Creative Oblivion

A member of the Irgun pre-state underground organization, Kook tried to establish a Jewish army in the United States in order to take part in the war against the Nazis.

In the annals of Israeli politics, Hillel Kook is one of the dozens of Knesset members who have vanished into nowhere. In the First Knesset he represented Herut, but left that party and remained a one-man faction, and was not a member of the Second Knesset. Others who followed a similar pattern were Ari Jabotinsky and the poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, who were also among the odd birds Menachem Begin brought with him. The Knesset's Internet site mentions the name Kook used when he was in the United States during World War II: Peter Bergson. To this day he has admirers in America. A group of scholars headed by author Elie Wiesel has now asked the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to put greater emphasis on the activity of the "Bergson Group" in rescuing Jews in Europe. And a conference in Kook's memory was held in New York.

A member of the Irgun pre-state underground organization, Kook tried to establish a Jewish army in the United States in order to take part in the war against the Nazis. When reports of the extermination of the Jews began to arrive, he organized marches and meetings, published advertisements, and tried to collar senators in an effort to force the Roosevelt administration to do more to rescue the Jews. He loathed the Jewish establishment for its fawning obedience, and its leaders viewed him as a publicity-seeking troublemaker and were concerned that his hyperactivity would get them into trouble for displaying "dual loyalty."

The argument over who was right is now splitting historians, more or less along the line that also divides them on the question of whether the Jewish public leadership in Palestine could have done more to rescue the Jews.

Kook, the nephew of the chief rabbi of Palestine, espoused a "Hebrew, quasi-Canaanite" national outlook, as an alternative to Zionist Jewish thought. He was in favor of separating religion and state, and for the participation of Arabs in the government. In his way, he was sympathetic to the idea of the "Semitic space," and in the 1950s was among the people one could read about in Uri Avnery's now-defunct weekly Ha'olam Hazeh.

The Lithuanian-born Kook died in 2001. It's likely that if he were alive today, he would support the "state of all its citizens" formula, in part because of his complete identification with the basic values of the United States. As such, in the 1940s he helped advance the struggle for equal rights of the blacks in that country, as did many Jews there. That is a well-known story. What is less well known is that some of the leaders of the black communities in the United States also supported him and his struggle to rescue the Jews of Europe.

Kook's American biographer, Raphael Medoff, recently gave a talk on the assistance Kook received from a number of black celebrities. They signed his petitions, attended his meetings and also helped him raise money. That was far from self-evident: They had troubles of their own. Among Kook's supporters was one of the best-known and most admired of American blacks: the legendary singer Paul Robeson. According to Medoff's account, it appears that more blacks than Jews backed Peter Bergson.

It was an alliance of the persecuted. In the spring of 1947, an ardently pro-Zionist play called "A Flag is Born," by Ben Hecht - who also supported the effort to compel the Roosevelt administration to do more to rescue Jews - was about to be staged in Baltimore. At the time, blacks could only get tickets for the balcony. The Bergson Group threatened a scandal, the theater's management gave in, and black invitees sat in the main hall for the first time in the theater's history.

The story of Hillel Kook's life ignites the imagination and is fraught with "what if" conjectures, such as what if the United States had done more to rescue the Jews, Israel had defined itself as a secular "Hebrew" state instead of a Jewish and Zionist one, and Israeli politics had been capable of cultivating people with original ideas instead of rewarding so many dull functionaries.

Katsav as history

If Moshe Katsav is convicted of an offense of moral turpitude, he will lose most of the privileges of a former state president. But his "legacy" will be commemorated nonetheless. Under the law for the commemoration of presidents and prime ministers, the state archives is supposed to publish a book in honor of Katsav. Every president and every prime minister is commemorated by means of such a book, put out in a uniform format. This was a problematic idea from the outset, because every official biography is problematic, but the series, under the editorship of Yemima Rosenthal, includes several highly interesting volumes, which contain previously unpublished information. The volume on the Katsav legacy will necessitate a choice among the thousands of pages of testimonies by an abundance of complainants named "A." Maybe he will get two volumes, like Yitzhak Rabin did. At the moment, there is no need to decide. Fortunately, the law stipulates that the book must be published only after the president's death.

Scandal in the third grade (a response)

Renana Meridor from Jerusalem writes in response to the affair of the Nakba being mentioned in textbooks, which was surveyed here last week: "Both Arab schoolchildren and Jewish schoolchildren in Israel are apparently not allowed to know that at the end of the hostilities of 1948, the part of Mandatory Palestine which remained in the hands of the Arabs was 'cleansed of Jews,' as all its Jewish residents were either killed or expelled from it." What both Jewish and Arab children ought to know is the following:

It is true that no Jews remained in some of the territories of Mandatory Palestine, which remained in Arab hands at the end of the hostilities of 1948. Most of the Jews who fled and were expelled lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, in the settlements of Gush Etzion, in Atarot and in Neveh Yaakov - a total of no more than 2,500 people, less than half of 1 percent of the Jews who then resided in the country. The Arab refugees numbered 650,000, and fewer than 150,000 Arabs remained in the territory of Israel after the war.


? Russia is marking the 70th anniversary of the "Great Purge" in which millions of people were declared "enemies of the regime" and executed or exiled to gulags. President Vladimir Putin is not enthusiastic: He is inclined to upgrade Stalin's historical image and recently said that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima by America was a greater crime than the communist "purges."

? In Australia, William Young, one of the last British soldiers who fought in World War I, died. He was a radio technician and was 107 years old. Of the five million soldiers who served in the British Army in the Great War, only five now remain alive.

? The National Museum in Cairo is exhibiting an artificial toe which was attached to the foot of a mummified body, apparently the oldest prosthesis in the world. It is made of wood and leather and is estimated to date back to between 1000 and 600 B.C.E.