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Berit Shalom

Berit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) was a society founded in Jerusalem in 1925 to foster rapprochement between Jews and Arabs in Palestine on the basis of a bi-national solution to the conflict between them, with Jews and Arabs having an equal share in the administration regardless of the size of their respective populations. Bi-nationalism for Berit Shalom was not an ideal but a function of reality.

The trigger for the establishment of the society was a lecture at the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by the Orientalist Professor Joseph Horowitz of the University of Frankfurt on the Main. The initiative for founding Berit Shalom came from Arthur Ruppin.

The active members in the society belonged to several groups. The first, which was predominant in the early years, was made up of men who had immigrated to Palestine before World War I and were all (except Ruppin himself) of East European origin, had an academic education, and shared a practical political approach to Zionism. They included, in addition to Ruppin, Dr. Jacob Thon, Dr. Joseph Lurie, Dr Yitzḥak Epstein, Haim Margolis-Kalvaryski, and Rabbi Binyamin.

The second group, which became predominant after 1929, was made up of intellectuals of a Central European liberal background, was much more ideological than the first group, and its members were all strongly influenced by the philosophy of Martin Buber. They included Prof. Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Prof. Hans Kohn, Prof. Gershom Scholem, Prof. Ernst Simon, and Dr. Robert Weltsch.

Finally there was a group of socalled Anglo-Saxons, mostly men who were employed by the Palestine Administration, including Edwin Samuel, son of the first High Commissioner to Palestine, Herbert Samuel, and the attorney general of Palestine, Norman Bentwich, who did not become full members until 1929. Prof. Judah Leon Magnes, who also advocated bi-nationalism in this period, was never a member of the society, even though his name was frequently identified with it.

Berit Shalom never numbered more than 200 members. From the start there were differences concerning the purpose of the society. Ruppin wanted it to be a research group that would present the results of its studies to the Zionist leadership, while others urged that it formulate and attempt to implement its own political program. Ruppin was chairman of the society until 1929, and the more activist line was carried out by his successor, Joseph Lurie.

Rabbi Binyamin, the first editor of Berit Shalom's monthly, She'ifoteinu (Our Aspirations), who demanded an agreement with the Arabs on the basis of unlimited Jewish immigration, was replaced when a majority of the members declared themselves ready to accept a temporary limitation of immigration to facilitate an agreement with the Arabs.

In 1930, senior members of Berit Shalom published a series of memoranda, the first of which – Memorandum by the Brit Shalom Society on an Arab Policy for the Jewish Agency – was submitted to the Zionist Executive in London in February. The second memorandum, entitled Practical Proposals for Cooperation Between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, was prepared as a response to a suggestion by one of the members of the 1929 Shaw Commission. The third memorandum was a personal endeavor by Ernst Simon, and was distributed to the members of the Conference of the Administrative Committee of the Jewish Agency in London. The fourth and last one was a Judeao-Arab Covenant prepared by Kalvaryski in August (apparently unknown to his colleagues at the time), and submitted by him to a member of the Arab Executive. Berit Shalom was attacked by most of the Zionist parties, who viewed its members as defeatists at best and traitors and worst. By 1933, it had virtually ceased to exist, after many of its members deserted it, and it ran out of funds.


She'ifotenu (1930–33); S. Hattis, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine in Mandatory Times (1970).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.