The Forgotten Man Who Wrote the First Draft of Israel’s Declaration of Independence

In May of this year the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the first draft of Israel’s declaration of independence belonged to the nation and not to the family of the man who wrote it. (The family was trying to sell the draft, having fallen on hard times.) That would perhaps seem obvious, but less obvious—indeed, mostly forgotten—is the story of that man, Mordechai Beham, and his work.

In April 1948, Beham, a lawyer then just thirty-one years old, was given the task of drafting a declaration of independence for the state not yet born. (Under the massive weight of the job, he at one point burst into tears at the dining table.) Yaacov Lozowick, formerly Israel’s state archivist, has the tale:

At some point, the young attorney started jotting down notes. First, a page of quotations from famous documents, such as, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another. . . . ” And also, “Behold, I have set the land before you, go in and possess the land the Lord swore unto your fathers” (Deuteronomy 1:8). Having written down four or five quotations, all in English, he then took another sheet of paper and wrote a first outline of a “Declaration of a Jewish State,” still in English. On a third sheet of paper, he then translated what he had written into Hebrew.

On Sunday, April 25, Beham showed his draft to [his boss]. They made numerous editorial corrections. Two days later there was a typed version, thanks to Mrs. Levy, the office secretary. Beham then wrote out a one-page description of what they were trying to do. By the time the draft moved on to other potential authors, he had authored a total of five sheets of paper.

Over the next three weeks, Beham’s draft was reworked over and over by dozens of people; the task was brought to an end about an hour before the final version was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion on May 14.

Beham’s involvement went unremembered until the late 1990s, when a law professor named Yoram Schachar went looking for the roots of the declaration. He “uncovered Beham’s role and went to visit his widow; it turned out that she still had the papers in a box.” Schachar then compared the final draft with the first:

Although next to none of Beham’s original words made their way all the way through the process into the final text, its structure did. Beham had decided the declaration should have two segments, one presenting the history of the Jews, the second building upon it to proclaim future intents. Everyone who came after him worked within that structure.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Declaration of Independence

 

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship