Weizmann, Chaim (1874–1952)

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WEIZMANN, CHAIM (1874–1952)

Zionist leader and Israeli statesman, first president of the State of Israel. He was born in November 1874 in Belorussia, and from early youth was a convinced Zionist. He earned his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Freiburg in 1899 and taught at the University of Geneva from 1900 to 1904. The following year he left Switzerland for England, where he took a position at the University of Manchester. Naturalized a British citizen in 1910, he directed the laboratories of the British Admiralty from 1916 to 1919. Throughout these years, he participated in Zionist activities.

In 1917, Weizmann was instrumental in persuading the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, that a Jewish state in Palestine would serve British interests in the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for establishment of a Jewish homeland, was a turning point in modern Jewish history. In 1918, Weizmann headed the Zionist Commission to Palestine. He also led the Zionist delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of that year, and in 1920–1922 he negotiated the document that laid the legal foundation for the Jewish National Home.

As president of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) from 1920 to 1931 and 1935 to 1946, Weizmann continued to promote policies that strengthened the position of Jews in Palestine; but he was disappointed by the slow progress of Zionist development there. He became simultaneously president of the Jewish Agency, the official liaison with the British authorities; however, the Palestinian riots of 1929 and subsequent decline in British support for Zionism led him to resign in protest from the presidency of both organizations.

Returning to head the movement in 1935, he helped to bring about the Palestine Royal Commission's recommendation for partition of Palestine, successfully persuading a majority of the Zionist Congress to accept partition in principle. But the British government reversed its initial approval and issued a White Paper that limited Jewish immigration. Thereafter, Weizmann's influence gradually decreased because of his opposition to the radical policies of rising WZO leaders. After his term as president ended in 1946, he remained actively involved and helped persuade U.S. president Harry Truman to support the establishment of Israel in 1948. Weizmann served as the new nation's first president, which at that time was a largely ceremonial post that he found frustrating. He died on 9 November 1952.

SEE ALSO Balfour Declaration;Jewish Agency for Israel;White Papers on Palestine;World Zionist Organization.