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Behind the Headlines a Lesson of History

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Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first President, regarded by many as the father of modern Israel, warned nearly 80 years ago that the fanaticism of Jewish religious extremists would one day jeopardize the Jewish State and seek to usurp political power. He also expressed confidence some years later that Jews and Arabs could live together peacefully in Palestine where there was ample land for both peoples.

These views have come to light with the publication here of a 23-volume collection of Weizmann’s letters by the Weizmann National Memorial Foundation in Rehovot with the collaboration of the Oxford University Press and the Hebrew University Press. The letters cover the period from the beginnings of political Zionism at the turn of the century to the early years of Jewish statehood in the 1950s.

FORMALISM OF THE ORTHODOX

In a letter written to Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, on May 6, 1903, Weizmann declared:

“If there is anything in Judaism that has become intolerable and incomprehensible to the best of Jewish youth, it is the pressure to equate its essence with the religious formalism of the Orthodox–their fanatically religious viewpoint and way of life has no bridge leading to contemporary youth….Their (the Orthodox) horizon and political perspective are so limited that they can have no understanding whatsoever of a modern approach. This group will one day use its growing power in a most unexpected and stubborn manner. I? will choose a decisive moment to defy the leadership. In practice it is already seeking to dominate our propaganda campaign, our funds, our educational activity and our voting system….”

Some readers of these excerpts see a parallel between Weizmann’s warning and the present day activities of the Gush Emunim who, many Israelis fear, exert a disproportionate influence on Premier Menachem Begin and some members of his government with respect to domestic and foreign policies.

RIGHTS OF THE ARABS IN PALESTINE

In another of the published letters, addressed to Lord Balfour on May 30, 1918, Weizmann wrotes “We have no desire and no need to exploit or displace them (the Arabs of Palestine). There are acres enough for us to develop without any encroachment on the real rights of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, and that is the essential fact….

The huge task of assembling and editing Weizmann’s letters was begun some 30 years ago by the late Meyer Weisgal, a close friend and confidant of Weizmann. It has been completed by Nehama Chalom, Curator of the Weizmann Archives.

The letters, written in six languages, shed light on Weizmann’s political and private life and, according to scholars, provide an unparalleled opportunity to understand one of the stormiest and most decisive periods in Jewish history. The first 23 volume set has been presented as a gift to President Yitzhak Navon.

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