Weizmann, Chaim

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WEIZMANN, CHAIM (1874–1952), first president of the State of Israel, president of the (World) Zionist Organization (1920–31 and 1935–46), and distinguished scientist. He was born on Nov. 27, 1874 (8 Kislev 5635), in the village of Motol near Pinsk, in the Russian Pale of Settlement. He was the third child of Ozer Weizmann, a timber merchant, who made his living by floating logs to and along the Vistula for processing and export in Danzig, and of Rachel-Leah, daughter of Michael Tchemerinksy (see *Weizmann family). They were married when the husband was 16 years of age and his bride less than 14. Chaim was one of 15 children, of whom 12 survived infancy and lived to old age. Chaim's childhood years were typical of the Jewish shtetl, an autonomous island within the vast and hostile Russian world. In his autobiography Trial and Error he wrote: "We were strangers to their ways of thought, to each other's dreams, religions, festivals, even languages. There were times when the non-Jewish world was practically excluded from our consciousness, as on the Sabbath, and still more on the spring and autumn festivals.… We were separated from the peasants by a whole inner world of memories and experiences. My father was not yet a Zionist, but the house was steeped in rich Jewish tradition; and Palestine was at the center of the ritual…. The return was in the air, a vague deep-rooted Messianism, a hope which would not die" (1949 edition, pp. 10–11). Weizmann's early education was imparted by a melammed who taught him the Bible and Hebrew grammar, and immersed him in memories of departed Jewish glory. The Weizmann Archives in Reḥovot display a Hebrew letter which young Chaim wrote at the age of 11, containing this stirring call: "For why should we look to the Kings of Europe for compassion that they should take pity upon us and give us a resting-place? In vain, all have denied: The Jews must die, but England will nevertheless have mercy upon us. In conclusion to Zion Jews to Zion let us go."

At the Realschule in Pinsk, he showed an early talent for scientific studies. His family had fallen on hard times, and the boy had to give private lessons in Hebrew and other subjects to children of wealthier Jewish families. On completing his secondary school course at the age of 18, he already displayed a versatile intellectual energy. He was known for hard and tenacious labor and was prominent among his contemporaries for a bent for ironic humor and a tendency to dominate any company in which he found himself. As it was difficult for Jews to obtain entry to Russian universities, where a numerus clausus was strictly applied, Weizmann set out in 1892 to study in Germany, where he enrolled at Darmstadt Polytechnic, supplementing his frugal means by teaching Russian at a Jewish school in a neighboring town. After two terms at Darmstadt, he moved to Berlin to study biochemistry at the Institute of Technology in Charlottenburg.

First Zionist Steps

In Berlin, he joined a glittering circle of Zionist intellectuals, Der Juedisch-Russische wissenschaftliche Verein, including Nachman *Syrkin, Leo *Motzkin, and Shemaryahu *Levin. It was a period of strong ideological conflict within the Zionist Movement, and Weizmann and his friends soon came under the spell of *Aḥad Ha-Am, who defined the object of Jewish nationalism in cultural and spiritual terms. In 1896, the Jewish world was electrified by the appearance of Theodor *Herzl with his revolutionary vision of separate Jewish nationhood and the establishment of the Jewish State. Weizmann and his followers were already steeped in this concept, which was not new to his generation of Russian Jews, but they were attracted by the political sweep and emotional depth of Herzl's call, despite his lack of roots in the authentic Hebrew traditions. Above all, the Russian Zionists were elated by the unexpected adherence to their cause of a sophisticated Western Jew, whose dignity of bearing contrasted with the somewhat bohemian and untidy atmosphere in which Russian Zionism flourished. Owing to a visit to Moscow during the summer vacation of 1897, Weizmann was unable to get back in time for the First Zionist Congress at Basle, but he was a delegate to the second in 1898. In the same year, he went to Fribourg University, Switzerland, to complete his doctorate. He sold his first chemical patent and, in 1901, laid the foundations of his academic career, when, at the age of 27, he became an assistant lecturer at Geneva University. From this point onward, his life was to be divided between his Zionist passion and his scientific vocation. He soon became a prominent figure in the Zionist Movement. He did not doubt Herzl's primacy, and admired the patience with which the leader pursued his political aims; but he developed a critical attitude to Herzl's emphasis on the external forms of diplomacy and his relative indifference to the need for creating tangible social facts. On the eve of the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basle in 1901, Weizmann and his friends created the *Democratic Fraction whose aim was to break out of Zionism's diplomatic emphasis, in order to develop cultural, educational, and social institutions in Ereẓ Israel which would both symbolize and stimulate the concrete work of state-building. At this formative stage in his political evolution, Weizmann was already displaying the skeptical, hard-headed empiricism which held his visionary emotions in check. While Herzl pursued a charter from the sultan of Turkey and worked himself toward an early grave amid ceaseless interviews with European dignitaries, Weizmann and his group devoted themselves to the dissemination of Hebrew culture and published a pamphlet, Eine juedische Hochschule, calling for the establishment of a Hebrew university which would be Zionism's spiritual center and scientific bulwark. Hundreds of Weizmann's early letters are devoted to this project.

In 1903, the Movement was torn apart by the *Uganda controversy. The British foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne, had tentatively suggested Jewish settlement in an area of 5,000 square miles in the East African Protectorate. The most powerful state in the Western world had taken Jewish nationalism seriously enough to offer it a territorial abode, at a time when the fearful persecution of Russian Jews seemed to make their physical rescue more urgent than anything else, and Herzl was inclined to accept the offer as a Nachtasyl – a temporary shelter – on the road to Zion. The Russian Jews, however, led by *Ussishkin, would not agree to a Zionism without Zion. Weizmann, deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and East European Jewry, ultimately came down on the side of Herzl's opponents. The great leader died in 1904, a broken and frustrated man, and yet a splendid figure, bequeathing his legend to the Jewish people as the symbol and portrait of its future sovereignty.

Zionism was in the doldrums, and Weizmann's post in Geneva was petering out. He felt the need for a new start and decided to leave for England in 1904 to open the second chapter in his Zionist and scientific life. In 1906 he married Vera Chatzmann (see below), a medical student from Rostov-onthe-Don, whom he had known for five years and wooed in an ardent correspondence. He had started research at Manchester University in 1905 and began to lecture and hold tutorial classes in his subject. In 1907, he was appointed senior lecturer. He maintained his ties with the Zionist Movement, and at the Seventh Zionist Congress, in 1905, was elected to the Larger Actions Committee (later called the General Zionist Council), the supreme body in inter-Congress periods. For the greater part of his remaining years, English life and culture were to excite his admiration. He was deeply impressed by the order, courtesy, reticence, symmetry, and tranquil superiority of the English temperament in its best expressions, and he had a premonition that the decisive turning point in Jewish history would come through intersection with British interests. In 1906, he had a sudden opportunity of explaining the Zionist idea in Manchester to the prime minister, Arthur James *Balfour. Balfour had been puzzled by the Zionist rejection of the Uganda opportunity and wanted to meet an anti-Ugandist who would explain this quixotic step. When Balfour asked Weizmann why he was against Uganda, the younger man, with some effrontery, asked Balfour whether, if he were offered Paris, he would abandon London. Balfour answered, "No, but London is the capital of my country." Weizmann replied, "Jerusalem was the capital of our country when London was a marsh." It was from that date that Balfour became a captive of the Zionist dream.

In Manchester, Weizmann's scientific work became more fertile than ever before. He strove to break down the social barriers which cut him off as a young foreigner from the life of British Jewry, and to make contact with a group of young Manchester Jews, Simon *Marks, Israel *Sieff, and Harry *Sacher, who, in their subsequent affluence, were to help carry him forward to the full expression of his powers. These three, together with some London colleagues, Leonard *Stein, Leon *Simon, and Samuel Landman, formed a nucleus around which British Zionism was to grow. Weizmann soon resumed touch with European Zionism. In 1907, the year in which his eldest son, Benjamin, was born, he delivered an important speech at the Eighth Zionist Congress at the Hague, making a fervent plea for practical work in Ereẓ Israel, in addition to diplomatic activity. "If we achieve a synthesis of the two schools of Zionism," he said, "we may get past the dead points … If you tell me that we have been prevented by local difficulties, by the Turkish authorities, I will not accept it. It is not wholly the fault of the Turks. Something can always be done." He pleaded that, even if a charter, such as Herzl had dreamed of, were possible "… it would be without value unless it rested, so to say, on the very soil of Palestine, on a Jewish population rooted in that soil, on institutions established by and for that population" (Trial and Error, p. 122).

This "synthetic Zionism," as it came to be known, was thenceforward the principle of his Zionist work and exercised a significant influence on the Movement as a whole. At the end of the Congress, he paid his first visit to Ereẓ Israel. He was acutely depressed by the experience. Zionism had hardly made any visible impression on the country's landscape. The Turkish government and the major Western powers – Britain, France, and Germany – regarded the Movement as a wild obsession. It was also held in visible contempt by the powerful Jewish communities in London, Paris, and Berlin. But it was this contact with the realities of Ereẓ Israel that stimulated him to press with redoubled energy for immediate practical work there; it was then that he laid out the program of his Zionist work for the next eight years. As chairman of the Standing Committee, he was now able to exercise more influence on the proceedings of the Congresses. At the same time, he was strengthening his roots in English life. In Manchester, he became reader in biochemistry and began to make his mark as a teacher and research worker. The course of his life and, therefore, of Zionist history was nearly changed when he was frustrated in the hope of obtaining a professorship in Manchester, but he sought to balance academic disappointment by intensified Zionist activity. In 1914, he joined in the struggle to ensure that the language of the new Technical School (*Technion) in Haifa, established by the German-Jewish community, should be Hebrew and not German. As a scientist, he knew the limitations of the Hebrew language, but he felt that the Movement would lose its spirit once it cut itself off from its roots in the Jewish past.

World War i

The outbreak of World War i brought Weizmann from the margin to the center of Jewish history. He was now 40 years of age, holding no executive position in the Zionist Movement. Indeed, the Zionist Executive in Berlin found it necessary to reinforce its position in London by sending Nahum *Sokolow and Jehiel *Tschlenow to London. Supported by the English Zionists, by Aḥad Ha-Am, by Haham Moses *Gaster, spiritual head of the Sephardi community, and by Vladimir *Jabotinsky, who shared a flat with him in South London for a time, Weizmann embarked upon an independent effort to win political support for Zionist aims. He paid no attention to his own hierarchical deficiencies. There seemed to be a promise in the air of new opportunities to be snatched from the changing interests and fortunes of the powers. He gathered his friends around him, watched and nursed his chances, and then intervened in the central political arenas with such massive authority and sureness of timing as to change the direction of his people's history.

The link between him and the British government was created by C.P. *Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, who maintained close relations with cabinet ministers, and especially with *Lloyd George. Weizmann charmed Scott into the understanding and support of Zionist aims. The first contacts which Scott made for him were with Herbert *Samuel and Lloyd George. Samuel was then head of the Local Government Board in Asquith's Cabinet; later he was to hold the posts of postmaster-general and home secretary. To Weizmann's surprise, this cool, rational, unsentimental Jew had already been fired by the emotion of Zionism, and was even preparing a memorandum proposing the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine after the defeat of the Turkish Empire. The prime minister, Mr. Asquith, and most of his colleagues were unimpressed by the memorandum, but Lloyd George enthusiastically accepted Samuel's approach. More surprisingly, the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, revealed a sympathetic attitude. Thus, Weizmann found his field already plowed to good effect.

It was not until 1916 that he took the initiative of Zionist advocacy in British governmental circles. In that year, when the prospect of Allied victory was dim, his access to British ministers was facilitated by his successful establishment of a process that would yield acetone, a solvent needed for the production of munitions, which brought him into contact with all kinds of people in the British government, including such men as Winston *Churchill, the first lord of the admiralty, and Lloyd George, minister of munitions. In connection with his work, he moved to London, where he had more leisure for his political work. When the Asquith government resigned, Lloyd George became prime minister and Balfour, foreign secretary. Fortune had smiled broadly on Weizmann's efforts; the two British statesmen, a Welshman and a Scot, most sensitively attuned to his ideas, now held the central place in Britain's international relations.

The practical calculations which drove British statesmanship to support of the Zionist program have never been precisely explained. It is certain that one of the aims was to strengthen the British sympathies of American Jews, and especially of Zionist leaders such as Justice *Brandeis of the Supreme Court, who was a friend of President Wilson. But British policy was also inspired by the hope of keeping Palestine out of the hands of France, which, through its traditions of ecclesiastical protection, had a stronger status in the Levant. This was certainly the chief impulse which moved Sir Mark Sykes, one of the secretaries of the British War Cabinet, who met Weizmann in the early part of 1917 at the house of Moses *Gaster. Some military commentators and strategists were sponsoring an idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine as an assurance of British interests at a strategic point along the route to India. Others were impressed by the ardor of Zionist conviction in Russia. Thus, they came together in a somewhat quixotic alliance to create a strong movement on Zionism's behalf in Whitehall. Opposition, however, came from some British Jews, led by Edward *Montagu, later to be secretary for India, and Claude *Montefiore, president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, who feared that recognition of Jewish nationhood would cast a shadow on the allegiance of Jews to countries of which they were citizens. At one stage, in 1917, Weizmann felt so frustrated by this opposition, as well as by bureaucratic obstruction to his scientific work in the admiralty, that he decided to resign his chairmanship of the English Zionist Federation, to which he had been elected that year. It was at this stage that his friend and mentor, Aḥad Ha-Am, commanded him in paternal tones to follow his destiny to the end, arguing that, since he had never been appointed by anybody to lead the Zionist Movement, there was nobody to whom he could properly submit his resignation; nothing but the commanding attributes of his own personality and the new opportunities of Jewish history had laid the charge upon him.

Weizmann went on building his structure of support and brought his efforts to a triumphant consummation in the early fall of 1917. Despite the opposition of some British Jews and skepticism in some parts of the British Cabinet, Lloyd George and Balfour eventually approved his request for a statement of sympathy for Zionist aims, and the famous *Balfour Declaration was issued on Nov. 2, 1917. The Declaration, which was Weizmann's primary achievement, was a turning point in modern Jewish history. The idea of restoring Jewish political nationhood had passed from fantasy into the world of politics. A leading diplomatic historian has described Weizmann's role as "the greatest act of diplomatic statesmanship of the First World War," declaring that "not even … Masaryk and Venizelos can compare in stature with Weizmann" (Sir Charles Webster, The Art and Practice of Diplomacy (1961), 114). The spectacular nature of his achievement had made him the central figure in the public life of the Jewish people; he was recognized as such by Jews and non-Jews alike. His position in international life even conveyed a premonition of Jewish sovereignty. Heads of state, ministers, and high officials, behaved toward him as though he were already president of a sovereign nation equal in status to their own. He and they knew that this was not strictly true; but something in his presence and in their own historic imagination forbade them to break the spell.

Weizmann's Jewish and international eminence was immediately reflected in the tasks now laid upon him. In 1918, he was appointed head of the Zionist Commission then sent to Palestine by the British government to advise on the future settlement and development of the country. He was ceremonially received in audience by King George v beforehand. After a reunion with Jabotinsky in Cairo, he arrived in Palestine, where he was greeted rhapsodically by the Jewish community and with greater reserve by the British military authorities. The conqueror of the Holy Land, General *Allenby, showed a respectful deference, but both he and other British authorities were skeptical of Weizmann's prospects of success, unless he could achieve an understanding with Arab nationalism. Weizmann crossed to Akaba to meet Emir Feisal, son of the sharif Hussein of Mecca, and undisputed leader of Arab nationalism, to whom the British government had made promises of Arab independence throughout Syria and Iraq, but not in Palestine. Feisal made written pledges to Weizmann promising to recognize Zionist aims in Palestine, provided that the aims of Arab nationalism were achieved in Iraq and Syria. The hour of grace was short. Feisal did not obtain what he had hoped from the Allies in Syria and Iraq. He therefore felt released from his promises to Weizmann. The Arab-Jewish alliance was frustrated because its basis and conditions had been undermined by the Western Powers. In 1918, Weizmann laid the foundations of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1919, he led the Zionist delegation to the Peace Conference at Versailles, where the committee of ten victorious Allies heard him, together with Sokolow and Ussishkin, plead for international ratification of the Balfour Declaration. By this time, the influential supporters of Zionism were not confined to Britain. President Wilson, General *Smuts, and others helped Weizmann to bring about the adoption of the Mandate for Palestine. In this document, whose preamble referred to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine, the realization of the Zionist dream became an integral part of international law.

The Balfour Declaration had been greeted by world Jewry as a kind of Magna Carta; the caution and ambivalence of its formulation could not dim its inner glow. When the Mandate embodying the Declaration was ratified by the international community, Jewish hopes had no bounds. In some parts of the Diaspora, the messianic fervor was so intense that Weizmann found it necessary to sound a cautious note: "A state cannot be created by decree, but only by the forces of the people and in the course of generations. Even if all the governments of the world gave us a country, it would be a gift of little worth, but, if the Jewish people will go and build Palestine, the Jewish state will become a reality."

The 1920s and 1930s

During the 1920s and 1930s, he worked within the gap between the dream and the reality. He was confronted by formidable difficulties, not all of them from without. In 1920, at the Zionist Conference in London, he was elected president of the Zionist Organization, thus achieving formally a position already unchallenged in practice. But now, for the first time, his leadership was disputed. The American Zionists, led by Justice Brandeis, openly questioned his empirical, pioneering approach and the centralized character of the organization. He was forced to defend the principles which had inspired his Zionism from the days of his youth. He could not compromise with the concept of organizational centrality; unless the Jewish people were a single historic unit, there would be no reason to justify its specifically national claims. He was convinced that a nation cannot be arranged from above; it must build itself from below. In the economic sphere, he believed that there should be an attempt to enhance the status of national institutions in the hope that they would evolve into sovereign authorities. He was suspicious of excessive emphasis on financial orthodoxy. He attached vital importance to the social originality of the cooperative villages (moshavim) and collective settlements (kibbutzim), just as he continued to foster and promote the seed of an independent Jewish culture. From his own humble origins and from the atmosphere of the Pale of Settlement he had absorbed a populist emphasis which remained with him at every stage of his career.

In any case, he was now politically indispensable. He was universally recognized as the most authoritative figure in Jewish life, and after much argument and contention he usually got his way. The position was different in his contact with the Mandatory power. The appointment of the Jew, Sir Herbert Samuel, as the first high commissioner of Palestine had messianic implications for Jews in Palestine and elsewhere. But the British administration in Palestine soon fell away from the generous visions which had inspired Balfour and Lloyd George. Its main objective now was not so much to promote the Jewish national home as to mitigate Arab resentment at its progress. Immigration was cut down. Little protection was offered to Jews attacked by Arab gunmen, and embarrassed efforts were often made to persuade the Arabs that the Balfour Declaration meant even less than it said. In these conditions, every Jewish immigrant brought to Palestine and every acre of land purchased there were the fruit of a bitter struggle which Weizmann and his colleagues had to wage with the Mandatory administration in Jerusalem and with the Colonial and Foreign Offices in Whitehall.

Weizmann bore the fatigue of this effort with stoic dignity and patience. He did not believe that spectacular turns of fortune, such as that which he had instigated in 1917, were part of normal historic development. He faced his querulous people with the harder doctrine of gradual evolution to be maintained by sheer hard work. A Jewish national society could be built only "house by house, dunam by dunam." The political struggle would only be resolved if diplomatic efforts were reinforced by facts more substantive than diplomacy. If the reality of a Jewish nation were created, then the recognition of it would only be a matter of time and fortune. Not all Zionists shared this view. No sooner had Weizmann emerged victorious from his struggle with Brandeis than a more serious conflict broke out between him and his friend Jabotinsky, who, in Weizmann's eyes, attached an excessive importance to the declaratory aspects of diplomacy and gave less attention to the prosaic construction of social facts. Jabotinsky's *Revisionist Party, as well as some other Zionist groups, also opposed Weizmann's proposals for the establishment of an "enlarged" *Jewish Agency, incorporating the Zionist Organization and providing a framework for enlisting the support of all Jews, Zionists, and non-Zionists, for the development of the national home. However, Weizmann, who attached historical importance to the scheme, persisted, and in 1929, after bitter and prolonged debates in the Zionist Movement and negotiations with non-Zionist bodies and personalities, the first conference of the enlarged Jewish Agency for Palestine met in Zurich, with some of the most glittering figures in Jewish life standing behind him on a common platform.

Weizmann attached great importance to the Arab problem. He thought that a major effort should be made to secure regional harmony. The key to the situation, he said, lay in "genuine friendship and cooperation with the Arabs to open the Near East for Jewish initiative. Palestine must be built without violating the legitimate interests of the Arabs. Not a hair on their heads shall be touched. The Zionist Congress … has to learn the truth that Palestine is not Rhodesia, and that 600,000 Arabs live there, who, before the sense of justice of the world, have exactly the same right to their homes in Palestine as we have to our National Home." This utterance was later to have a prophetic ring. It did great credit to Weizmann's statesmanship; on the other hand it elicited no response from Arab leaders. In 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936, murderous attacks were launched upon Jewish communities, often with heavy loss of life. On each occasion the British government responded by penalizing the victims and rewarding the authors of the assaults.

In 1930, the British abandonment of obligations toward the Zionists was so blatant that Weizmann angrily resigned his office. A vast wave of public protest rose up against the colonial secretary in the British Labour government, Lord Passfield, whose White Paper threatened to strangle the Jewish national home. Ramsay MacDonald, the prime minister, had to acknowledge the force of public dissent by sending a letter to Weizmann in which he renewed the main assurances which Zionists considered essential in the policy of the Mandatory power.

A year later there was a stormy Zionist Congress meeting in Basle at which Weizmann was not reelected to office. He had undermined his position by refusing to placate his critics; he had even been quoted in a newspaper as holding no special brief for the idea of a Jewish majority in Palestine. This was undoubtedly a misrepresentation of his philosophy; his empirical mood always forbade him to adopt slogans which were not effective for the task at hand. He believed that a Jewish majority would ultimately be brought about, not by premature incantation but by the assiduous addition of immigrant to immigrant, house to house, village to village, city to city. The paradox of Weizmann's dismissal was underlined by the election of his closest colleague, Sokolow, as president of the Jewish Agency. This was a confession that no policy other than that of Weizmann could command support.

Hitler had now come to power in Germany; the shadow of future Jewish disaster was growing longer. Weizmann devoted the years of his removal from office to projects closest to his heart. He undertook fund-raising tours for Zionist agencies, threw himself into the work of rescuing refugees, and made special efforts to salvage for Ereẓ Israel some of the Jewish scientific talent being destroyed in Nazi Germany. In 1935, after four years of non-presidency in which his preeminence was, if anything, emphasized by lack of office, he was restored to the helm. The story of Weizmann's life between the two world wars is one of patient accumulation against obstacles created by Arab hostility, British coldness, and Jewish dissension. He saw, in spite of everything, the contours of Jewish nationhood becoming firmly set, the national home growing in cohesion and individuality: by 1939 it had a population of 450,000; its economic and technological levels were spectacular by Middle Eastern standards, although well below the best European average; but it was a source of pride for the Jewish people and, for the world, a fascinating and original spectacle. Here, and only here, the Jews faced history in their own authentic image; they were not a marginal gloss on other societies.

To preserve his personal and intellectual independence, Weizmann had clung tenaciously to his scientific interests; in the early 1930s he laid the foundations of the Daniel Sieff Institute at *Reḥovot, which later burgeoned into the *Weizmann Institute of Science, and in 1937 he made his home in Reḥovot.

A significant Zionist breakthrough was achieved in 1937, when a British Royal Commission headed by Lord Peel agreed, under Weizmann's prodding, to recommend the establishment of a Jewish state in a part of Palestine. In that plan the territorial provisions for Jewish statehood were very disappointing; the area allotted for Jewish sovereignty was little more than 2,500 square miles. But, once Jewish statehood had been proposed as a serious and practicable solution, it was never to leave the international agenda. It may even be said that from 1937 onward the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state was only a matter of time. This brilliant achievement owed much to a remarkable oratorical success by Weizmann. Appearing before the Royal Commission, for over two hours he delivered an address of towering majesty and deep pathos. One passage in particular was never to be forgotten: "There are in this part of the world 6,000,000 people doomed to be pent up in places where they are not wanted and for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places which they cannot enter." At the Zionist Congress in 1937, Weizmann proposed that the principle of partition be accepted while an effort be made to improve its territorial provisions. The Arabs rejected the entire proposal. In Britain, a majority of the House of Commons supported the plan; but the government gradually retreated from it, under the impact of Arab resistance and in obedience to a growing national timidity.

Weizmann, together with *Ben-Gurion and most – but not all – of the Palestine labor leaders, was fully aware of the limitations of the truncated state that was offered to them, but they were obsessed by the idea that the whole future of the Jewish people was in the balance. With civil war in Spain, Italian aggression in Abyssinia, and the German Anschluss with Austria, the international horizon was growing darker. The spirit of appeasement and cowardice to be later reflected in the Munich Agreement had its reflection in the British attitude toward the Jewish national home. In 1939, after conferences at St. James' Palace, in which the Jewish delegation was again led by Weizmann, a White Paper was published which effectively proposed to bring an end to Zionist aims. Severe restrictions were imposed upon the purchase of land by Jews; and after five years, during which a maximum of 75,000 immigrants were to be admitted, no further immigration could be admitted except in the improbable contingency of Arab consent.

In the summer of 1939, Zionist leaders assembled at Geneva for their biennial Congress in a mood of tragic expectation. A great doom was in the making, and it seemed to be coming on relentlessly. While the Congress was debating the British betrayal of its obligations to a small people which in Weizmann's words was "battered and bleeding from a million wounds," the news came of the Soviet-German agreement which heralded the assault on Poland and the outbreak of World War ii. In the closing moments of the Congress Weizmann loomed with tragic tenderness above the delegates, many of whom knew that their own fate, as well as that of the communities of which they were members, was horribly sealed.

World War ii

When World War ii broke out, Weizmann immediately promised the British government all possible aid by the Jewish population in Palestine and the Jewish people outside. He also tried to renew the scientific cooperation which had enhanced his political status in Britain in World War i. His efforts now were less fruitful. Although hard pressed for manpower, the British government found ways of delaying the proposed formation of a Jewish military unit. Weizmann's scientific offers were rebuffed. In 1942 his son Michael was killed in action with the Royal Air Force over the English Channel. In the early years of the war, his influence and pressure did not enable him to prevent such tragedies as that of the vessel Struma, which sank with Jewish refugees aboard in the Black Sea, owing to the refusal of the Mandatory government to give them entry to Palestine.

The national home was not static during the war years. Its population grew by immigration, authorized and unauthorized; its manpower increased its defensive capacity by massive enrollment in the British forces; and its incipient industrial potential found an outlet through supplies and manufacture in support of the Allied war effort in the Middle East. But the main thrust and accent of Weizmann's work were aimed at obtaining a satisfactory political settlement at the end of the war. In London, he invested much effort and persuasion on Winston Churchill, who gave him frequent and sometimes dramatic assurance that he would not let Zionism down. But there was nothing in the daily practice of Whitehall, or of the administration in Jerusalem, which gave any support or reinforcement to Zionist hopes. In any case it was evident that the balance of world power was changing. To Weizmann, as well as to Ben-Gurion, it was evident that the United States was destined to have a strong and perhaps decisive voice in the Middle Eastern future. In 1941 and 1942, Weizmann spent much time in New York and Washington in a sustained effort to enlist American leadership on behalf of Zionist aims. In a notable article, written in the New York quarterly, Foreign Affairs, he outlined the project for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. In April 1942, under Ben-Gurion's initiative, this concept became official Zionist policy. The resolution, adopted at a conference in the Biltmore Hotel (the *Biltmore Program), spoke of a Jewish commonwealth in the entire area of Western Palestine. When the physical danger to Palestine was removed through British victories against Rommel's armies in the western desert, Zionist prospects appeared temporarily to improve. In August 1944, Churchill instructed his secretary of state for war to reply affirmatively to Weizmann's request for the formation of a Jewish fighting force. At the same time, it became known that British ministers were actively discussing and analyzing various partition plans, which would involve the establishment of an independent Jewish state as soon as the war came to an end.

But these hopes were fragile and transient. As the fearful dimensions of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe became known, Weizmann began to wonder whether any victory for Zionism would come in time to save his people from a fatal and horrible depletion of its resources and strength. The assassination of the British minister of state in Cairo, Lord Moyne, by Jewish underground fighters acting against the will and authority of the Jewish Agency, brought about a temporary alienation of Churchill from his Zionist sympathies. The work on partition proposals was suspended, and the British government turned instead to the task of suppressing the growing movements of Jewish resistance in Palestine.

To add to his burdens, Weizmann found that his leadership was no longer unquestioned throughout Palestine Jewry. He arrived in Jerusalem on Nov. 15, 1944, and later celebrated his 70th birthday amid a deep chorus of public affection. But among the leadership there was a different story. New forces were jockeying for position, and Ben-Gurion no longer found himself working in fraternal association with his older chief. In particular, there was a demand, even in responsible Zionist circles, for a more militantly anti-British attitude than Weizmann, with all his frustrations, seemed willing to accept. When the war with Germany ended in May 1945, Weizmann's troubles were compounded by the first serious breakdown of his health. He became affected by glaucoma and was condemned to temporary blindness and tense, agonizing operations. Less than two months after the end of the German phase of World War ii, he was shatteringly disappointed by a letter that he received on June 9, 1945, from Churchill, stating: "There can, I fear, be no possibility of the question being effectively considered until the victorious allies are definitely seated at the peace table." Weizmann's hope that a substantive move would be made as soon as the German war was over, had thus been shattered. Churchill was winding up his historic ministry with the 1939 White Paper unabrogated, with no commitment on the record, and with Weizmann left high and dry, standing before the Jewish people baffled, enraged, and empty-handed. A week later Churchill was out of office and, a few months after that, his voice from the opposition benches was castigating the new Labour government for not giving Zionism its due. By this time President Roosevelt was dead. He had shown an ominous coolness toward Zionism at the end of his final presidency; but his administration contained many stalwart supporters of Weizmann's cause. Now, with Churchill and Roosevelt both gone, Weizmann had to begin again.

The Bevin Period

In London, he was to know nothing but discouragement and defeat. The Labour government, under Prime Minister *Attlee and Foreign Minister *Bevin, turned its back drastically on previous British commitments and on its own far-reaching promises of support for Zionism. In the United States the Zionist cause prospered more; but when President Harry S. *Truman urged the Attlee-Bevin government to admit 100,000 Jewish *displaced persons from refugee camps in Europe to Palestine, he met with a flat refusal. A joint Anglo-American commission of enquiry recommended the immediate entry of 100,000 immigrants, but Attlee and Bevin found reasons for evading the recommendations of a body which they themselves had appointed. The deadlock was sharp. It was constantly deepened by an almost inevitable growth in Jewish resistance activities in Palestine. The relations between Britain and organized world Jewry became so embittered that the years of grace, beginning with the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, were almost entirely lost from memory. It was against this unpromising background that Weizmann's position as leader of the Zionist Movement came to an end. When the first postwar Zionist Congress assembled in Basle, in 1946, the British connection and the Zionist attitude toward the Mandatory power were the fundamental issues before it. Weizmann returned to London, defeated as a champion of the "Anglocentric" point of view, although he had in fact no illusions left about the attitude of the British government toward Zionism.

With leadership passing into other hands, it seemed as if Weizmann's public life was finished. There was, however, to be a dramatic and moving series of epilogues. In February 1947, the last Zionist efforts at reaching a solution within the British Mandatory framework ended in failure. The British government submitted the future of Palestine to discussion and recommendation by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Weizmann now held no official position in the Zionist Movement, but it was taken for granted that he must be a principal spokesman of the Jewish national cause in what was evidently going to be a crucial and decisive phase. When a United Nations special committee went to Palestine in the summer of 1947, its members conferred in detail and at length with Weizmann, who now openly advocated a partition compromise. Later in the year, despite the burdens of age and illness, he went to New York, where he made a moving and unforgettable appeal to the General Assembly. He knew that this would be his last appearance at the bar of the nations. He showed all his old qualities of eloquence and sardonic humor. He made light of the Arab spokesmen's assertion that the Jews were the descendants not of the Hebrew kingdoms, but of the Khazars of southern Russia. "It is very strange, all my life I have been a Jew, felt like a Jew, and I now learn that I am a Khazar." On the idea that the Jewish national home should accept minority status within an Arab state, he said, "Those of us who made our homes in Palestine did not do so with the object of becoming Arab citizens of the Jewish persuasion." In a final grand and weary gesture he reminded the General Assembly's committee that it was meeting under the providence of history. "The Lord shall set His hands the second time to recover the remnants of His people, and He shall set up an ensign for the nations and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."

In the next few months he was destined to be the primary architect of two achievements: the retention of the Negev area in the United Nations plan for a Jewish state; and the spectacular recognition of Israel by the United States. He secured these results by capturing the trust and imagination of President Truman. In each case the president, under Weizmann's urging, overruled powerful interests within his own administration which favored a more reserved attitude toward Zionism and a purposeful attempt to win Arab support for American policies. Thus, on Nov. 29, 1947, when the United Nations voted the partition proposal with the Negev included in the Jewish state, and on May 14, 1948, when Palestine Jewry proclaimed its statehood, Weizmann stood in the center of his people's gratitude. He had been specially insistent that the Palestine Jewish leadership proclaim Jewish statehood on the withdrawal of the British, no matter what was said or proposed by the United Nations or the major powers. It was a strange role for the so-called "moderate" to be summoning the Jewish people to the utmost intransigence and tenacity. His feeling was that war with the Arab world had become inevitable. For that very reason it was essential that the ordeal be faced from the starting point of an existing Jewish statehood.

May 14, 1948, was a red-letter day for Weizmann in New York. His colleagues and rivals in Tel Aviv had proclaimed the Jewish state to whose establishment he had dedicated his life and dreams; and President Truman, in direct response to Weizmann's letter, had authorized the recognition of Israel by the United States. Moreover, before the day was out, a telegram had come from Israel on behalf of the Palestine labor leaders, expressing their intention to propose him for the presidency of the new state. "Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord," wrote Justice Felix Frankfurter; "happily you can now say that and can say what Moses could not." Albert Einstein wrote to him, "I read with real pleasure that Palestine Jewry has made you the head of their state and so made good, at least in part, their ungrateful attitude toward you." A few days later Weizmann went to Washington, where he was received by President Truman with the full trappings belonging to his presidential status. He secured from Truman a promise to finance Israel's early economic development by a loan of $100,000,000; and to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel once its first government was democratically elected.

First President of Israel

In February 1949, the first elected parliament of Israel, meeting specially in Jerusalem, elevated Weizmann from the presidency of the Provisional State Council to the title of president of the State of Israel. But age and sickness had now overtaken him at a point at which he could give little consecutive service to the state. He was sufficiently alert and competent to express fierce resentment and surprise at the rigid limitations of his office. He found himself virtually confined to those ceremonial activities in which he had at no time in his life shown the slightest interest. The Israel government of the time showed a lack of imagination and a failure of historic deference. Weizmann's name was not included among those who had signed the *Declaration of Independence; and even his request to receive the Cabinet minutes regularly was not fully answered.

His final months were spent in sharp ambivalence of feelings. On the one hand, he had, unlike Moses, passed beyond Pisgah into the Promised Land. His historic imagination could not fail to be stirred by the thought that he had come the full circle, from Motol, near Pinsk in the Russian Pale of Settlement, to the presidency of an independent Jewish state, which to less sensitive minds had seemed such a wild and chimerical dream. The Weizmann Institute of Science, which was inaugurated on Nov. 2, 1949, as a growing complex of laboratories and libraries, already showed promise, later amply fulfilled, of placing Israel high in the universal enterprise of scientific research. On the other hand, he chafed at his inability to impress the new society with his own message of social progress, intellectual integrity, aesthetic refinement, and manifest dedication to peace. Israel had been born in violence and conflict; it continued to live an embattled existence.

There were times when Weizmann was seized by a poignant concern for Israel's inner quality; but, whenever he fell into doubts and regrets, he looked through his window at Reḥovot upon the verdant rolling plains and rich orange groves surrounding the scientific laboratories established under his inspiration. On a clear day his gaze would go as far as the Judean Hills. The landscape in between was dotted with villages and townships indicative of the new impetus given to Jewish national vitality. And then a deep contentment would come upon him, and his mind would become serene, as befitted a man who to a degree unshared by any figure in contemporary history had seen an improbable vision translated, largely through his own effort, into vibrant and solid reality. After a long and painful illness, which for some months left him entirely incapacitated, he died on Nov. 9, 1952. He was survived by his wife, whose implacable loyalty and devotion had sustained and consoled him throughout the years; and by his elder son, Benjamin. His grave was situated at his own wish in the garden of his home in Reḥovot. At the initiative of his closest friend, Meyer *Weisgal, who had helped him found the Weizmann Institute, a graceful plaza was constructed in his memory by Yad Chaim Weizmann (Weizmann National Memorial), with the assistance of the government and the Jewish Agency. His archives and library were established in the Weizmann memorial area.

Weizmann's autobiography, entitled Trial and Error, appeared in 1949. A selection of his speeches from 1901 to 1936, entitled Devarim, appeared in four volumes in 1937. Some of his speeches and essays include: Eine juedische Hochschule (1909) written together with M.M. *Buber and B. *Feiwel; Die Hebraeische Universitaet in Jerusalem (1913), a speech at the laying of the cornerstone for The Hebrew University (1919); The Jewish People and Palestine, a statement made before the Palestine Royal Commission on Nov. 25, 1936, on Palestine's role in the solution of the Jewish problem in Foreign Affairs, 20 (1942), 324–38; We Do Not Want to Return to the Past (1946); We Warned You, Gentlemen (1947). His letters and papers are being prepared for publication. The first volume of the Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann appeared in 1969 and publication was completed in 1980 with the 23rd volume.

[Abba Eban]

As Chemist

In 1910 Weizmann became associated with a British team seeking (unsuccessfully) to make synthetic rubber. A possible starting point was butanol. Weizmann, who had been studying chemical reactions effected by bacteria, isolated a starch-decomposing anaerobic organism Clostridium acetobutylicum which produced butanol, acetone, and ethyl alcohol by fermenting a mash of cooked corn. In World War i the ministry of munitions needed great quantities of acetone, and Weizmann went to work in the Lister Institute and at the Admiralty Cordite Factory, Poole. His efforts were directed toward developing his laboratory work into a technical process – the first use of a biological process for industrial production (other than the age-old procedures for making alcoholic beverages). Because there was insufficient grain in wartime Britain, plants were set up also in India, Canada, and the U.S. After the war the U.S. plants became the Commercial Solvents Corporation, which went on making acetone by the Weizmann process for many years, until overtaken by purely chemical processes. Later he worked on naphthacene derivatives from phenols and phthalic anhydride, on the photochemistry of aqueous solutions of amino acids, and on the reaction of acetylene with ketones, but mainly on the production of aromatic hydrocarbons by high-temperature cracking of petroleum. This process was developed after the war at Partington, Lancashire, by the Manchester Oil Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd., the plant being later acquired by Shell. Weizmann wrote many papers and took out some 100 patents (in which he called himself Charles Weizmann).

[Samuel Aaron Miller]

His wife, vera (née Chatzman; 1882–1966), was the daughter of an assimilated well-to-do Jewish family beyond the *Pale of Settlement in Rostov-on-Don. She studied medicine at the University of Geneva, where she met Weizmann, and she married him in 1906. Soon after their marriage they went to Manchester, where she worked for a number of years as a medical officer at Manchester clinics for schoolchildren. At all times she was of great help to her husband in his Zionist work. She was a co-founder of *wizo, for many years the chairman of its executive, and later its honorary president. During World War ii she was chairman of *Youth Aliyah, and after 1948 she devoted much of her time and effort to Magen David Adom and the organization for disabled veterans. Her memoirs, The Impossible Takes Longer, were published in 1967.


M. Weisgal and J. Carmichael (eds.), Chaim Weizmann: A Biography by Several Hands (1962); M. Weisgal (ed.), Chaim Weizmann: Statesman, Scientist, Builder of the Jewish Commonwealth (1944); P. Goodman (ed.), Chaim Weizmann: A Tribute on His Seventieth Birthday (1945); I. Berlin, Chaim Weizmann (1958); L. Stein, The Balfour Declaration (1961); idem, Weizmann and England (1964); idem, Weizmann and the Balfour Declaration (1964); H. Sacher, Chaim Weizmann (1955); R. Baker, Chaim Weizman, Builder of a Nation (1950); I. Berlin and I. Kolatt, Chaim Weizmann as Leader (1970). add. bibliography: J. Reinharz, Chaim Weizmann: The Making of a Zionist Leader (1985); idem, Chaim Weizmann: The Making of a Statesman (1992).