Main menu:

Recent posts




To help keep HP running


Or make a one-off donation:

An early victory for civil liberties in Israel

A revealing piece of history from the English-language blog of the Israel State Archives:

In early 1953, in the wake of the Slanksy trial in Czechoslovakia and the fabricated “Doctors’ Plot,” it appeared Stalin was about to unleash a wave of antisemitic brutality in the Soviet Union.

A classified letter from the acting Israeli ambassador in Moscow, Shmuel Eliashiv, reveals his uncertainty about the developing story and the proper response to it. The same week in January 1953 the Knesset was to debate the matter, so the cabinet ministers held a preliminary discussion to determine the government line (January 18, 1953).

Truth be told, there wasn’t much Israel could do. Faced with a potentially lethal wave of Jew hatred which might affect large numbers of Soviet Jews, Israel’s cabinet members were reduced to debating the pros and cons of making a stink at the UN or keeping a low profile in the hope things would blow over.

So what could be done? Well, perhaps the local, Israeli Communists, could be blocked. As Pinchas Lavon, Benzion Dinur, and Golda Meir all said, it was a scandal that Israelis who support an anti-Semitic regime should be allowed to express their opinions in public, to publish their support of Stalin in their newspapers, and the members of Knesset among them allowed to travel the world freely on Israeli diplomatic passports and badmouth their own country. These aren’t patriots with radical opinions, they’re foreign agents, or close to it, and someone’s got to do something about it!
Were they serious, or were they merely letting off steam? Probably the latter. Moshe Shapira tried to cool things down by alluding to McCarthyism, which was rampant in the United States in those days: “They’ve got quite a witch-hunt going in America, but they haven’t disbanded their communists, and they haven’t shut down their newspapers, and I don’t see how we can do so.” Near the end of the meeting, Pinchas Rosenne, the Minister of Justice, cooled everyone off. Look folks, he essentially said, none of the things you’ve been suggesting are legal, and we’re not going to do any of them.

So they didn’t. And then Stalin died and that particular danger passed anyway.

(Hat tip: Karl Pfeifer)