.


Sir, - Shimshon Arad referred to Menachem Begin's being influenced by the Polish nationalist and militarist legacy, as exemplified by his standing up and saluting whenever a general entered the room. Based on personal experience, I would suggest that this was an example of his well-known gentlemanly behavior.

When Mr. Begin was a patient in Shaare Zedek Hospital for major surgery, I was the cardiologist responsible for overseeing his cardiac condition. I visited him twice daily, and on every occasion that I entered his ward, he stood up out of his chair and extended his hand to greet me.

Tel Mond

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vo. 4, No. 19

Volume 4, Issue 19
February 21, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 377,107

Archivists from US and Canada at the Center

Leading world archivists spent four hours in the Menachem Begin Heritage Center on Sunday where they were received and accompanied by the Founder and President of the Begin Foundation, Harry Hurwitz, and the Chairman of the Begin Center, Herzl Makov. They were extremely impressed by th e building, its features, the archives, the location and activities about which they heard. The picture shows them on the main open-air terrace. In it are (from left to right): Dr. Yehoshua Freundlich, head of the Israel State Archives; Mr. Michael R. Carlson, Director of the Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division of the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States; Mr. Allen Weinstein, Chief Archivist of the United States; Mr. Harry Hurwitz; Mr. Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Chief Archivist of Canada, Iris Berlazky, Head Archivist of the Begin Center; and Mr. Herzl Makov.

The archivists said "You have created an extraordinary Institution here," and "This is a remarkable contribution to future generations." The technical expert was highly impressed by the technology in the archives, museum and auditorium.

The Jerusalem Post, in an article by Greer Fay Cashman, featured the visit of the archivists.

(Photo by Yisrael Medad of the Begin Center.)

Sir Martin Gilbert to Speak at Book Launching

The appearance of Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill, at the Begin Center the end of next week is eagerly awaited. He will be the guest speaker at the launching of Shmuel Katz's new book, The Aaronsohn Saga, published by Gefen Publishers.

In his recent book, Churchill and the Jews, Gilbert describes meetings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Churchill, whose positive response to Jabotinsky's appeal to oppose the 1937 Partition Plan was a major political event at the time.

Next Commander of IAF From Irgun Family

Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan has been appointed the next commander of the Israel Air Force. In an official announcement the IDF Spokesperson's Office said that Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed the de cision of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. Maj. Gen. Nechushtan will succeed Brig. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi in the next few weeks.

The Begin Center has congratulated the new commander and his father, Mr. Ya'acov Nechushtan on this high distinction. Ya'acov Nechushtan was a member of the Irgun, a prisoner of the British in Gilgil, Kenya, and a member of the First Knesset. When the Begin Center was established Ya'acov Nechushtan was appointed the legal advisor to the committees. His late wife, Dvora, was a prominent Irgun fighter who was imprisoned by the British in the women's prison in Bethlehem.

In Memoriam

When Congressman Tom Lantos took ill recently the Begin Center wrote to him to wish him well and to express the hope that he would recover from his serious illness.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Tom Lantos, who was known as one of the best friends of Israel in Congress, was a great admirer of Menachem Begin and a willing and very ready supporter of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. He is deeply mourned by all elements of the leadership of Israel.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and seventeen grandchildren.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Begin Biography Reviewed in Jerusalem Post

Dispassionate about Begin


Begin 1913-1992
By Avi Shilon
Am Oved
535 pages; NIS 98

Writing a biography is a tough undertaking, particularly when a controversial politician is involved. It appears that this young author was intrigued by Menachem Begin's life story. He worked for five years to unravel the myth and the real person.

Has he succeeded? My impression is that he has done a fairly comprehensive and balanced job in this Hebrew biography. He delved in archives, read documents and gathered testimony from Begin's colleagues and friends, looking for a key to decipher his personality. Overcoming temptations to resort to psychological analysis, he concluded that telling Begin's life story dispassionately was the only reasonable way of getting to know and comprehend him.

It is essential to note that Begin was brought up in a Zionist family that was dedicated to Jewish causes. Curious as it may sound, he and his two brothers joined the socialist Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement in 1925. Four years later he and his brothers switched loyalty and became members of Betar, the Revisionist youth movement. And when Ze'ev Jabotinsky came to Brisk to deliver his message in 1929, Begin's allegiance to him became established.

Following the German onslaught on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Begin's family, with the 5,000 Jews of Brisk, were brutally massacred. Swearing to revenge their murder, Begin's profound hostility toward Germans and a sense of mistrust of gentiles in general were part and parcel of his personality. But distinct from Jabotinsky, who had derived his inspiration and his worldview from the liberal nationalism of the Western Europeans, Begin and his Jewish contemporaries in Poland were deeply influenced by the Polish nationalist and militarist legacy. A friend who served in the Defense Ministry while Begin held the portfolio recalls how amazed he was that whenever a general entered the room, Begin would get up to salute him.

Being mesmerized by Jabotinsky did not necessarily imply Begin's automatic acceptance of all of his leader's views. For example, he opposed Jabotinsky's draft agreement with David Ben-Gurion in 1934-1935 calling for a truce between the Histadrut and the Revisionist Nationalist Trade Union. More serious was their dispute about the proper conduct in facing the violent Arab disturbances in the 1930s. Jabotinsky urged restraint, still hoping to achieve British support, while Begin was enchanted by the violent anti-Arab reprisals. Jabotinsky's rebuttals of Begin's arguments were occasionally rather blunt, charging on one occasion that the young leader's speech sounded like the "noise of a squeaking door." The poet Uri Zvi Greenberg was impressed when he met Begin, but said later that he "thinks that he is Jabotinsky."

In 1943 Begin was nominated to head the IZL and one of the first things he did was to proclaim (in the midst of the war against Nazi Germany) a rebellion against Britain. The declaration was accompanied by the call to establish a Jewish state. That, however, was not a novelty because a year earlier Ben-Gurion launched the Biltmore plan calling for a Jewish state in Palestine.

Ben-Gurion, let us remember, was the elected chairman of the Jewish Agency, and he realized that acts of terrorism against the British at that time would harm the diplomatic efforts and could damage vital Jewish interests, especially in light of Churchill's pledge to establish a Jewish state after the war and agree to form a Jewish Brigade in 1944 to fight Hitler under the Jewish flag. When challenged on the wisdom of resorting to arms at that time, Begin argued that the military activities would help the diplomatic efforts of the Jewish Agency. That was not perceived as a very persuasive argument.

Irrespective of the differences with the Ben-Gurion policy, Begin was asserting one clear principle - avoiding civil war at all costs - which he held to most of the time. The only exception was when he tried to foil by violence the Knesset's endorsement of the reparations agreement with West Germany. Apart from this case, Begin has been rightly portrayed as a democratic leader.

The tragedy of the Altalena in the summer of 1948 was certainly a brinkmanship adventure. The scheme of IZL, endorsed by Begin, had in mind securing arms for its separatist militia in Jerusalem. The Altalena was loaded with weapons and ammunition sailing to the newly established Jewish state that considered fighting for Jerusalem a national obligation, not a factional whim. All this occurred in the midst of the War of Independence, while a cease-fire was ordered by the UN Security Council and the government announced its acceptance of that resolution, which forbade the importation of arms.

Begin and his colleagues were under the impression that the IZL had the right to defy the newly established government of Israel which was determined that Jerusalem was under its jurisdiction.

In summing up Begin's life story there is no doubt that his most significant achievements during the period he served as prime minister were the peace treaty with Egypt and the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Begin was responsible for other ventures - like the tragic war of 1982 in Lebanon.

The author, however, has portrayed Begin as a national leader who generally respected the democratic process, even when some of his colleagues were prepared to fight it.

While the book has been well received overall, it has caused a wave of media controversy. In a letter to Haaretz, Benny Begin refuted Shilon's claim in an earlier interview to that paper that he had collaborated with the author. Historian Yehiam Weitz referred to some inaccuracies in the book on a joint appearance with the author on Channel 10's London and Kirschenbaum recently. These apparent inaccuracies, however, don't impair the portrait of Begin as national leader.

The book's narrative is smooth and reveals quite a few unknown facts about the former prime minister.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Elitzur Lecture

Center Bulletin, Volume 4, Issue 18

Volume 4, Issue 18
February 13, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 375,432

Hurwitz Responds to Sarid in Ha'Aretz

For weeks the media have been trying to stir up a controversy over the new Begin "biography" by a young writer, Avi Shilon. The Begin Center has reacted promptly and strongly to its many errors and misrepresentations.

The HaAretz monthly book section published a lengthy commentary by Yossi Sarid which appeared in an English translation in the HaAretz magazine. The Founder and President of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation, Harry Hurwitz decided to respond at once and sent a letter to HaAretz who published it in full.

Yossi Sarid is one of the most unsuccessful left-wing Israel politicians. He broke away from Labor, joined Meretz, led it to a disastrous electoral defeat, resigned and left the political scene altogether. Yet he has the impertinence to criticize Menachem Begin for his failure in eight elections only to achieve a brilliant victory in 1977 to become Israel's 6th Prime Minister and to remain in office until he resigned in 1983.

Sarid, in his review of Avi Shilon’s inadequate biography of Begin, grants Begin faint praise but offsets his words with nasty expressions and comments. Begin, he writes, was a model of "personal integrity, modest lifestyle, democratic principles” and adds, "Begin was noble, gracious, charming and, unlike other leaders, Begin left behind him a rich legacy." However, he maintains that these attributes must be balanced by "verbal aggressiveness, theatricality, crowd-inciting oratory and other dangerous traits." Are there no other leaders who do not have such mixtures in their make-up, starting with Ben Gurion down to the current ones?

Sarid touches on Begin's alleged illness, treated superficially in the book, but Begin was not the only national leader to suffer from medical conditions. Others headed the government while under severe treatment for a diagnosed disease, while some military leaders were limited by illness. In all fairness, Sarid should have stated that when Begin felt that he could not go on anymore, he resigned, which others were not prepared to do until this very day.

Sarid makes no mention of Begin's great socio-economic revolution known as Project Renewal which affected more than half a million people in Israel. In the period in which he was supposed to have been incapacitated, he initiated the Peace process with Egypt, which came to fruition on March 26, 1979 and for which Begin received the Nobel Prize for Peace jointly with President Sadat.

Begin's decision to attack the nuclear power station in Osiraq is one of the most remarkable acts in the nuclear age. Anyone reviewing the list of the 100 members of the Knesset who signed the letter that was handed to Begin a decade after the bombing, thanking him for his action and the wisdom and courage demonstrated at that time will find Yossi Sarid’s name missing.

For sure many were upset by Begin's physical appearance in his last year in office but a key event is ignored —the death, and the circumstances surrounding it, of his beloved wife Aliza while he was in the United States. Her death weighed heavily on him to the end of his life.

As for Sarid’s sarcastic criticism of Begin's “theatricality”, ignoring his own foibles, it has been said during the recent American primaries that anyone who aspires to be President must have a degree of acting experience. Considering world leaders from Churchill to Ben Gurion and DeGaulle, this trait can be regarded as a positive element in Begin's unique personality.

White Nights: Best Prison Literature in the World

The appearance of the new version of White Nights by Menachem Begin, which includes extracts from the NKVD record of their interrogation of their prisoner Menachem Wolfovich Begin, recalls comments on the original book. The Times of London published a review by Patrick Cosgrave on February 13, 1978 on the occasion of an earlier edition being published. It was headed "The Making of Menachem Begin." In it he says "more than anything else, the narrative and the warning are fused together in what is, at the end, nothing less than one of the best pieces of prison literature in the world." Review copies of the book are being sent out to various newspapers and periodicals to elicit their attention.

Inaugural Session of IGF Ends; New Session Begins

The closing ceremony of the inaugural session of the Israel Government Fellows program, that was directed by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center together with MASA, will come to an end on 25 February when the Fellows and their hosts will hold a farewell event.

The next group of Fellows will arrive next week and will be present at the above event.

Last week, the group was privileged to hear an address and answers to questions on the current security situation by Dan Meridor, former Member of Knesset and Minister, who is a well-known authority on defense matters.

Conference Fills the Center

On Monday of this week, over 250 participants of the annual Conference of the Jerusalem District’s Youth and Social Unit of the Ministry of Education was held at the Begin Center. The Conference was devoted to “Education as a Foundation for a Strong Society”. Informal educators from the area from Shiloh in the north to Hebron in the south, from Jordan Valley communities to the east and Jerusalem Corridor communities to the west convened for a full day’s program. The highlight of the day was the appearance of former Chief-of-Staff Moshe "Bogie" Yaalon. The nine seminars and workshops were devoted to the theme: “The Educator at the Center of Educational Activity”. This is the fourth year that the Youth and Social Unit has held their professional conference at the Center and the organizers expressed their satisfaction with the way the Center, with its many rooms, provides them with the best place for such an event.


Mr. Benzion Givoni, who was head of the World Betar in the early 1970s, and his wife visited the Begin Center together with their son and daughter-in-law on Sunday. This was his first visit to the living memorial to Menachem Begin and they were all highly impressed by the building and its many features. After their tour of the museum, he told Harry Hurwitz and Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Center, how deeply moved they all were by the experience.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 17

Volume 4, Issue 17
February 6, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 373,759

Snow Paralyzes Jerusalem, but Doesn't Stop the Parashat HaShavua

The dedication of the Parshat HaShavua regulars last week recalled the famous phrase: "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail". One hundred of them braved the snowfall in Jerusalem and the impassable side roads to attend the weekly lecture in the Reuben Hecht Auditorium. It was given by Rabbi Yuval Sherlo who used the occasion to talk about Social Justice as the portion of the week was Parashat Mishpatim. He noticed when he walked in to the Center that every part of it was accessible to people with disabilities and made a point to mention that this kind of social justice is what is meant in the Torah.

The Begin Heritage Center withstood the weather well. There were a few minor leaks in the building, which were readily repaired and all is back to normal.

"Elitzur" Friedman Memorial Lecture

The annual "Elitzur" memorial lecture will be held on Sunday, February 24, at 6:00PM at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

"Elitzur", the nom de guerre of Yitzchak Friedman, was a young Irgun officer who participated in many of the major Irgun operations until the end of the struggle against the British.

In November-December 1948, the Irgun commander, Menachem Begin, made his first visit to the United States which was an exciting event for a large part of the American Jewish community who ha d actively supported the struggle to end the British Mandate and help pave the way to the creation of the Jewish State.

The distinguished Zionist leader Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver had declared "the Irgun was a factor without which the Jewish State would not have arisen." Menachem Begin was received by statesmen, public figures and some leaders of the Jewish community. Nearly a million persons lined Broadway for the motorcade in his honor in Manhattan.

Begin took with him a number of young Irgun officers—among them "Elitzur" Friedman—and wounded Irgun fighters who needed medical treatment.

"Elitzur" was then asked to remain in the US for a while to advance the interests of Irgun veterans who were denied recognition and assistance by the Provisional Council and Government headed by Ben Gurion. Later he remained to further his own studies and eventually became the Dean of the School of Engineering and Science, which became the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the Pratt Institute.

"Elitzur" died in 1997. His wife Estelle and his children Jonathan and Wilma have acted in recent years to perpetuate his memory by an annual memorial lecture which is connected to Jewish Heroism.

The first lecture was in 2006 and given by Sharon Brown of the Forensic Department of the Police who spoke about reconstructing the diary of Ilan Ramon that dropped from the skies above Texas in the Columbia disaster. The second was last year when Dr. Ido Netanyahu launched his recently published book about his brother Yonatan Netanyahu in the presence of a large and distingui shed audience.

This year, the "Elitzur" tribute is combining with another story of great heroism in the 20th century marking 40 years after the beginning of and on behalf of the struggle for Soviet Jewry. One of the young refuseniks, who is now a member of Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, will speak of his experiences and the general struggle. A short movie will be screened. THE PROGRAM IS IN ENGLISH.

Avraham "Yair" Stern Honored

The leadership and death of Avraham ("Yair") Stern, who was the head of the Lechi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel organization) and its inspiration was commemorated in the Knesset on Tuesday, 29 January, at two events—one in the Knesset auditorium and the other in the actual Knesset chamber. The short session in the Knesset chamber was addressed by the Prime Minister and Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu who said "It was not the decision by the United Nations that established the St ate of Israel; Israel arose in the merit of the Aliyah and the settlement enterprise, and in the merit of the struggle by the Lechi and Etzel, the Hagana, and even HaShomer and Nili. But above all, the State of Israel was established in the merit of those who continued – the warriors of the Israel Defense Forces, who repulsed the Arab attack after the declaration of the State."

Among those who took part in the special session were MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), who served in the Lechi himself; MK Limor Livnat (Likud), whose father was an underground fighter who was exiled to Eritrea for his actions; and MK Yitzchak Ben-Yisrael (Kadima), both of whose parents were Lechi members.

The session was organized by Prof. Aryeh Eldad (National Union), whose father Israel Sheib, was one of the triumvirate of Lechi leaders.

The event in the auditorium was addressed by Dr. Udi Lebel whose recent book on the establishment's refusal to recognize the underground fighters caused a stir in many circles.

The above events were part of the program to mark 100 years after the birth of Avraham Stern whose son, Yair Stern, was on one of the principle organizers of the commemoration.