Albert Einstein, Long Devoted to the Idea of a Jewish Homeland, Writes Chaim Weizmann Celebrating the Creation of Israel Just Days After Independence

Einstein expresses confidence in the resilience of "our" Jewish people, who would “overcome” the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and sees the formation of Israel as having “created a happy Jewish community”

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He congratulates Weizmann on being named President of the Provisional State Council – effectively first President of Israel – on May 16, 1948

 

“I am confident that our people will overcome this last scare and that you will live to experience the satisfaction of having created a happy Jewish community”

 

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Albert Einstein, Long Devoted to the Idea of a Jewish Homeland, Writes Chaim Weizmann Celebrating the Creation of Israel Just Days After Independence

Einstein expresses confidence in the resilience of "our" Jewish people, who would “overcome” the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and sees the formation of Israel as having “created a happy Jewish community”

He congratulates Weizmann on being named President of the Provisional State Council – effectively first President of Israel – on May 16, 1948

 

“I am confident that our people will overcome this last scare and that you will live to experience the satisfaction of having created a happy Jewish community”

 

He expresses suspicion of the great powers, saying “The game the English play with us is miserable, and the American attitude appears ambivalent.”

For almost 2,000 years, ever since the Romans forced the Jewish people to leave their homeland – the Land of Israel, they yearned for Zion. Over the millennia it has often been at the root of what it meant to be a Jew. It was their spiritual homeland; at every Passover, at the seder, they would say “Next year in Jerusalem”, reaffirming the hope that one day the Jewish people might return there. But that hope was forlorn for millennia. The early days of the diaspora saw the Jews scattered, the Middle Ages saw them ghettoed and persecuted, the Crusader era saw them blamed and murdered, then in the Enlightenment and 19th century many emerged from the societies at large to find they were not accepted. Then, in 1896, Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement when, in his book “The Jewish State”, he envisioned the founding of an independent Jewish nation. Most Zionists emphasized the memory, emotion and myth linking Jews to the Land of Israel, so their dreamed-of state had to be there.

In 1917 Chaim Weizmann, scientist, statesman, and Zionist, persuaded the British government to issue a statement favoring the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The statement, which became known as the Balfour Declaration, was, in part, recognition to the Jews for their support of the British against the Turks during World War I. After the war, the League of Nations ratified the declaration and in 1922 appointed Britain to rule Palestine, which had been under Turkish rule for centuries. This was what the British called their Palestine Mandate. This course of events caused Jews to be optimistic about the eventual establishment of a homeland. Their optimism inspired the immigration to Palestine of Jews from many countries, particularly from Germany when Nazi persecution of Jews began. The arrival of many Jewish immigrants in the 1930s awakened Arab fears that Palestine would actually become a national homeland for the Jews, jeopardizing their position there. By 1936 guerrilla fighting had broken out between the Jews and the Arabs. Unable to maintain peace, Britain threw in its lot with the Arabs and in 1939 issued a white paper that restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine.

Then came the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people – the Holocaust – that murdered 6 million and consumed the ancient Jewish communities in many nations of Europe. When Second World War ended, and all this became known, there was a growing sympathy for the plight of the Jews. But the British would not change their pro-Arab white paper, and the militant Zionist group the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946. The hotel was the site of the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities in Palestine, principally the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces. The British, who were trying to recover from World War II themselves, became tired of being caught between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, and began to think of leaving the Holy Land. It was now clear to many that the only realistic refuge for the Holocaust survivors would be a Jewish homeland. Creating such a homeland would not merely help the Jews, but would take pressure off of nations (particularly the United States) who had taken in many refugees but did not want to be pressed to take in more because of domestic politics. The situation grew urgent by February 1947 when Arab-Jewish communications had collapsed. So Britain, anxious to rid itself of the thorny, persistent problem, bucked it to the United Nations, formally requesting on April 2, 1947, that the U.N. General Assembly set up the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). This committee recommended that the British mandate over Palestine be ended and that the territory be partitioned into two states – one Jewish and one Arab. President Truman instructed the State Department to support the U.N. plan for partition, but did so over the objections of many in Congress and the State Department. Secretary of State George Marshall was particularly strong in urging Truman – unavailingly – to avoid creation of a Jewish homeland, as it would lead to problems with the Arabs. On November 29, 1947, the partition plan was passed by the U.N. General Assembly. Jews around the world rejoiced. Meeting with President Truman in March 1948, Weizmann impressed upon the President the importance of establishing a Jewish state. This was undoubtedly one of the factors for the speedy recognition of the State of Israel by the United States in 1948.

With British withdrawal imminent, the Provisional Government of Israel was formed on April 12, 1948. It would govern the Jewish community in the month remaining of the British mandate, and then the nation of Israel, until official elections could be held. David Ben Gurion was named head of that government. At midnight on May 14, 1948, the Provisional Government of Israel proclaimed a new State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. The proclamation read: “We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called ‘Israel’…The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

That same day, May 14, Ben Gurion was officially confirmed as prime minister of the Provisional Government, and he formed a government. In one of the first acts of the Provisional Government, the Provisional State Council was formed to serve as both the nation’s legislative and executive authorities. It consisted of 38 members, and Chaim Weizmann was named President of the Provisional Council on May 16, a title tantamount to President of Israel. Thus Israel had a president as head of state, and a prime minister presiding government operations, somewhat on the British model. Weizmann was immediately treated as a head of state, paying a state visit to the White House at President Truman’s invitation a week later on May 25, with all the pomp and circumstance due the president of a sovereign state. Under his leadership, the State Council was responsible for legislating ordinances. Its main ordinances included the Law and Administration Ordinance, the Defense Army of Israel Ordinance, establishing the Israel Defense Forces; and the Currency Ordinance, establishing the Israeli lira as the official state currency. In February 1949 elections were held and the Provisional governing bodies were replaced by permanent one. Weizmann became the first non-provisional, official President of Israel on February 17, 1949.

Albert Einstein was a secular Jew, not at all religious in a traditional way. But he understood well the persecution of the Jewish people, and his brilliant scientific works and theories were criticized in some parts as worthless because he was a Jew. In 1921, Weizmann met Einstein when they went on a fund- raiser to establish the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Also that year, Einstein presented a paper on his Theory of General Relativity at the Sorbonne, the prestigious French university. “If I am proved correct,” he said, “the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.” Anti-Semitism was openly pursued by the powerful political right in Germany and the emerging Nazi party from 1919, and Einstein was a prime target. As the Nazi movement grew stronger, Einstein helped to organize a group within the Jewish community that advocated a united stand against fascism. But official support of vicious anti-Semitism was making the position of Jews impossible. He became a cultural Zionist. He supported the idea of an institution dedicated to Jewish continuity and called himself a “strong devotee of the Zionist idea.” His speeches and lectures about Zionism were published in 1931. In his 1933 book entitled “The World As I See It”, Einstein’s foreword dedicates the collection “to the Jews of Germany”. After Einstein left Germany in 1932 he never returned. In March 1933 he renounced German citizenship. Einstein’s personal, constant confrontation with anti-Semitism was a nightmare that lasted a dozen years, but he himself pulled through it. However from 1933-1939, he was instrumental in trying to get Jews to safety, finding many Jewish scientists jobs in the United States. By the end of 1945, he, and the world, learned the full truth about the Holocaust.

In a letter to Nehru in 1947, Einstein gave his feeling on the Jewish people, their sufferings, and Zionism. “Long before the emergence of Hitler I made the cause of Zionism mine because through it I saw a means of correcting a flagrant wrong….The Jewish people alone has for centuries been in the anomalous position of being victimized and hounded as a people, though bereft of all the rights and protections which even the smallest people normally has…Zionism offered the means of ending this discrimination. Through the return to the land to which they were bound by close historic ties…Jews sought to abolish their pariah status among peoples… The advent of Hitler underscored with a savage logic all the disastrous implications contained in the abnormal situation in which Jews found themselves. Millions of Jews perished… because there was no spot on the globe where they could find sanctuary…The Jewish survivors demand the right to dwell amid brothers, on the ancient soil of their fathers.”

Einstein followed the events relating to the formation of the State of Israel closely, and he wrote to Weizmann to congratulate him on becoming the first President of the Israel State Council – effectively the first President of Israel.

Important typed letter signed, on his blind embossed stationery, in German, Princeton, May 19, 1948, to Weizmann, offering his congratulations, praising his achievements, saying the Jews worldwide are happy about the establishment of Israel, and expressing confidence in the Jewish people’s ability to overcome the disasters that had befallen them. He also expresses suspicion of the intentions of the great international powers and leaders towards the Israeli State and the Jewish people, seeing the British as deplorable and the Americans as vacillating.

“Dear Mr. Weizmann, I have read with great satisfaction that the Palestinian Jewry has made you head of the new state. This is at least a partial reparation for the ungrateful attitude they have shown towards you and your great accomplishments. One still cannot say that the powerful men of this earth mean well with us. The game the English play with us is miserable, and the American attitude appears ambivalent.
However, I am confident that our people will overcome this last scare and that you will live to experience the satisfaction of having created a happy Jewish community. With heartfelt greetings and best wishes, Your A. Einstein”. By this “last scare”, we believe Einstein refers to the Holocaust.

This is the most significant Einstein letter we have seen on his hopes and expectations for the State of Israel, his confidence in the resilience of the Jewish people, and his concern about American policy towards the Jews and their new nation.

Weizmann died on November 9, 1952. The Foreign Ministry was asked to assist in finding candidates and Ambassador to the United States Abba Ebana approached Einstein to ask if he would accept the offer to serve as president of Israel. In his letter to Einstein, Eban wrote that he was acting at the instructions of Prime Minister Ben Gurion and added that acceptance would require relocation to Israel and acceptance of Israeli nationality, but in appreciation of the importance and scope of his work he would be offered freedom to continue his scientific activity. Upon receiving the invitation, Einstein replied, “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. For these reasons alone I should be unsuited to fulfill the duties of that high office, even if advancing age was not making increasing inroads on my strength. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.” Einstein left his papers to Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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