Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Albert Einstein and Menachem Begin

Serious students of Zionism and Israel history are aware that during Menachem Begin's first trip to the United States in November-December 1948, he was greet with a rather vicious letter which appeared in the New York Times. One of the signatories was Albert Einstein.

Adam Kirsch, a contributing editor to Tablet Magazine and the author of Benjamin Disraeli, a biography in the Nextbook Press Jewish Encounters book series, reviewed a new book, "Einstein on Israel and Zionism". In his review, we found this:

...an account of Einstein’s 1952 meeting with an Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Heikal. Jerome interviewed Heikal in 2006, and he remembered his long-ago visit to Princeton to see Einstein. There the great man spoke with anguished sincerity about his desire to make peace between Jews and Arabs, and tried to use to Heikal to open up back-channel talks with Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s new ruler. Clearly hoping to find common ground with Heikal, Einstein said that “when it comes to people like Menachem Begin and his massacre of Arabs in the village of Deir Yassin … these people are Nazis in their thoughts and their deeds.”

And what was Heikal’s response? “Ben-Gurion is no less a Nazi than Menachem Begin.” Here we see the ugly reality behind Einstein’s dream of a binational state, and Jerome’s present-day anti-Zionism. There was, in 1948, no way to ensure the survival of Jewish Palestine without a Jewish state, which meant an army, a flag, borders, and all the insignia of sovereignty that Einstein detested. Likewise, there is no way to establish a true peace in Palestine today as long as so many Palestinians, elite and ordinary, are committed to Israel’s destruction. Still, Einstein has one advantage over his new editor: his reservations about Israel were voiced from the standpoint of his unquestionable commitment to Zionism. For that reason, he makes a less useful ally than Fred Jerome appears to think.
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