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David Ben-Gurion: Clarification of Relations Between Israeli and American Jewry

(October 10, 1951)

In a statement given on October 10, 1951, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion spoke at length on the relations between American and Israeli Jews, setting straight that Israel “in no way presumes to represent or speak,” for Jews who are not citizens of Israel.

In view of the cables sent to me during the last few weeks it seems to me there exists a misunderstanding concerning my stand and that of the Israel Government regarding the relations between Israel and American Jewry. This misunderstanding is due in part to inaccurate reports in the press and in part to the free discussion which took place in the last Zionist Congress regarding Zionism, its tasks and status.

I, therefore, wish to clarify matters and ask you to transmit it to all interested. The greater part of the following views has already been expressed by me to my American friends during their visit to Israel as well as during my last visit to the United States.

In the first statement which the representative of Israel made before the United Nations after her admission to that International Organization he clearly stated without any reservation that the State of Israel represents and speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of the Jews who are citizens of any other country. We the people of Israel have no desire and no intention to interfere in any way with the internal affairs of communities abroad.

The government and the people of Israel fully respect the right and integrity of the Jewish communities in other countries to develop their own mode of life and their indigenous social, economic and cultural institutions in accordance with their own needs and aspirations. Any weakening of American Jewry, any disruption of its communal life, any lowering of its sense of security, any diminution of its status is a definite loss to Jews everywhere and to Israel in particular.

The very freedom and security of American Jews is to us a guarantee that those of them who may feel morally impelled to participate personally and directly in the building up of Israel will be able to do so. Our success or failure depends in a large measure on our co-operation with and on the strength of the great Jewish community of the United States and we, therefore, are anxious that nothing should be said or done which could in the slightest degree undermine the sense of security and stability of American Jewry.

We should like to see American Jews come and take part in our effort. We need their technical knowledge, their unrivalled experience, their spirit of enterprise, their bold vision, their know how. We need engineers, chemists, builders, work managers and technicians. The tasks which face us in this country are eminently such as would appeal to the American genius for technical development and social progress. But the decision as to whether they wish to come permanently or temporarily rests with the free discretion of each American Jew himself. It is entirely a matter of his own volition.

We need Halutzim too. Halutzim have come to us and we believe more will come not only from those countries where the Jews are oppressed but also from countries where the Jews live a life of freedom and are equal in status to all other citizens in their country. But the essence of Halutziut is free choice. They will come from among those who believe that their aspirations as human beings and as Jews can best be fulfilled by life and work in Israel.

In connection with the proceedings of the recent Zionist Congress I wish to make the following points clear. For 50 years the Zionist movement embodied and led a world-wide effort for the establishment of the State of Israel, sometimes alone, sometimes supported by other Jewish movements and individuals. Israel institutions of government grew organically out of this movement. Therefore, it was naturtions of government grew organically out of this movement. Therefore, it was natural for the government and the people of Israel to give every encouragement to the World Zionist Congress meeting in Jerusalem and to urge its redoubled efforts to support Israel’s cause.

This does not at all mean that there is any change in Israel’s established policy which is to seek and welcome the support, assistance and counsel of all Jewish groups and individuals, whether or not they work within the framework of Zionist Organization. In Israel the Jewish Agency and its related bodies carry out specific functions in the reception of immigrants, in the immediate provision for their needs in land settlement, and in certain types of development work. These function were discharged by the Jewish Agency and its organs long before the State of Israel was established and upon its establishment they were not taken over by the State but left in charge of the Jewish Agency. Under the new set up they can only be effectively discharged through the closest possible co-operation of the Jewish Agency with the Government of Israel.

The Knesset may therefore be asked to confer a special status on the Jewish Agency inside Israel to express this situation. However, the Knesset cannot and does not wish to affect by its legislation any activity outside Israel’s borders. With reference to American Jewry the position will thus remain as before, namely, that Israel will co-operate directly on matters affecting itself with all Jewish organizations desirous of such co-operation. Such direct relations of the Government of Israel with Jewish bodies and organizations will naturally be co-ordinated with the Jewish Agency.

Some friends have enquired from me the exact import of the term “Ingathering of Exiles.” This historic phrase from our literature accurately describes the current phenomenon of Israel’s life which is the spontaneous and wondrous convergence upon Israel of Jews in need of home and freedom. The phrase cannot be regarded as implying that American Jews should regard themselves as deficient in stability or security or as being under notice to change their abode. Our only wish for American Jewry is to see it stable, free and secure.

It is our earnest hope as indicated before that men and women will come to us from American Jewry to assist in the creative epoch of our state building, just as men and women from many lands immigrated to America and built a new civilization on its shores. This, however, can only be a voluntary process inspired by a positive idealism similar to that which animated America’s founders.

In conclusion I want to reiterate my hope that Israel will continue to be able to co-operate with a free and secure American Jewry in a cause which has won the admiration and approval and has enhanced the dignity and prestige of every Jew wherever he lives.

Source:Ben Gurion Clarifies Relations Between Israel and American Jewry,JTA, (October 11, 1951).