Michel M.J. Shore

Chaim Weizmann – Palestine Not Uganda

Zionism- Its Thinkers and Implementers (7) 

(In trying to imagine the thoughts of Weizmann,  I developed the following scenario)

Clenching behind his back a fistful of sand from the Israeli soil, Chaim Weizmann inspected the honor guard at the Tel Hof Air Force Base, where he had landed a few minutes ago. His first official act as President of the Provisional State Council of Israel (the precursor to the first elected Parliament of the State of Israel of which he would become the first President,) summoned  “a whole inner world of memories and experiences,  more numerous than the grains of sand held between his fingers”.

Content to cherish the time not to have to speak immediately, while fulfilling the exercise of protocol, Weizmann allowed his mind to span, not only his seventy odd years but also the history of the Jewish people. The recent words written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter returned to him: “Mine eyes have seen the coming glory of the Lord: happily you can now say that and can say what Moses could not”.

How Weizmann wished that his son, Michael, killed in action in 1942  with the Royal Air Force over the English channel, could have witnessed the scene!

The 1906 discussion he held, by God-given chance,  with Arthur James Balfour, during his period of research at Manchester University, clearly reverberated in his mind. Balfour could not understand the Zionists’ rejection of the proposal to allocate land to them in Uganda. The young Weizmann, in response, explained to the British Prime Minister, in terms of a question, whether he would accept Paris rather than London. Balfour replied,  “no but London is the capital of my country” to which Weizmann responded,  “Jerusalem was the capital of my country when London was a marsh”.

It was that answer which made Balfour understand the aspirations of the Zionist movement; it is that which implemented itself in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, only to be denied by successive British governments, who no longer knew Balfour and had forgotten Weizmann’s interpretation.

Often disappointed and disillusioned by the British, Weizmann continued to plead the case, and to place his hopes with the British government. This trust in Great Britain often alienated him from the leaders of the Yishuv and particularly Ben-Gurion. However, Weizmann’s realism and pragmatism recognized there was a time and place for both diplomacy and independent action, never surrendering either.

Weizmann, tirelessly repeated the words of the speech which he gave in the 1907 Eighth Zionist Congress at the Hague. He had said that even if a Charter which Herzl proposed, were possible, “it would be without value, unless it rested on the soil of Palestine, on a Jewish population, rooted in that soil, on institutions established by and for that population”.  Britain, he believed, more often than not, even during Zionism’s difficult long episodes with that government, would eventually grant Palestine to the Jews; nevertheless, Weizmann also realized that Jews could not rely on anyone to build their land for them. This policy, which became known as “synthetic Zionism”  two paths of Zionism, established the guiding tenet of his vision and won a place in the Zionist movement of which he was head from 1920 – 1931 and from 1935 – 1946.

Diplomatic historian Sir Charles Webster, in The Art and Practice of Diplomacy, described Weizmann’s role “as the greatest act of diplomatic statesmanship of the First World War… not even Masaryk and Venizelos can compare in stature with Weizmann”. Webster recognized, as did the Western World’s statesmen, that it was through Weizmann’s efforts that the Balfour Declaration (although later abrogated) was issued. This, Weizmann’s foremost achievement was a pivotal point in modern Jewish history. Jewish political nationhood had crossed the threshold from imagination and dreams into the world of politics.

And, in 1946, despite ill health, in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Weizmann continued to appeal for the potential State which he always believed would be brought into reality. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted the Partition Plan, thus, the creation of the State of Israel, recognized by International law; and on May 14, 1948, when Palestinian Jewry proclaimed a State, President Truman, in a direct response to a letter from Weizmann whom he had grown to respect and admire as the representative of the potential State, authorized the recognition of Israel by the United States, despite the reservation of members of his administration.

The inspection of the honor guard completed, the grains of sand slipping through his fingers, it was now time for Weizmann to speak to the State – his memories had brought him to this moment.

As a child, Weizmann had studied the passage from the Talmud, in the Ethics of the Fathers, where it is stated, “Antigonus of Sokho received the oral tradition from Simeon the Just. He used to say: Be not like servants who serve the master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without expectation of receiving a reward; and that the fear of heaven be upon you “  Science and ethics had always been harmonized in his being. For years, he had combined research in science and his Zionist work for his people.

Weizmann and Ben-Gurion, each a statesman In his own right, each believed in the State of Israel, its survival and security on the basis of righteousness and on which it would have to build. Although their means may have been different, their ends were exactly the same; and this, they recognized in each other, not allowing personal differences to subtract from the contribution each had made to the State.

Weizmann was a realistic idealist, a paradox in itself,  which he once explained: ” this is not an age of humanists but speaking for myself, I still believe that there is boundless wisdom and good, in Goethe’s dictum, that if you want to change the hearts of men, treat them as though they were already what you want them to become”.

From his sick- bed on the fourth anniversary of the establishment of the State, Weizmann wanted to make sure Israel was prepared for everything: “On this solemn day, I would say this to all my brethren: the future of Israel rests on three foundations – brotherly love, constructive effort and peace near and far”.

About the Author
Michel M.J. Shore is a retired judge of the Federal Court of Canada and recently made a home in Israel. He is the writer of several published books and poetry collections.
Related Topics
Related Posts