The Wednesday, Nov. 29, marks the 70th anniversary of the passage by the United Nations of Resolution 181, specifying a partition plan that would ultimately lead to the establishment of a Jewish state in previously British-occupied Palestine.
Rabbi Evan Hoffman of Congregation Anshe Shalom in New Rochelle, a long-time lecturer of the Tuesday night Jewish history series at the Young Israel of Woodmere, discussed with me the implications of this monumental event. I will share with you some of his observations:
The partition plan “was a major step toward the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. In order for Zionism to be successful in the first half of the 20th century, it needed the cooperation of a European colonial power. Without British rule from 1917 to 1947, it would have been impossible for the Yishuv to develop the demographic strength needed to control any territory in the Arab-dominated Middle East. But independence necessitated the eventual ouster of that colonial power.
“By 1947, the British had several good reasons to walk away from the Palestine Mandate. Reality dictated a change. They were financially broke and emotionally drained after World War II. The combination of a Zionist uprising and the vicious cycle of Arab-Jewish violence required the British to spend much more on Palestine than they would have preferred. But despite the disaster that the British Mandate became at this time, the great world powers were not yet ready to walk away from Palestine without a viable alternative. And, certainly, the Zionists could not declare statehood so long as the British military remained there.
“The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine’s majority report, eventually passed with slight modifications in the General Assembly, put forth a resolution that Palestine, excluding Jerusalem and its suburbs, could be ruled, separately, by two indigenous groups. Resolution 181, in effect, meant that no longer would outside actors be an obstacle to Jewish statehood. Thus, if the Yishuv could survive that onslaught of its immediate and regional neighbors, a Jewish state would exist and survive.”
In looking back at the events that were being played out on the world stage just 70 years ago this week we have to further consider several historical events and their participating personalities to best understand the eventual outcome, both in 1947–49, and in 1967.
Rabbi Hoffman continues:
“Another importance to Resolution 181 is that it represents the ultimate fulfillment of the Basel Program adopted at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Herzlian Zionists had long insisted that the Jewish national movement for statehood had to be recognized and legitimatized by the world powers and secured under public law. Had the British, in 1947, simply abandoned the region and left behind a political and military vacuum, the Zionist leadership would eventually have declared statehood and may even have succeeded in operating a state. However, here is the problem: would the countries of the world have recognized its existence?
“For all of the difficulties that the state of Israel has had all these years in the international arena ever since the passage of the partition plan 70 years ago this week, one thing stands out as the positive resulting reality from this. The world has come to recognize that Israel has a rightful place in the world. That Resolution 181 is critical to the conferring of legitimacy on a national movement is evidenced by the irony and fact that PLO representatives belatedly turned to this very same Resolution 181 generations later to bolster their own case for statehood.”
The events played out at the United Nations in Flushing Meadows 70 years ago this week prompts me to further bring to your attention other writings that will surely give you further perspective to events that still resonate with us.
•Chapter 7 of Daniel Gordis’ book, “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn” (Harper Collins, 2016) offers an excellent review of the events leading up to the passage of Resolution 181 and of the resultant events that finally led to the establishment of the state. Of particular note are the actions of President Harry Truman, the roles of his government agencies, namely that of the CIA and the State Department, as well of the rather surprising behavior of Communist despot Joseph Stalin and Andrei Gromyko that helped in the passage of 181.
•Another work, “Thy City Jerusalem: The Miraculous Rebirth of the Holy City” by Verdah Littman (Torah LaKol Press, 2017) in the very first chapter details the roles and thinking of various rabbinic leaders in Jerusalem leading up to 181 and the resultant establishment of the state of Israel. Among the personalities cited is the Brisker Rov, Maran HaRav HaGaon Yitzchok Ze’ev HaLevi Soloveitchik, whose opinions you will find enlightening and somewhat sobering given the events of that time. Also detailed in this work, in chapter two, is how people survived the siege in Jerusalem in this crucial period when the very survival of our people was at stake.
•There’s a valuable video by Dore Gold, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1997 to 1999, entitled, “Is It True the U.N. Created Israel? 70 Years Since U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181” (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs). It effectively places all the above in their proper perspective. Consider this observation by Gold:
“When I served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., a campaign began which called for reviving Resolution 181, led by the Palestinian U.N. Observer, Nasser al-Qudwa. At the time, Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon said to me, ‘Go back to Ben-Gurion’s speech in the Knesset from December 1949.’
“When Arab armies converged on the nascent state of Israel, put Jerusalem under siege, and bombarded the Old City with artillery, the UN did nothing. As Ben- Gurion told the Israeli Knesset in December 1949, ‘The U.N. didn’t lift a finger’.”
FOR FURTHER STUDY
Consider also the following articles from mosaicmagazine.com
•“Who Saved Israel in 1947?” by Martin Kramer
•“The UN Partition Vote In November 1947 Was Important, But Not Crucial” by Benny Morris
•“The Creation Of Israel Was An Extraordinary Event, But Also A Normal One” By Michael Mandelbaum
•“Communism, Zionism and the Jews: A Brief Romance”
by Harvey Klehr
And from the International Jerusalem Post, Nov.24–30, 2017, “In the center of it all: Marking 70 years since the vote that changed history on Nov. 29, 1947,” by David Geffen.