Sunday, December 28, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 9



This week we present Part 3, the last of the three-part series on Menachem Begin's first visit to the United States based on a recent donation of archival materials given to the Begin Center Archives by Mrs. Estelle Friedman, who was married to the late Elitzur Friedman, Irgun Field commander and Herut emissary to the United States.
We invite our readers to convey to us any additional information about this visit and, of course, our Archives awaits any historical records related to Menachem Begin (letters, documents, pictures and newspaper clippings) you possess which can be scanned and returned, if need be.

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The Answer, the newspaper of the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation, reported on the speech Menachem Begin gave in New York at the end of his first trip to the US. Begin spoke in Yiddish before several thousand people in the Manhattan Center on December 14, 1948. His remarks focused on the Chanukah story of the Maccabees.

"In those days too, before the fight began, we were a minority in our own country under the yoke of a once-great empire whose strength began to wane. In those days too, we faced surrender or complete annihilation. In those days too, a minority within the minority raised the banner of rebellion against the enemy; in those days too there were collaborators and assimilationists who besmirched the noble patriots, betrayed them to the enemy and called them the same names we were called in our time—with the exception of "fascists" and "gangsters"—probably because in those days those terms were not yet known.

Undaunted by betrayal and the overwhelming forces of the enemy, the Maccabees fought on until victory was theirs, until a small part of their homeland in the hills of Judea was liberated. And from those hills they swept down into the valleys, they freed Galilee, they freed the coast and they freed the south. And within a generation or two, a great Hebrew State, the greatest in the Middle East was established and consolidated.

The same is bound to happen in our days…not because of our desire for expansionism, not because of our love of fighting. We hate war. We hate it because we have no more blood to shed because for 80 generations we always were the victims of war, because ours is a great hunger for peace for ourselves and for our little children, who were born into turmoil and have never yet known a day of peace and quiet. It is bound to come because we are compelled to break out from the straitjacket in which we are being confined by economic, geographic and political reasons, by the very urge to survive, by the very choice which we face: to break out from the ghetto, to retrieve all of our homeland or to be pushed into the sea and perish. …

A foreign princeling, a man who doesn't belong to Palestine, a man from the Arabian Desert, a hireling of his British overlords, is ruling over four-fifths of the Hebrew homeland by the grace of Britain…and this foreigner has the temerity to proclaim himself "King of Palestine." This foreigner aspires to ascend the throne of David, to make Jerusalem—the eternal city of the eternal people—his capital. If this intrigue should succeed, then you must realize that in the very heart of our country, only five miles from Petach Tikvah, there will be Abdullah's guns, or rather, British guns…

Should this intrigue succeed, we shall find ourselves walled in—and strangling in a ghetto in which there will be no room for the millions of our brothers who are compelled to come back home, for the millions of our brothers who do not want to remain in places where they are not wanted, to the millions of our brothers who have but one desire—to come back to the land of their fathers…

A people who for two thousand years were denied the elementary right to self determination are like a suffocating man suddenly brought into the open air. On November 29, 1947, some of my brothers were incapable of thinking. All they could grasp was a gust of fresh air. Now, one year later, the drunkenness is dispelled. Now our people are sober—all of them—and now we all realize that not the ink on a document of the UN, but the blood of our fighters on the battlefields of our country will determine the frontiers of our State…

We have to expel the invaders from our country, not because we want war but because we want peace, real peace, a stable peace, peace with prosperity and without hostile foreign armies in the very heart of our land and on the threshold of our cities.
Our soldiers, the soldiers of the Irgun, the soldiers of the Hagana, the soldiers of the Lechi, our soldiers who served their country with their guns and their blood, now want to continue to serve their country with their plowshares and their sweat. We owe it to them and to their children. We must bring peace to them and this cannot be done as longas our whole country is not free."


The Begin Center facilities are often utilized by other groups for their special events. This week the Center served the needs of a variety of groups and activities.

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The Begin Center was the venue of a special conference convened by MK Prof. Arieh Eldad and the Ariel Center for Policy Research entitled, "Facing Jihad", on December 14 which included a public screening of Fitna, the controversial documentary about Islam – intended to educate the Israeli and general public about the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sessions were addressed by many experts on Islam and the Middle East including Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders. Among the other speakers were: Prof. John Lewis, Dr. David Bukay, Itamar Marcus, Prof. Shlomo Sharan and Daniel Pipes. The auditorium was full and the event attracted much media interest.

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On Saturday night and Monday night this week, four special screenings took place at the Begin Center of the film "A Light for Greytowers" which coincided with the Jewish Film Festival. This is the film's premier in Israel. The Reuben Hecht Auditorium was full for each of the somewhat controversial screenings. The film was meant to be shown to women-only audiences, but the Cinemateque refused to screen it with that requirement. Following the Orthodox tradition of Kol Isha laws, which do not allow women to sing or dance in front of men, this film is a musical set in Victorian England in an orphanage where the young women are not allowed to practice Judaism. The film has an exclusively female Orthodox cast. It has already been screened for women-only audiences in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

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President Heinz Fischer of Austria had a reception at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center's Terasa restaurant. It was the end of his long day of meeting with President Shimon Peres, meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and visiting Yad Vashem.


Next week the Begin Center will host two important events, the opening of the Krakow Exhibition "A World Before Catastrophe" on December 21 and the Begin Prize Ceremony on December 23. The following week, on December 30, the Academic Committee of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center will award scholarships to academic works related to Begin and/or his heritage including one in the name of the late Izzy Asper.

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