Thursday, November 29, 2007

November 29

I can't think of any street I've seen in the United States named for a historical date. Yet, Jerusalem has a street named for a very important date in its history -- November 29th (Kaf-Tet b'November). Today marks sixty years since the United Nations Partition Plan that paved the way for the establishment of a Jewish State.

Tom Segev, author of The Seventh Million, writes in today's Haaretz newspaper:

On Saturday night, November 29, 1947, many of the Jews in the Land of Israel went out to dance in the streets of the cities. They were celebrating the United Nations decision to establish a Jewish state in part of the country. The Arabs were also supposed to get a state, but they went to war.

In his new book, Yoav Gelber, a professor of history at the University of Haifa, ponders what would have happened had the Arabs agreed to the Partition Plan adopted by the UN 60 years ago today. "We can only guess," writes Gelber cautiously. [more]

My colleague Rabbi Barry Leff, who recently made aliyah with his family, is in charge of the creation of a new blog from the World Zionist Organization called "The Persistence of Vision: Israel at Sixty".

With the sixtieth anniversary of Kaf-Tet b’November, there are only about 6 months left until Israel's 60th anniversary of statehood and so the Department for Zionist Activities has launched its "6 Months to 60" campaign with this new blog. Rabbi Leff explains the goal of this forum on his personal blog:

The Persistence of Vision: Israel at 60

This forum brings together five experts in their respective fields who share their own perspectives on the meaning of Jewish statehood. What unites them is their common belief that vision has always constituted the heart of the Zionist enterprise, and that it continues to beat vigorously today. Here they will reflect on the significance of 60 years of Israel's existence, how the reality that has emerged compares to the 2000-year-old dream, how to handle the disappointments, and how to work towards fulfillment of the promise. Readers are invited to turn the blog into a dialog by posting their own opinions and comments. They are also encouraged to take advantage of numerous links to additional resources for further learning and for ideas for celebrating 60 years of Israel’s independence.

Our hope is that this blog will stimulate six months of heightened reflection on the contemporary significance of Israel and Zionism, as well as on the relationship of Jews everywhere to the Jewish state. Together with the rest of Am Yisrael we are looking forward to a joyous celebration of Israel's 60th birthday, but we want to make sure as well that it will be an occasion infused with substance. Much will remain to be done "the morning after," and the more the task is discussed, and the more it is understood, the better will be the outcome.


Rabbi Jason Miller said...

There are not many Israelis still living today who personally witnessed the historic United Nations debate sixty years ago on November 29. However, today's Jerusalem Post features Suzy Eban, widow of former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Abba Eban (whom I met while I was a high school student), who reminisces about the experience.

The article concludes by mentioning several historical coincidences including the fact that both Abba Eban and Chaim Weizmann died in November, the same month of the Balfour Declaration, the U.N. Partition Plan, and this week's Annapolis Conference. It also mentions that before becoming Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert lived on Kaf Tet b'November Street.

Daniel Schweber said...

November 29th was the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’
vote to partition the British colony of Palestine into two states; one for
the Jews and one for the Arabs. From the Jewish perspective this vote is
celebrated as a big step in the creation of the State of Israel a few months
after this vote. For the Jews, the UN vote represented official sanction
and recognition to the Jewish right to a state in Palestine/Israel. The
following article appeared in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post. It provides a
short historical synopsis of what was going on among the Jews in Palestine
at the time of the vote.

You can see a PDF version of the Jerusalem/Palestine Post from November 30,
1947 at
You can also hear a recording of the vote at

Between Pragmatism and Ideology – Colin Shindler, Jerusalem Post, November
29, 2007

The Zionist leadership was incredibly pessimistic in the spring of 1947 that
the handing over of responsibility of the Palestine question to the United
Nations would bring any sort of positive results. If it eventually came to a
vote, the British were confident that the Zionists would fail dismally to
achieve a two thirds majority at the UN. Yet as history records, on 29
November 1947, the General Assembly vote on partition was 33 for, 13 against
with 10 abstentions.

Harold Beeley, the advisor on Palestine to the British Foreign Office had
told David Horowitz, head of the Jewish Agency's economics department, that
without the full weight of the Soviet bloc, the Zionists would fail dismally
and the responsibility for Palestine would probably be returned to an
emboldened, empowered British authority. In April 1947, the Soviets had
voted with the Arabs at the UN. In May 1947, Andrei Gromyko made his famous
intervention which argued that the preferred solution was a bi-national
state, but if this was not possible, then a partitioned state was the
answer. This flew in the face of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy and the fact
that the Soviet Union had been sending Zionists to the Gulag for the past 25
years. The Kremlin wanted to exclude not only the British, but also stop
increasing American involvement in the Middle East. Moreover, the powerful
Zionist Left, besotted with the USSR, the Kremlin reckoned, could prove to
be a political asset in the future.

At the beginning of 1947, it was also believed that the Vatican would not
favor a Jewish state on theological grounds. Yet a majority of Latin
American states voted for partition. In the last few days before the vote,
US president Harry S Truman fully threw his political authority behind the
Zionist diplomatic effort.

YET ABOVE all, 1947 indicated a determined common effort, a Zionist popular
front, to sink personal and ideological differences and to utilize this
almost unexpected opportunity which had arisen. It is no cliché to state
that the weight of Jewish history was upon their shoulders.

Before 1947, there had been severe division within Zionist ranks. The
co-chairmen of the American Zionist Emergency Committee, Stephen Wise and
Abba Hillel Silver, did not see eye to eye. This was further complicated by
the opening of a Jewish Agency office in Washington in 1943 by Chaim
Weizmann. The office was headed by Nahum Goldmann whose cavalier diplomacy
and independent action infuriated Silver.

Goldmann openly espoused partition whereas Silver believed that this was
tactically foolish since the British would attempt to whittle down any
proposition. He argued that only a maximalist position should be pitched,
compromise could come later. Goldmann said that this denied the Jewish
reality in 1946. Following the Holocaust, there simply were not enough
European Jews that could create a Jewish majority in a non-partitioned
state. Although Silver refused to testify before the Anglo-American
Commission of Inquiry in 1946, by the autumn of 1947, he too began to use
all his talents for support the recommendations of the UN Special Committee
on Palestine for a partitioned state.

This movement toward accepting partition affected Zionist parties which 10
years before in 1937 had vehemently opposed the Peel Commission's proposals
for the division of Palestine. The Holocaust and its aftermath of wrecked
lives and displaced people had created an urgency which relegated ideology
to a secondary concern. Golda Meir had opposed partition in 1937, but
supported it in 1947. The religious Zionists of Mizrachi moved toward
supporting Yehuda Leib Maimon (Fishman) who advocated partition over the
revered Meir Bar-Ilan. The Lamifneh faction of Hapoel Hamizrachi included
many Jews from Germany, Yosef Burg, Moshe Unna and Ephraim Urbach - they too
argued for partition.

There were even dramatic displays of disunity at the world conference of
Agudat Yisrael in Marienbad in August 1947. The ultra-orthodox party had
been established as a bulwark against Zionism. Its president had told the
Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry in 1946 that "for us, the state is not
a goal in itself." Yet at the conference, survivors were willing to oppose
party leaders and demand to go to Palestine.

The long time belief of the Marxist Zionists, Hashomer Hatzair in a
bi-national state, started its slow demise with Gromyko's fateful statements
at the UN. Indeed, the movement's initial belief was that he had been
misreported. The Communists of Palestine had unfortunately published an
editorial on the same day as Gromyko's speech recommending the old line of a
federated Arab-Jewish state. Like all dedicated followers of Soviet
Communism, they saw the light - and it was good. Achdut Ha'avodah, the party
of Yitzhak Tabenkin, Yigal Allon, Moshe Carmel and Yitzhak Rabin, believed
that a Jewish socialist society should be constructed before the
proclamation of a Jewish state. Tabenkin wanted an extension of the Mandate
and believed that the ensuing conflict had been deliberately contrived by
the British to obstruct Arab-Jewish cooperation.

THE MAIN group of Zionists which did not move from their ideological beliefs
were the nationalists - the Revisionists, the Irgun and Lehi. Ze'ev
Jabotinsky had opposed the 1937 partition, labelling the partitioned state
as a new "Pale of Settlement." Menachem Begin similarly spoke about the
gettoization of the Jews in a statelet along the coast which would be unable
to absorb large numbers of Jews.

It would be economically unviable and would have to maintain a large army.
The Irgun envisaged that the Negev would be unsuitable for Zionist
settlement for decades. Above all, Begin lamented the first partition of
Palestine and refused to accept that the East Bank, TransJordan, had been
irrevocably lost.

In a memo to the UN in April 1947, the Irgun stated its belief that the Jews
constituted a clear majority of the population on both sides of the Jordan.
This included "those of our people, numbering millions, who strive to return
to it immediately but are unable to realize their right because the British
occupation regime… has placed it self in their path."

Begin also invoked "the consciousness of historic unity" of the present with
the past. Such "imponderables," he argued, were one of the most real factors
in human history. "Their power is supreme and their influence ineradicable."

Most Zionists disagreed with him and made a difficult choice between
pragmatism and ideology. Begin never lost his attachment to the East Bank
and his distaste for partition, yet he, too, as prime minister, had to
distinguish between the dream and the reality.

The writer lectures in Israeli studies at London University. Cambridge
University Press will be publishing his History of Modern Israel in 2008.

We all know what the Arab perspective on the vote was and unfortunately we
are still struggling with Arab resistance to the existence of Israel. It is
somewhat ironic that the Annapolis conference occurred this week of November
29. Perhaps this latest international conference will eventually lead to
the two state solution voted on and approved 60 years ago.