Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, knew how to hate; from time to time he would transfer his hatred from one person to another. On May 15, 1963, he wrote to poet Haim Gouri: "[Menachem] Begin is clearly a Hitlerist type: a racist, willing to destroy all the Arabs for the sake of Greater Israel; he justifies any means for the sacred end - absolute rule ..."
A few years later, Ben-Gurion "transferred" his hatred to Levi Eshkol, and wanted to reconcile with Begin. "My [wife] Paula has always been an admirer of yours, for some reason," he wrote to Begin in February 1969: "I was strongly opposed to several of your viewpoints and actions ... and I don't regret that, because in my opinion I was right (anyone is capable of making a mistake without realizing it), but on a personal level, I have never had anything against you and the more I have gotten to know you in recent years - the more I have appreciated you, and my Paula is pleased about that."
In 1981, then-prime minister Begin sent Gouri a copy of Ben-Gurion's letter, and this week Gouri spoke about this document at the annual conference of the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, in Jerusalem.
Begin wrote to Gouri: "I have copied the late Mr. Ben-Gurion's letter for you not in order to 'brag.' But from the moment I received this letter I have always asked myself: Maybe we would really have been spared many tragic and even terrible things had the late Ben-Gurion and I been 'better' acquainted with one another."
Begin pointed out that Ben-Gurion's letter to him was written a few years after the letter to Gouri. "So which letter is valid? The earlier one or the later one? In law, it is common practice that if a person willed his property on a certain date and later changed both his mind and his will, the later document is binding, not the earlier one."
The prime minister did not ask Gouri to make his letter public. "I am writing to you out of a human urge, nothing more," he said then.
Out of oblivion
On June 1, 1925, a new daily newspaper appeared in Tel Aviv, called Davar. The paper came out continuously until 1996, and was generally considered an important publication. Past issues of it are therefore also important to the study of history, but can only be found in a few libraries today.
Recently, however, Davar joined a number of Jewish newspapers that can be perused online, on a Web site initiated by Tel Aviv University and the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. The project - which so far covers the period 1948-1969 - also includes Jewish newspapers published in Arab countries and the English-language Palestine Post.
Davar is the first Hebrew newspaper included on the site. Historian Yaron Tzur, the project coordinator, says the next addition will be the daily Maariv.
Not only is the Web site (jpress.tau.ac.il) user-friendly, it also has rescued these newspapers from oblivion.Journalism is often considered "the first draft of history," although its main value does not necessarily lie in the information it provides, but in the public discourse it reflects.
Interesting in this connection, for example, are the first articles published in Davar by journalist Nahum Barnea, beginning in 1967, including one entitled "Israel Boom Boom." In it, he described a visit to Greece, where he encountered great affection for Israel, in the wake of the Six-Day War.
A short while ago, artist David Tartakover was invited to submit an entry for a poster exhibit organized by the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO) in Athens, which is under the aegis of the Greek interior minister.
Tartakover, an Israel Prize laureate, blew up the first page of his grandfather's passport and printed the following words on it, in English: "On October 21, 1938, my grandparents left Vienna, Austria, for Palestine." Austria had been annexed to Nazi Germany a few months earlier. The passports of David and Rebecca Tartakover bore the swastika and the letter "J," in red, identifying them as Jews.
IMEPO was very impressed with the poster, but refused to display it. The institute's president, Alexander Zavos, expressed his regret and wrote to Tartakover in the following letter: "I am afraid we live in a country that is in a socially critical situation right now and there are tensions everywhere. There are street riots, there is instability and we're afraid of reactions. Any reference to Palestine, for example, or the Holocaust, we are very much afraid would spark reactions that would harm the exhibition and the organization itself. You know, there are narrow-minded people that are seeking excuses for trouble.
For example, we have many immigrants from Palestine, and they could misinterpret your message and bring us in a difficult position. Being a governmental organization, we are supervised by the minister of interior, thus we have to be very careful when it comes to decisions like this."
Tartakover submitted an alternative poster. He distributed his original entry as a postcard to exhibition visitors, with Zavos' letter printed on its reverse side.