by Rabbi Adam Roffman
Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the passage of United Nations Resolution 181, recommending the establishment of two independent states, one Jewish and one Arab, at the conclusion of the British Mandate in Palestine.
In our collective Jewish memories, the 29th of November, 1947 was a day of profound euphoria and catharsis. After two thousand years of exile and persecution, after the death of six million Jews at the hand of the Nazis, this was the moment when the community of nations finally acknowledged our right to self-determination, recognition, and statehood. Just as our tradition tells us that we were all present for the giving of the Torah at Sinai, it feels equally true to say that all Jews—past, present, and future–were huddled around a radio that day anxiously awaiting the results of the UN vote.
But no achievement stands on its own, and as we celebrate this milestone and rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the world respects and values the legitimacy of the Jewish state, we must also marvel at how this most significant of moments came to be.
In April 1947, Howard Beeley, a British diplomat, a man later derided by Zionists for his pessimistic view of how support for a Jewish state might damage the standing of the United Kingdom in the Middle East wrote to David Horowitz, a representative of the Jewish Agency:
“Look at the U.N. Charter and at the list of the countries belonging to it. In order to obtain a favourable decision, you will need two-thirds of the votes of those countries, and you will be able to obtain it only if the Eastern bloc and the U.S. unite and support both the decision itself and the same formulation. Nothing like that ever happened, it cannot possibly happen, and will never happen.”
But it did. At first, neither the Soviets nor the American government was convinced of the merits of the plan. It was hard to imagine how these two great powers, standing at the precipice of a decades-long Cold War, could possibly agree on as thorny an issue as a Jewish state. But pressure from countless Zionists and their allies convinced both that a Jewish homeland in Palestine would serve their seemingly conflicting self-interests.
Harry Truman famously remarked: “The facts were that not only were there pressure movements around the United Nations unlike anything that had been seen there before, but that the White House, too, was subjected to a constant barrage. I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance.”
The same devotion and dedication to the dream of Jewish Statehood led to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, whose 100th anniversary we marked just a few weeks ago on November 2nd. The declaration, which announced the intention of the British Government to aid in the creation of a national home for the Jewish people, was the result of countless hours of lobbying and politicking of everyone from the British Minister of Finance to Pope Benedict XV—chiefly by Chaim Weitzman (later Israel’s first President) and his associate Nahum Sokolow.
We mark these anniversaries and Israel’s upcoming 70th birthday grateful for the blessings that statehood has bestowed upon the Jewish people and the world—but mindful, as well, of the work that is ahead of us to ensure Israel’s security and prosperity as a nation and as a nation among nations. Let us not forget, that just as it was the relentless voices of individuals that enabled the birth of the state, so too it will be the strong and insistent voices of individuals—your voices–that will ensure her future.