The Paths of Egypt and Babylon
In 1946 there were leaders involved in developing the plans for the soon-to-be-established State of Israel who understood these issues. Had their counsel been heeded, these seventy-years of curses and violence need never have taken place. We best realize these lessons now and heed Zechariah’s appeal.
“The Twenty-Second Zionist Congress opened in Basle on 9 December 1946, in the same hall that Herzl had used for the first congress in 1897. The newly established settlements in Palestine, Weizmann told the delegates, ‘have, in my deepest conviction, a far greater weight than a hundred speeches about resistance—especially when the speeches are made in New York, while the proposed resistance in to be made in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.’ Weizmann did not minimize the cause of Jewish bitterness. Indeed, his speech contained a powerful reproach of Britain’s White Paper policy. . . .
“For many of the delegates in Basle, the situation described by Weizmann justified armed resistance against the British in Palestine. But in his speech he urged a halt to all anti-British acts of terror and violence. What was needed, he said, was ‘the courage of endurance and the heroism of superhuman restraint.’ Terrorism was ‘a cancer in the body politic’ of Palestinian Jewry. Accused by some of those in the hall of being a demagogue, Weizmann cried out in anger, ‘If you think of bringing the redemption nearer by un-Jewish methods, if you lose faith in hard work and better days, then you commit idolatry and endanger what we have built.’
“Weizmann ended his appeal for moderation with a final, anguished outburst. ‘Would that I had a tongue of flame, the strength of prophets,’ he said, ‘to warn you against the paths of Babylon and Egypt. “Zion shall be redeemed in judgment,” and not by any other means.’
“Following Weizmann’s appeal for moderation there was a stormy debate. Among those who witnessed it were thirty-one-year-old Moshe Dayan and twenty-three-year-old Shimon Peres, who thirty years later were to be among Israel’s political leaders. Ben-Gurion was angered to the point of desperation, returning to his hotel room (the very one Herzl had stayed in) and packing his bags. Shimon Peres recalled the sequel, as he and a mutual friend, Areh Bahir—from the Jordan Valley kibbutz Afikim—entered Ben-Gurion’s room:
“‘Ben-Gurion wheeled round and stared at us. “Are you coming with me?”
“‘“Where are you going?” we asked.
“‘“To form a new Zionist movement. I have no more confidence in this Congress. It’s full of small-time politicians, pathetic defeatists. They won’t have the courage to make the decisions that are needed at this time. Only the Jewish youth, all over the world, will provide the courage needed to face the historic challenges facing Zionism. After one-third of our nation has been wiped out—among them some of our finest young people—the survivors have no hope other than to rebuild their lives in the historic homeland, the only land that can and must open its gates wide to welcome them.”
“‘Ben-Gurion was in a fighting mood. Bahir looked at me, and I motioned to him to tell Ben-Gurion that we would go with him. This calmed his fury somewhat, and soon we plucked up the courage to suggest that, before slamming the door on the Congress, he try one more time to win over the Mapai faction. “If there’s a majority there, we’ll all stay; and if not, we won’t be the only ones to leave with you; a great many more will come too.” Ben-Gurion agreed to make this last effort.
“‘Meanwhile, word spread through the Congress corridors that a profound crisis had erupted. Mapai moderates like Sprinzak, Kaplan and Moshe Sharett, who tended towards Weizmann, nevertheless were loath to lose Ben-Gurion. As so often in the past and in the future, even those of his colleagues who differed with him and bitterly criticized his leadership retained a deep respect for his vision and for his iron will. They knew that, ultimately, there was no one like him and no substitute for him.
Originally Written: 30 March 2006
Latest Update: 20 August 2007
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