Asher Ben-Natan, who died on June 17, was a central figure in Israel’s defense and diplomacy establishment.
The swearing in ceremony for new judges, that was supposed to take place at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday, was moved to 3 o’clock so that President Shimon Peres could participate in Ben-Natan’s funeral and deliver a eulogy.
The Austrian-born Ben-Natan, who became ambassador to Germany in August 1965, died a year before the 50th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, at which he most certainly would have been a guest of honor. As ambassador to Germany he foresaw half a century ago that Germany would become Israel’s best friend in Europe and one of her best friends in the world.
Ben-Natan fled Nazi Austria in 1938 and headed for Palestine. He briefly lived on kibbutz and was active in the Hagana. Immediately after the war, he returned to Austria to head Israel’s pre-state “illegal immigration” bureau, arranging for Holocaust survivors to make their way to Palestine. He worked as a journalist under the pseudonym of Arthur Pier (an abbreviation of his birth name, Arthur Piernikarz).
The connections he made enabled him access to information about Nazi war criminals who had escaped to South America and found a haven there. Some of this information eventually led to the capture of Adolf Eichmann.
Ben-Natan was later director-general of the Ministry of Defense, and subsequently Israel’s first ambassador to Germany during the most sensitive period of reconciliation between Germans and Jews.
He forged extraordinary ties between the two countries and his contribution has been extolled in countless German newspaper and magazine articles.
He was later Israel’s ambassador to France, where he also made an enormous contribution to good relations between the two countries.