Einstein Believed in Israel Despite Its Problems, Old Interview Shows

In 1955, the famous physicist worried about the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs but was confident the new Jewish state would succeed.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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What's so complicated about a Jewish state?Credit: AP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Albert Einstein had “great hopes” for Israel’s future and viewed the country’s success as “certain” despite its problems with the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, an interview published three days before his death shows.

The interview was conducted by Austrian Jewish journalist Edwin Roth in 1955 in their mutual mother tongue, German. It was subsequently published in several European newspapers.

Tomer Kaufman, a book and document collector from Jerusalem, recently purchased the original draft of the interview, which was sent to Einstein for approval before publication. The five-page document, which he purchased from Roth’s family, includes the deletions, additions and changes Einstein sought to make in the article.

For Israelis, the most interesting part of the interview will likely be Einstein’s comments about the new Jewish state, which at that time was a mere 7 years old. Einstein, who had turned down an offer to become Israel’s president three years earlier, unhesitatingly pointed to two major problems that he believed Israel must solve — peace with the Arabs and the integration of the ultra-Orthodox.

Nevertheless, he voiced optimism about the country. “I have great hopes for the future of the Jewish state,” he wrote.

In the draft copy Roth sent him for review, the journalist asked Einstein to add a few more sentences about Israel. Einstein obligingly did so.

The transcript of Albert Einstein's final interview, hand-marked with Einstein's changes. Photo by Nir Hasson.

“I’m certain it will succeed,” he said in a handwritten note on the copy he sent back to Roth. “A responsible approach by the government and common interests will ultimately lead to real and sustainable peace with the Arabs.

“I also hope, with a bit of confidence, that the current treatment will influence the narrow-minded and the Orthodox, and that it will be possible to overcome them by means of intelligent cooperation in the not-so-distant future,” he added, in what Kaufman interpreted as a reference to the ultra-Orthodox.

As for how this should be done, Einstein said, “I prefer educational work to political and coalition tactics.”

Other edits seem to testify to Einstein's humility. In the original introduction to the interview, for instance, Roth (1924-2010) described the Nobel Prize-winning physicist as “one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.” But that sentence was excised from the published version at the insistence of Einstein himself — as were several other superlatives Roth tried to include, such as the phrase “phenomenal brain.”

In another case, Roth initially described Einstein as having “changed the history of the world,” but Einstein altered the sentence to say that he changed “the scientific future of the world.” Einstein also eliminated Roth’s assertion that the physicist was young at heart and so preferred young people around him.

“You can see that he was a truly modest man,” Kaufman noted.

The transcript of Albert Einstein's final interview, hand-marked with Einstein's changes. Photo by Nir Hasson.

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