Why Israel’s Founding Father Refused to Denounce Terrorists

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Last week my father gave me a book of the English essayist Isaiah Berlin’s portraits. Berlin was a friend of Chaim Weizmann, the moderate Zionist and first president of Israel, whom Berlin often visited in Palestine during the tortuous years under the British mandate, 1945-1947, when Jewish terrorists blew up the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, and captured and executed British soldiers. Berlin says that Weizmann refused to condemn the terrorists. Why?

When Jewish terrorism broke out in Palestine he felt and behaved much as Russian liberals did when reactionary Tsarist ministers were assassinated by idealistic revolutionaries. He did not support it; in private he condemned it very vehemently. But he did not think it morally decent to denounce either the acts or their perpetrators in public. He genuinely detested violence: and he was too civilised and too humane to believe in its efficacy, mistakenly perhaps. But he did not propose to speak out against acts, criminal as he thought them, which sprang from the tormented minds of men driven to desperation, and ready to give up their lives to save their brothers from what, he and they were equally convinced, was a betrayal and a destruction cynically prepared for them by the foreign offices of the western powers…

Noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Palestinian sympathizers are continually called upon to condemn terrorism. Sometimes they comply, sometimes they don’t. Many of them, as Weizmann did, understand the desperate and tormented reasons for terrorism, which are not generally religious, per Robert Pape, but utterly mundane: about land and occupation.

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