Knesset Votes Authorization for Israel Negotiations with Germany
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Knesset Votes Authorization for Israel Negotiations with Germany

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The Israel Parliament today voted to authorize the Government to enter into direct negotiations with Germany for the payment of reparations claims totalling $1,500,000,000. The vote, which followed a day of rioting outside the Knesset Monday, a day of bitter disputes and near fighting within the Knesset and then a 10-hour debate, was 61 for, 50 against, five abstaining and four absent.

The vote came on a Mapai-sponsored resolution that the "Knesset has taken notice of the Government announcement and empowers the Foreign Affairs Committee to take adequate steps according to the circumstances." An opposition motion flatly rejecting any negotiations with the Germans was defeated. The importance of the vote was underlined by the fact that each of the parties mustered every possible vote, with the Herut bringing Arieh Ben Eliezer, who was ill, to Parliament on a stretcher, while the Mapai summoned deputy David Hacohen back from Paris.

Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, major speaker for the government today before the vote was taken, took issue with opposition deputies who charged that Israel was endangering its moral position vis-a-vis Germany by negotiating with the Bonn Government for restitution and reparations claims. Turning to Rabbi Mordecai Nurock, Mizrachi deputy and opponent of the government’s position despite the fact that his party is a member of the coalition, the Foreign Minister expressed respect for Rabbi Nurock’s moral position, but argued that he could not follow the "logic of his political motivation."

Why, asked Mr. Sharett, had not Rabbi Nurock argued and protested when the Jewish Agency. World Jewish Congress, Joint Distribution Committee and others began claiming property? "Why is it allowed to demand the return of property of the living and those who have heirs and why is it not allowed to demand restitution of heirless property?" he queried. "Where is the border between these demands?" he questioned.


To buttress his arguments, the Foreign Minister cited the fact that private individuals in Israel had received and would continue to receive goods from Germany. Entire plants in Israel had been completely equipped with German machinery, he said, and not only individuals but kibbutzim–Mapai and Mapam-sponsored alike–had received and were receiving German goods. "Why then should not the state receive them?"

Mr. Sharett expressed opposition to the holding of a referendum on the restitution question, but said that he was certain that a majority of the nation would support the government position if a referendum were held. He also reviewed the negotiations between Israel and the Big Four Powers over restitution, pointing out that the U.S.S.R. has still not replied to Israeli notes.

Adolph Berman, Mapam deputy and former Jewish partisan in Poland, made an impassioned appeal against negotiations with the Germans. Referring to his experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto he said that such questions had arisen there and it had been decided that it was impossible to deal with the Nazis. "I have a right to speak in my own and my comrades’ behalf: the ghetto fighters did not raise their standard in the uprising so that a few years after their extermination representatives of the Jewish people should sit down with the German representatives."


Several General Zionist deputies, including Mayor Israel Rokach of Tel Aviv, argued against negotiations on the grounds that only Germany would gain anything from them and that it is "doubtful that we will receive restitution." Dr. M. Boger, a General Zionist, condemned Monday’s Herut-inspired rioting but, addressing the Premier personally, he insisted that Mr. Ben Gurion should not convert this into a personal issue and thus "widen the gap in the nation when unity is so badly needed."

Communist Esther Wilenska opened her address with a personal attack on Premier Ben Gurion who charged last night that the Communists as well as the Herut had inspired Monday’s demonstrations. "This is a damnable lie and a wicked insinuation," she said. The phrase "damnable lie" was deleted from the official record over her protest and after she refused to retract it as demanded by Deputy Speaker Benjamin Mintz, who was presiding. She insisted that the Communists were opposed to personal terror.

During this portion of her address a number of heated insults were exchanged by Mapai and Communist deputies and the record of Shmuel Mikunis. Communist leader in Parliament, in support of the Soviet-German pact of 1939 was thrown up to him by Mapai deputies. In the midst of this exchange, Mikunis shouted that the "Communists will reign here." This raised a new storm which was finally resolved by the chairman.

After this Meir Argov, general secretary of the Mapai Party, attacked the Communists. He was followed by Mapai deputy Yona Kossoy who warned that "if one shot is fired, if one victim falls, the state will cut off the hands of those who did it."


A breakdown of the vote on the government resolution found the entire 46 members of the Mapai voting for it, as did six Poale Mizrachi deputies, one Mizrachi, three Progressives and five Mapai-affiliated Arab deputies. Against it were 22 General Zionists, 13 Mapam, eight Herut five Communists, Mizrachi deputy Rabbi Nurock and Progressive Yizhar Harari. The abstainees were Agudist deputy Rabbi I.M. Levin, two Poale Agudists and two Poale Mizrachi. The absentees included one sick Mapam member and three deputies who disappeared from the chamber just before the roll was called.

Although the situation was tense within the Knesset during the debate and the vote, and although many preparations had been made by the police and unofficial reinforcements brought in from various parts of the country by the Mapai, there were no crowds outside Parliament nor was any attempt made at a demonstration. Immediately after the vote, the Knesset adjourned and after all the deputies and Cabinet members had left the police pulled down their barricades and barbed wire entanglements.

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