Israel : A Country Founded By Lawyers And Not Army Generals

L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim ( לשנה הבאה בירושלים‎), “Next year in Jerusalem”, is a phrase that is often uttered at the end of the Passover Seder, by Jews for almost 2000 years since exile. In a diaspora that spanned the four corners of the world : from India, Ethiopia to Europe and the Middle East, after years away, they spoke a variety of languages and had differing customs but never forgot their roots and this phrase reflects their generation-long memory of where they came from.

Of all the countries that have emerged in the aftermath of World War II, no other nation’s legal basis for existing has been challenged like Israel has. But unlike almost every other country, lawyers, not generals, were at the forefront of modern Israel’s genesis – This is in reference to the ‘Modern state of Israel’ mind you, since it had existed as a country before in history. Despite the religious undertones, the founding fathers instead chose to use legal means, citing history and international law rather than religion and military might to fight for their homeland.

Who were these founders ? Let’s take a look

Theodore Herzl

(Wikimedia Commons)

Theodor Herzl, founded the idea of a modern State of Israel.  He is considered the father of modern Zionism. Herzl was born into an assimilated German-speaking family in Austria-Hungary.

Throughout his childhood, he had little interest in his Jewish roots. He still encountered anti-Semitism, despite being assimilated into the ‘mainstream’. This convinced him that Jews would always be treated as outcasts in foreign lands. The feeling later culminated when Herzl covered the Dreyfus Affair (1895) for a French newspaper, and precipitated his decision to act towards the creation of a Jewish country. He studied law at the university of Vienna.

Dreyfus affair propaganda (Wikimedia commons)

Herzl became president of the World Zionist Congress. It was group that was not committed to religious Judaism, but rather primarily focused on anti-Semitism.

Herzl was willing to compromise for a Jewish homeland anywhere, although his primary goal was definitely within the levant, the old and traditional homeland.  In 1903, he proposed a Jewish state in British Uganda as a temporary solution. This was met with opposition from the group.
Herzl died in 1904, years before he could see the blossoming of the very movement he cultivated.


David Ben Gurion

(Wikimedia Commons)

Born in Poland in 1886. In 1905, at the University of Warsaw, he joined the Social-Democratic Jewish Workers’ Party – Poalei Zion. He was arrested twice during the Russian Revolution of 1905. His family eventually immigrated to Israel (then under the Ottoman Empire) and found work on a collective farm, a concept that would evolve into what’s known as the kibbutz. His experiences in Turkish-controlled Palestine, caused David Ben-Gurion to believe that Arab hostility to a Jewish state was unavoidable.

During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, Ben-Gurion instigated a policy of restraint (Havlagah), in which Haganah and other Jewish militias did not seek revenge for Arab attacks on Jewish civilians, instead shifting their focus on self-defense.

In February 1947, he met with Oliver Stanley, the leader of the Conservative Party, at the Dorchester Hotel in London.  Stanley advised him not to take off his coat since the hotel was unheated. After leaving, Ben-Gurion surmised that if there was not enough fuel to heat the most expensive hotel in Europe, then the British Empire was in a dire financial crisis and couldn’t hold Palestine for much longer.

He later helped with the immigration of thousands of Jews to the land and united an array of rag-tag Jewish militias into the forerunners of the modern Israeli army. He is also the man who read the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 and Ben Gurion airport is the main international airport in the country, commemorating his legacy.

Ben-Gurion airport (Wikimedia Commons)


Menachem Begin

(Wikimedia Commons)

Was born in modern-day Belarus to parents who were admirers of Theodore Herzl. Begin studied law at the University of Warsaw. During his studies, he organized a self-defense group consisting of Jews students so they could resist harassment by anti-Semites on campus. When World War II broke out, he was in jail for the crime of being a Zionist. This actually saved his life, since during the Nazi invasion, he was deported out East. Upon release, he was sent to British mandate of Palestine where he chose to stay and took over the militant organization founded by Jabotinsky, known as Irgun.

It was Begin’s strategy of taking up arms against the British and launching wave after wave of nationalist propaganda that helped independence come to fruition. On the advice of Jewish IRA arms smuggler Robert Briscoe, he dismantled Irgun and transitioned into politics, because he was worried that the several militias would fight among themselves after independence and have a civil war – like many former British colonies did.

Begin sat in the Knesset on the opposition side, until a revolution removed the left and saw the right obtain power following the election of 1977 following the Yom Kippur war. He made peace with Israel’s then-most powerful enemy, Egypt, and sent the IDF into Lebanon in response to constant attacks by Palestinian refugees situated there.


Ze’ev Jabotinsky

(Wikimedia Commons)

A wildcard in his era – the original badass of the movement. He was at constant loggerheads with President Weizmann and Ben-Gurion due to ideology. He found his way into the ranks of the British army in World War I and was important in the formation of the Jewish Zion Mule Corps. He got exiled from Palestine by the British.

He was adamant about having a right wing Jewish state. Jabotinsky founded self-defense groups for Jews facing pogroms in Russia with the slogan “Better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Current Prime Minister Netanyahu’s father served as Jabotinsky’s personal secretary in the US and Likud, the party built on his legacy has been a dominant power in the Knesset since the 1970s. In the long run, it appears as though Jabotinky’s ideas had more staying power than those of Ben-Gurion and the old left. Jabotinsky was a student at the Sapienza University of Rome law school, but did not graduate.

He was an uncompromising old school classic liberal and also an uncompromising right-winger. In 1931, at the 17th Zionist Congress, Jabotinsky notably tore up his membership card in frustration with the leftists. Jabotinsky knew that while negotiating with Arabs, one had to showcase a platform of strength. Yet, he never advocated torture. Carrying on his legacy, one of the first commands, Menachem Begin later issued to Shabak, Israel’s internal security service, was to avoid torture. They both learned from the Turks, who sent their Arab subjects to the gallows that strength was effective, but it didn’t necessarily have to be excessive.

Zion mule cops (Researchgate)

He was an outcast from mainstream Zionist society, considered a radical then, but still respected by his rivals. But today his legacy lives on in the Likud party, which has been the dominant force in Israeli politics since the 1970s, after failures to predict the Yom Kippur War lead to people voting for the more hawkish movement that he advocated.


Step by step they moved toward achieving nationhood legally –

  • Balfour Declaration in 1917,
  • San Remo Agreement in 1920,
  • League of Nations Resolution in 1922,
  • Anglo-American Convention on Palestine  in 1924,
  • partition of land by UN in 1947 into a natio-state for the Jews and Arabs.

They were all lawyers or had legal training and used existing legal framework of international codes to create the state that exists now. They came from all over Europe, faced resistance from their own countries, fellow Zionists with different ambitions, the Arbabs and even each other!

Israel has proven that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and still, has used the sword many times when necessary. But the fact is, it was founded by men who sought legal recognition first and foremost and overcame these barriers to create a nation out of a 2000 year diaspora dream, which has lasted 70+ years as of today.


About the Author
Avi Kumar grew up in Sri Lanka. As a member of the Tamil minority, he has a unique perspective when it comes to growing up in a war zone. From an early age in order to survive, he learned to remain silent about controversial issues when it wasn't safe to speak about them. Avi has lived in five different countries and speaks ten different languages. Fortunately, one of his ten languages is English, or you wouldn't have had the slightest idea what you are reading. Avi loves wildlife photography and writing about religious and political issues with his unique perspective.
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