Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Menachem Begin and Iran

One never knows where one will find a reference to Menachem Begin, and certainly not the authenticity of the claim or its reliability.

Nevertheless, these, too, are part of Menachem Begin's legacy.

The following is something we found (here) on Begin and Iran:

...The Israeli government was another deeply interested player in the Iran crisis. For decades, Israel had cultivated covert ties with the Shah’s regime as part of a Periphery Strategy of forming alliances with non-Arab states in the region to prevent Israel’s Arab enemies from focusing all their might against Israel.

Though losing an ally when the Shah fell and offended by the anti-Israeli rhetoric from the Khomeini regime, Israel had gone about quietly rebuilding relations with the Iranian government.

One of the young Israeli intelligence agents assigned to this task was an Iranian-born Jew named Ari Ben-Menashe, who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager and was valuable because he spoke fluent Farsi and still had friends in Iran, some of whom were rising within the new revolutionary bureaucracy.

In his own 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ben-Menashe said the view of Israel’s Likud leaders, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was one of contempt for Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

After the Shah fell, Begin grew even more dissatisfied with Carter’s handling of the crisis and alarmed over the growing likelihood of an Iraqi attack on Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan province. Israel saw Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a far greater threat to Israel than Iran’s Khomeini.

Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin, recognizing the Realpolitik needs of Israel, authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979.

After the U.S. hostages were taken in November 1979, the Israelis came to agree with Copeland’s hard-headed skepticism about Carter’s handling of the hostage issue, Ben-Menashe wrote. Even though Copeland was generally regarded as a CIA “Arabist” who had opposed Israeli interests in the past, he was admired for his analytical skills, Ben-Menashe wrote.

“A meeting between Miles Copeland and Israeli intelligence officers was held at a Georgetown house in Washington, D.C.,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “The Israelis were happy to deal with any initiative but Carter’s.

“David Kimche, chief of Tevel, the foreign relations unit of Mossad, was the senior Israeli at the meeting. … The Israelis and the Copeland group came up with a two-pronged plan to use quiet diplomacy with the Iranians and to draw up a scheme for military action against Iran that would not jeopardize the lives of the hostages.”

In late February 1980, Seyeed Mehdi Kashani, an Iranian emissary, arrived in Israel to discuss Iran’s growing desperation for aircraft spare parts, Ben-Menashe wrote. Kashani, whom Ben-Menashe had known from their school days in Teheran, also revealed that approaches from some Republican emissaries had already been received in Iran, Ben-Menashe wrote.

“Kashani said that the secret ex-CIA-Miles-Copeland group was aware that any deal cut with the Iranians would have to include the Israelis because they would have to be used as a third party to sell military equipment to Iran,” according to Ben-Menashe.

In March, the following month, the Israelis made their first direct military shipment to Iran, 300 tires for Iran’s F-4 fighter jets, Ben-Menashe wrote...

...By April 1980, Carter’s patience was wearing thin, both with the Iranians and some U.S. allies. After discovering that the Israelis had made a secret shipment of 300 tires to Iran, Carter complained to Prime Minister Begin.

“There had been a rather tense discussion between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin in the spring of 1980 in which the President made clear that the Israelis had to stop that, and that we knew that they were doing it, and that we would not allow it to continue, at least not allow it to continue privately and without the knowledge of the American people,” Carter’s press secretary Jody Powell told me. “And it stopped” – at least temporarily.

Questioned by congressional investigators a dozen years later, Carter said he felt that by April 1980, “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House Task Force, which examined the October Surprise controversy in 1992. Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”

Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski also recognized the Israeli hostility. Brzezinski said the Carter White House was well aware that the Begin government had “an obvious preference for a Reagan victory.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 8



This week we present Part 2 of the three-part series on Menachem Begin's first visit to the United States based on a recent donation of archival materials given to the Begin Center Archives by Mrs. Estelle Friedman.

In response to our previous article, we received emails from David Krakow and Estelle Friedman informing us of the name of the young man in the picture last week with Menachem Begin and Mrs. Jabotinsky. It was Seymour (Simcha) Rosenberg at the age of 24 who replaced Moshe Arens as Natsiv of American Betar in September 1948. The picture was taken at the Diplomat Hotel in New York. We also heard from Mr. Rosenberg's daughter, Meira, who confirmed the information. We thank them for taking the time to write and contributing details to the material in our archives.
We invite our readers to convey to us any additional information about this visit and, of course, our Archives awaits any historical records related to Menachem Begin (letters, documents, pictures and newspaper clippings) you possess which can be scanned and returned, if need be.

* * * * *

In The Jewish Ledger dated December 8, 1948, Simon Bloom describes Menachem Begin, his speeches and his first visit to the US. He says:

I had no idea of the type of person I was expecting to see, but considering the exploits of the Irgun, and the fact that it was they who made it so uneasy for the British that they got out of Palestine, I wasn't prepared to see a 'melamed'.
That was my first impression of Begin. That's what he looked like and that's what he talked like. But don't get the wrong idea, because I use the word 'melamed'. I don't mean a man with a long beard. … It's the appearance of Begin that gives the feeling, hard to shake off, that the man is a dreamer, an idealist. And he must have as the core of his inner-drive the same burning convictions which shaped the life of another dreamer of another faith, Ignatius Loyola. …

During that span, from my first to my last attempts to pigeon-hole him, I find myself still of the conviction that here is a dreamer who will continue to make events and shape destiny. …

He gave his talk to his audience extemporaneously. He seemed to be reading a speech part of the time, but there was no reading. It was his manner of talking. At times he would lift his head and gaze aloft at the audience. On one such occasion he said softly, "Now you have seen what a 'terrorist' looks like," referring to himself. "I will tell you about another terrorist, but he is not here, only his picture and spirit are here." He turned reverently to the picture of Dov Bel Gruner which flanked the dais on one side with the pictures of Jabotinsky on the other. …

[In referring to the men who joined him on the tour of the US, Begin said,] "These heroic soldiers will be good citizens in the land of Israel tomorrow." … "Our war was a war for survival. What would have happened to us if we did not wage that war is no longer a secret. It is public knowledge now that the Jewish Agency had accepted the Morrison Plan on condition that it be given the right to distribute the monthly quota of four thousand immigration certificates. And this we know too, that the British would have been very happy to exterminate us completely in Palestine. Were it not for our war of liberation, we would have been left in a ghetto, without arms and helpless and on D-Day we would have met in the heart of Asia, the same fate which our brethren met in the heart of Europe. …

[In the words of another member of the delegation in regard to the time when the Haganah was turning in wanted Irgun members,] There was resentment in the Irgun about the wanted [men] to fight back against the Haganah. This would mean civil war. Begin said the decision was up to the eight [commanders]. They could fight back against the Haganah if they wanted. If they did that they might destroy the nation. Or if they didn't make that choice, then the Irgun might itself be destroyed. It was a dramatic scene as Benjamin described it. Here in their hands eight men held perhaps the destiny of a nation. Could they fight back against the Haganah or should they risk their own destruction and perhaps with that destruction the one factor that would drive the British out of Israel.

The thing that made their minds up for them were the other words that Begin said. Solemnly he told them if you decide to fight against the Haganah, you will fight without me. I will walk out now and you are free to choose from among yourselves a new commander. The choice is yours – civil war and disunity among all our people without me at your side, or my continuation as commander and the avoidance of bloodshed among our own people. We have but one enemy and that enemy is Britain.
Menachem Begin was asked at the Newark press conference a question "Of what significance is the proposed acceptance of the state of Israel in the UN to the Freedom party [the Herut Party] and to the future of the state of Israel?" He answered, "I don't think it will be accepted and if it will be it will not be to the advantage of Israel because it can only be on a compromise basis and it will necessitate the surrender of additional territory by the Israeli government. …The UN has shelved the application for membership, but due to the difference in time, the shelving was not known then.


December is a very special time in Jerusalem. For the third year in a row, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center has participated in the initiative—Hamshooshalayim--of the Jerusalem Municipality to encourage tourism to Jerusalem in December. "Hamshoosh" refers to the Israeli slang term of a long weekend—Thursday, Friday, Saturday (i.e., Hamishi, Shishi, Shabbat). For three weekends in December, entrance to many museums, tourist sites and other entertainment options are free of charge or at a discount. On Fridays, many special walking tours of the city are provided, some of which are free of charge and some at a discount. Both English and Hebrew tours are available.

The Begin Center was fully booked last Thursday night from 9:00pm to 12:30am and is fully booked for the next two weeks. So many people requested reservations that due to limited space in the museum, some were unfortunately unable to get a reservation.
Not only tourists from abroad attend Hamshooshalayim events. Many people have come from all over Israel to participate. And many of those people have come especially to the Begin Center.

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 9



This week we present Part 3, the last of the three-part series on Menachem Begin's first visit to the United States based on a recent donation of archival materials given to the Begin Center Archives by Mrs. Estelle Friedman, who was married to the late Elitzur Friedman, Irgun Field commander and Herut emissary to the United States.
We invite our readers to convey to us any additional information about this visit and, of course, our Archives awaits any historical records related to Menachem Begin (letters, documents, pictures and newspaper clippings) you possess which can be scanned and returned, if need be.

* * * * *

The Answer, the newspaper of the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation, reported on the speech Menachem Begin gave in New York at the end of his first trip to the US. Begin spoke in Yiddish before several thousand people in the Manhattan Center on December 14, 1948. His remarks focused on the Chanukah story of the Maccabees.

"In those days too, before the fight began, we were a minority in our own country under the yoke of a once-great empire whose strength began to wane. In those days too, we faced surrender or complete annihilation. In those days too, a minority within the minority raised the banner of rebellion against the enemy; in those days too there were collaborators and assimilationists who besmirched the noble patriots, betrayed them to the enemy and called them the same names we were called in our time—with the exception of "fascists" and "gangsters"—probably because in those days those terms were not yet known.

Undaunted by betrayal and the overwhelming forces of the enemy, the Maccabees fought on until victory was theirs, until a small part of their homeland in the hills of Judea was liberated. And from those hills they swept down into the valleys, they freed Galilee, they freed the coast and they freed the south. And within a generation or two, a great Hebrew State, the greatest in the Middle East was established and consolidated.

The same is bound to happen in our days…not because of our desire for expansionism, not because of our love of fighting. We hate war. We hate it because we have no more blood to shed because for 80 generations we always were the victims of war, because ours is a great hunger for peace for ourselves and for our little children, who were born into turmoil and have never yet known a day of peace and quiet. It is bound to come because we are compelled to break out from the straitjacket in which we are being confined by economic, geographic and political reasons, by the very urge to survive, by the very choice which we face: to break out from the ghetto, to retrieve all of our homeland or to be pushed into the sea and perish. …

A foreign princeling, a man who doesn't belong to Palestine, a man from the Arabian Desert, a hireling of his British overlords, is ruling over four-fifths of the Hebrew homeland by the grace of Britain…and this foreigner has the temerity to proclaim himself "King of Palestine." This foreigner aspires to ascend the throne of David, to make Jerusalem—the eternal city of the eternal people—his capital. If this intrigue should succeed, then you must realize that in the very heart of our country, only five miles from Petach Tikvah, there will be Abdullah's guns, or rather, British guns…

Should this intrigue succeed, we shall find ourselves walled in—and strangling in a ghetto in which there will be no room for the millions of our brothers who are compelled to come back home, for the millions of our brothers who do not want to remain in places where they are not wanted, to the millions of our brothers who have but one desire—to come back to the land of their fathers…

A people who for two thousand years were denied the elementary right to self determination are like a suffocating man suddenly brought into the open air. On November 29, 1947, some of my brothers were incapable of thinking. All they could grasp was a gust of fresh air. Now, one year later, the drunkenness is dispelled. Now our people are sober—all of them—and now we all realize that not the ink on a document of the UN, but the blood of our fighters on the battlefields of our country will determine the frontiers of our State…

We have to expel the invaders from our country, not because we want war but because we want peace, real peace, a stable peace, peace with prosperity and without hostile foreign armies in the very heart of our land and on the threshold of our cities.
Our soldiers, the soldiers of the Irgun, the soldiers of the Hagana, the soldiers of the Lechi, our soldiers who served their country with their guns and their blood, now want to continue to serve their country with their plowshares and their sweat. We owe it to them and to their children. We must bring peace to them and this cannot be done as longas our whole country is not free."


The Begin Center facilities are often utilized by other groups for their special events. This week the Center served the needs of a variety of groups and activities.

* * * * *

The Begin Center was the venue of a special conference convened by MK Prof. Arieh Eldad and the Ariel Center for Policy Research entitled, "Facing Jihad", on December 14 which included a public screening of Fitna, the controversial documentary about Islam – intended to educate the Israeli and general public about the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sessions were addressed by many experts on Islam and the Middle East including Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders. Among the other speakers were: Prof. John Lewis, Dr. David Bukay, Itamar Marcus, Prof. Shlomo Sharan and Daniel Pipes. The auditorium was full and the event attracted much media interest.

* * * * *

On Saturday night and Monday night this week, four special screenings took place at the Begin Center of the film "A Light for Greytowers" which coincided with the Jewish Film Festival. This is the film's premier in Israel. The Reuben Hecht Auditorium was full for each of the somewhat controversial screenings. The film was meant to be shown to women-only audiences, but the Cinemateque refused to screen it with that requirement. Following the Orthodox tradition of Kol Isha laws, which do not allow women to sing or dance in front of men, this film is a musical set in Victorian England in an orphanage where the young women are not allowed to practice Judaism. The film has an exclusively female Orthodox cast. It has already been screened for women-only audiences in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

* * * * *

President Heinz Fischer of Austria had a reception at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center's Terasa restaurant. It was the end of his long day of meeting with President Shimon Peres, meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and visiting Yad Vashem.


Next week the Begin Center will host two important events, the opening of the Krakow Exhibition "A World Before Catastrophe" on December 21 and the Begin Prize Ceremony on December 23. The following week, on December 30, the Academic Committee of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center will award scholarships to academic works related to Begin and/or his heritage including one in the name of the late Izzy Asper.


Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 10

DECEMBER 25, 2008 | VOLUME 5, ISSUE 10



Before a full Reuben Hecht Auditorium and in the presence of MK Reuven Rivlin and other distingished guests, the Menachem Begin Prize 2008 was awarded to Dr. Reuven Or for his critical medical and research work and for the establishment of two essential life-saving projects: the unrelated volunteer bone marrow donor registry and the national umbilical cord bank. Dr. Or is offering the hope of health for many people who are ill and who, for whatever reason, are unable to receive a bone marrow donation from a family member. Clearly thrilled to be receiving this recognition, Dr. Or peppered his speech with quotes from Uri Zvi Greenberg, Shai Agnon and other literary figures.

Harold "Smoky" Simon was honored for his many years of volunteer activity for the State of Israel and its society. His volunteering life for the State of Israel began in the War of Independence in 1948 as a member of the volunteer air force and eventual official appointment as the first Operations Commander of the IAF, and his volunteering activities only grew from that point, including working with Menachem Begin from South Africa, and continue even today. He is the Chairman of World Machal and recently organized an international gathering for Machal members to visit Israel for the 60th anniversary of the state, as well as acting as the Honorary Treasurer for the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation.

Prof. Moshe Arens was honored for his contribution to the security of the state of Israel and his illuminating research on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Moshe Arens began his career in Betar and in the government served as Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister, Israel's Ambassador to the US and currently he serves as the Chairman of the Ariel University Center of Samaria's Board of Governors. His most recent work has been researching the Betar organization's involvement during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He found that Pavel Frankel was a forgotten hero of the Muranovska Square battle and who had been a leader of the Betar group in the Warsaw Ghetto. This led to recognition of the Betar involvement in the Uprising both in Poland and in Israel.

A number of students were honored with scholarship awards from the Menachem and Aliza Begin Nobel Prize Fund, a fund that was started by Menachem Begin with the proceeds of the Nobel Prize he received in 1978.

The evening was emceed by Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and music was provided by the Boarder Guards singing group. Yosef Wittelson lit the third candle of Chanukah at the opening of the evening.


On the first night of Chanukah, the Begin Center hosted the opening of a special exhibition brought from Krakow, Poland, called "A World Before Catastrophe". It is the exploration and documentation of the Jewish community in Krakow between the two World Wars. Many organizations cooperated with the Begin Center to bring this exhibit to Israel including the International Cultural Centre in Krakow (the original location of the exhibit), the Polish Embassy in Israel, The Polish Institute, the Poland @ Israel as part of the Polish Year in Israel 2008/9, the Landsmanschaft of Krakow Jews in Israel and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

The Reuben Hecht Auditorium was filled to capacity with many members of the audience remembering Krakow as it was presented in the exhibit and who were very moved to see the exhibition here at the Begin Center. Aryeh Golan, a senior Kol Yisrael program moderater, was the host for the evening and the ceremony was opened with short speeches by Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, Her Excellency Agnieszka Magziak-Miszewska, the ambassador of Poland in Israel and David Reiser, the President of the Landsmanschaft of Krakow Jews in Israel. The main speakers that evening were Prof. Jacek Purchla, historian and author of the catalogue of the exhibition, and His Excellency Prof. Shevach Weiss, Israel's Ambassador to Poland. The Young Jerusalem Saxophone Group gave the musical performances during the evening.
The exhibition will be on display in the auditorium foyer at the Begin Center for free until April 15, 2009. The high quality catalogue is available in Hebrew at the Klein Souvenir Store at the Begin Center (it is a translation of the Polish/English one that was published in Poland).


Twenty-seven years ago, the Knesset, by a two-thirds majority, passed the Golan Heights Law which extends Israeli law to the Golan Heights. With its passing, the US declared that it would "punish Israel". Prime Minister Begin did not wish to stand by and allow the "punishment" to pass without comment. He issued a statement on 20 December 1981 that he read to the US Ambassador to Israel, read to the Cabinet and issued to the public.

In it he says:

A week ago, at the instance of the Government, the Knesset passed on all three readings by an overwhelming majority of two-thirds, the "Golan Heights Law."
Now you once again declare that you are punishing Israel.

What kind of expression is this – "punishing Israel"? Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we youths of fourteen who, if they don't behave properly, are slapped across the fingers?

Let me tell you who this government is composed of. It is composed of people whose lives were spent in resistance, in fighting and in suffering. You will not frighten us with "punishments." He who threatens us will find us deaf to his threats. We are only prepared to listen to rational arguments.

…As regards the future, please be kind enough to inform the Secretary of State that the Golan Heights Law will remain valid. There is no force on earth that can bring about its rescision.


On December 30 the Menachem Begin Heritage Center will host a ceremony to award scholarships to outstanding research work in fields related to Menachem Begin, his life, achievements and heritage. Three scholarships will be awarded for research work at the Doctorate and Master's level. Ya'acov Hecht wrote on the topic of politics and the diplomatic process before the strike on Osirak (the Iraqi nuclear reactor); Yaron Salman wrote on the psychological blocks of the Peace Process; and Harel Doron wrote about the "new rabbis" in the National Religious camp.

Four scholarships will be awarded for seminar papers at the Bachelor level. Avivit Mahatstri, who will be receiving the scholarship named after the late Izzy Asper of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, wrote about Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in the Peace Process; Oded Mazor wrote about the idea of the "victim" with respect to the reparations from Germany; Tal Koifman wrote about religion in the Underground; and four authors, Eli Cohen, Doron Liba, Aviad Korman and Eliav Raviv, share the honor for their paper about Menachem Begin and Dr. Beny Begin and their rhetoric speaking styles.

RSVPs are required to attend the event as space is limited. (02) 565-2020 to reserve a place.


This week the B'nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem utilized the conference rooms here at the Begin Center. Philippe Karsenty gave a lecture about his court case in France regarding the Al Dura Affair, in which he was the successful defendant against France 2 television, and spoke about Israel and the media. He gave his lecture in English one day and in French the next.

* * * * *

The Jewish Agency is holding a brainstorming session at the Begin Center to redefine the role of the shaliach in Jewish communities abroad.


To our readers in Israel who attend the Parashat HaShavua on Thursdays, there will not be a lecture this week. We look forward to seeing you again next week when the Parashat HaShavua returns.

How are we doing?
Please let us know how you like the bulletin in terms of content and once a week format. Should we make changes? What kind of articles would you like to see?


Haaretz Columnist Claims Begin Didn't Have A Sense of Humor

The common denominator between Israel's past leaders and those currently vying for the country's leadership is the absence of a sense of humor. This is okay when it comes to Ehud Barak, since, according to the logic of his clever election campaign, every negative quality of his is supposed to somehow strengthen his leadership ability. Thus, the slogan, "Humorless. A Leader," should join the rest soon. But his predecessors in Labor and its precursors were, apparently, also filled with excessive self-importance and solemnity. (They say that Levi Eshkol used to tell jokes, but in Yiddish.) Can anyone remember a joke that David Ben-Gurion told? How about Golda Meir or Moshe Sharett? Yitzhak Rabin? No, on all counts. Shimon Peres tries and is successful on occasion.

In Likud, the situation isn't much better. Humor doesn't seem to go with the whole glory-of-Betar thing at all, or with Menachem Begin in particular. Yitzhak Shamir may have looked funny, but a sense of humor was as alien to him as compassion.

Source: Neri Livneh

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No "Parshat HaShavua" During Chanukah

Next lecture, Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

When Herut Was Ostracized By Ben-Gurion

Extreme lert-wing Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, recalls when the Herut Party was ostracized in the early years of statehood:

An early announcement of a boycott of Likud is the weapon of last resort against the rise to power of Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. Such an announcement will weaken support for Likud and strengthen the alternative before the national elections.

David Ben-Gurion ostracized Menachem Begin - "the man sitting next to Dr. Yohanan Bader." Ben-Gurion said, "without Herut and without Maki," referring to his willingness to sit with any party in a coalition except the right-wingers and the Communists. Livni and Barak must similarly come out against a list that is far more extreme and unacceptable than Herut ever was. If the Israeli government boycotted an Austrian government that included Joerg Haider, who was much less of a racist than Feiglin and with much less blood on his hands than Ehud Yatom, an Israeli government formed by Likud can, should and must be boycotted.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Movie "Altalena" reviewed


Although lacking production quality, acting expertise and mise-en-scene, the story of this confused and deadly struggle between loyal Israeli forces is still a vital and important part of the history of Israeli independence

Known for his award winning documentaries, “Richochets” (Official Selection at Cannes), “The Summer of Aviya” (winner of the Silver Bear at Berlin) and others, director Eli Cohen focuses on one of the most fascinating and painful stories of Israel. This is the story of the ill-fated steamer Altalena and its cargo of some 1000 Jewish volunteers and fighters and tons of guns, ammunition and light artillery.

Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the region had seen a string of civil wars between Arabs and Israelis over the creation of the new Israeli homeland. On the Israeli side these wars had been fought by militias lead by Menachem Begin using weapons scavenged from wherever they could be found. When independence was declared the second phase of the Arab-Israeli war (or the War of Independence) began and Premier David Ben Gurion worked to consolidate the militias into the Israeli Defense Forces or IDF.

Predictably in the chaos of the newly formed state and under the influence of severe Arab threat many of the militias were reluctant to lay down their arms and declare loyalty to a new chain of command. The Altalena sailed from France with arms and volunteers to support these militias but were unwilling or unable to immediately concede their command to the IDF. On another level, new premier Ben Gurion was now pitted against militia leader Begin. Ben Gurion demanded a sovereign fighting force reporting ultimately to him.

This rivalry on both a personal level and a military level set the stage for the landing of the Altalena on Israeli soil. It was met by IDF forces and pinned down on the beach in mid-June, 1948. The fighters would not be allowed to land their weapons without a complete surrender to the new Israeli state. The story of the following battle between the two Israeli forces is surreal, even in the unbelievable confusion of war. Eventually the ship was shelled at great risk to the population in the area and all hands surrendered.

The debate still goes on as to whom was to blame with one side claiming Ben Gurion failed to negotiate effectively and the other claiming Begin started the battle to establish his own power base.

This film is a dramatization of these events, combined with archival footage of the incident. The storyline tells of the extreme mixed feelings of the loyal and brave forces firing at their comrades. In fact, some soldiers from the IDF joined the forces pinned down on the beach. Upon the surrender of the pinned down forces, all were imprisoned but released months later to joint he IDF.

Having stated the importance and drama of the story, the film itself is shot in what appears to be low definition video and the production quality is extremely poor. The acting and costumes appear to be the products of a low-budget/no-budget film school. There is little preparation for the audience to appreciate the drama of the story and if they have not studied the history before seeing the film their appreciation will be extremely limited.

But even in this first cut format, the story is there. Without this film most people in the world never have learned the tale of the Altalena and the tragedy and excitement of the first days of Israeli independence. If you get a chance to see this film, don’t miss it. But be sure and study the mesmerizing and fateful events that led up to it before you set foot in the theatre.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 7



Today we launch a three-part series about Menachem Begin's first visit to the US 60 years ago in December 1948 where he was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in the streets of New York accompanied by the mayor. We take this opportunity to thank Mrs. Estelle Friedman, whose husband Elitzur Friedman joined Menachem Begin on this visit to the US, for her recent contribution of newspapers from that time to the Begin Center archives. Over the next two issues of the Bulletin, we will be publishing segments from The Jewish Ledger and The Answer that describe Menachem Begin's visit and quote from his speeches.

For today, we present to you a picture of Menachem Begin with Yohanna Jabotinsky, widow of the Zionist leader and mentor of the Revisionist Movement, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and members of the Betar Youth Movement at a festive dinner conducted in his honor.


This past week we watched in horror and dismay at the events in Mumbai at the Chabad House. May the families of the victims find comfort in their sorrow.

Menachem Begin spoke to and met with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson on several occasions and we direct our readers to the Chabad website where Menachem Begin says a few words about Rabbi Scheerson. The link is HERE. (As this is an external link to the Chabad site, we cannot be responsible if it doesn't work properly.)


One of the tasks that is undertaken by the Begin Center is to monitor the mentions of Menachem Begin on the internet. This allows us to see in what context he is mentioned and how often he is still mentioned even today. Here are a few examples this week:

• Israeli readers were reminded about Menachem Begin's modesty this week in an article in Ha'Aretz opinion piece lamenting the fact that our politicians today lack this admirable trait.

• The author of a new biography of the late Harold "Izzy" Asper (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), Mr. Peter C. Newman, reflected on Mr. Asper's admiration of Menachem Begin and the Irgun when he was interviewed about the book.

• The Los Angeles Times connected the King David Hotel with the attacks in Mumbai placing it first on its list of hotels that had been bombed. A few people who left comments mentioned that the LA Times notably neglected to include the bombings by Arabs against hotels in Netanya and Taba, actions that were directed solely against civilians. Yisrael Medad of the Begin Center wrote to the newspaper that "only the southern wing was targeted which was wholly British, having been taken over from the owners in stages, beginning already in 1938. The Army Headquarters were located there as were the offices of the Mandate Government Secretariat."


Amendment 40 of the Israel Communication Law was put into effect on December 1, 2008. It is an effort to eliminate, or at least reduce, spam advertisement messages.
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There will be three major events at the Begin Center in December.
On December 21, the Begin Center, in cooperation with the International Cultural Center of Krakow, the Krakow Landsmanchaft and several other organizations, will open "A World Before Catastrophe", a view of the Jewish community in Krakow between the two World Wars.

On December 23, the Begin Prize will be awarded to Dr. Reuven Or of Hadassah Hospital and certificates of honor will go to Prof. Moshe Arens and Harold "Smoky" Simon. Participants in the PERACH program will also be honored at this ceremony.
On December 30, the Begin Center will award academic scholarships for university level research work done in fields about Menachem Begin and/or other related topics.


David Krakow adds:

The photograph which shows Simcha/Seymour Rosenberg, then Natsiv Betar U.S.A., together with Menachem Begin and Madam Jabotinsky was taken at a reception and Misdar conducted for Mr. Begin by the American Betar at the hotel Diplomat in N.Y. at the time of his visit in 1948. Natsiv Rosenberg, a long time member of the American Netsivut, had succeeded Moshe Arens as Natsiv in Sept. 1948 and headed the American delegation to the fourth Kinus Olami of Betar held in Tel Aviv in the spring of 1948.

Meira Rosenberg adds:

The Betari standing in the picture between Menahem Begin and Mrs. Jabotinsky is my late father, Seymour Rosenberg, who at the time was twenty-four years old and the Head of the American Betar.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Begin's Modesty

In an article bemoaning Ehud Olmert's style of hedonism:

Enjoying himself to the very end

By Yoel Marcus

Look at the yellowing photos of the state's founders in the old albums on the library shelf. Look at how thin they were and how simply dressed. I still remember Menachem Begin's first speech at Mughrabi Square in Tel Aviv. As a Polish gentleman, he was wearing a suit and tie, of course, but only those standing close to the podium could see how threadbare they were. In the old days, Israel's national leaders lived in tiny apartments. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi refused to move out of his wooden shack when he became president.

They all lived humbly - Levi Eshkol and Pinhas Sapir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. The most critical decisions were made in Golda Meir's kitchen in her modest apartment in Ramat Aviv. Cognac medicinal, Matias herring and calves' foot jelly were served at the little Jewish restaurants where Mapai's leaders discussed the issues of the hour. The attack plans for the Sinai Campaign were sketched on a paper napkin from the cafeteria of the Prime Minister's Office at the government compound in Tel Aviv.

I remember how Moshe Dayan left me to pay the bill at a restaurant where he had invited me for a meal, and how Minister Gideon Patt explained that he was not allowed to pick up the tab unless his guest was from overseas.

Modesty (sincere or under duress) gave way to hedonism only in the next generation. Yigal Allon, commander of the Palmach, and Shimon Peres, director-general of the Defense Ministry, were the bright young things who introduced deluxe overseas travel - Peres to Paris, Allon to London and New York - where they enjoyed the good life at the state's expense. They stayed in suites at posh hotels whose names were not familiar to Israelis.

As foreign minister, Abba Eban outdid them all, tacking his private purchases onto the hotel bill. Still etched in my memory is the picture of Walter Eytan, the Israeli ambassador, tearing his hair out and sharing his woes with me: "How am I going to send a bill like this to Israel?"...