Begin recording pulled from auction after lawsuit

Children of former prime minister sue to stop sale of 1948 speech, claiming copyright infringement.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks in front of a poster depicting the late prime minister Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv in 2010 (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks in front of a poster depicting the late prime minister Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv in 2010
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
The Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem has pulled from its upcoming sale a long-lost recording from 1948 of former prime minister Menachem Begin – just a day before the auction was slated to take place.
The item was removed from the auction after a lawsuit was filed against the purported owner by the family of the late prime minister to prevent the sale, claiming that the item rightfully belongs to the family. According to Channel 2 News, Begin’s children – Bennie, Leah and Hasia – claimed the sale would constitute copyright infringement, and want the recording to be accessible to the public instead of in private hands.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post what his thoughts were on the issue, Likud MK Bennie Begin, son of the late prime minister, declined to comment.
The item in question is a 1948 recording of a speech given on the radio by Begin, the leader of the Irgun who later became prime minister. The recording closely mirrors a speech Begin gave again in 1952 which was also recorded, although there are some differences between the two versions. Bidding on the item was set to begin at $300,000, and the auction house estimated it would sell for $500,000-$800,000.
“The Kedem Auction House operates as always according to the law,” it said on Monday. “In addition, our aim is for historic items that pass through the auction house to reach national or cultural institutions for the public good, even if it is against the auction house’s financial interests.”
On Monday, a spokesman for Kedem told the Post that it is merely a broker in the sale, not an owner of the item, and told the court last week it would pull the item from the sale “until the sides come to an agreement or there is a court ruling” on the issue.
“When we get a historic item that is 70 or 100 years old, we do check as far as we can who the owner is,” the spokesman said, “but it’s very hard to know. Therefore we publicize everything, and if there is any controversy we just remove it from the auction until there is a court decision or agreement.” He added that the Begin recording came to Kedem with a folder of documents proving its ownership.
“Over the past few weeks, the auction house has worked to enable the recording to be sold and donated by a philanthropist to national institutions,” Kedem said. “This is how it has been in the past with historic items sold through Kedem, including the flag from the ship Exodus, which [in 2016] was sold outside of an auction and donated to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, so it could serve as a symbol and a sign for the wider public.”
As of Monday, the item listing was removed from the Kedem website, but was still accessible in a PDF catalogue of sales.
The original listing said that the recording was given to the present owner’s father in the 1970s, “by a person who was among the operators of the radio station on the night of the speech’s broadcast.” According to the listing, the individual requested his identity remain a secret and for the recording not to be published until 20 years after Begin’s death. The listing states that the “recording was preserved, in secret, for 32 years and, following the requests of Begin’s close friends, it was not published for 12 more years after they learned of its existence.” The former prime minister died in 1992 at age 78.
The lawsuit from the Begin family included a statement from the Israel State Archives, which said the recording could legally be considered archival material.
“The professional opinion of the Israel State Archives is that the recording which is for sale has historical, educational and social value to the wider Israeli public,” wrote Ruti Abramovich, the deputy state archivist. “The recording sheds additional light on the event of the establishment of the state as an event uniting all streams of Israeli society, and it is a living, moving and unique testament to the transition from an emerging state to the State of Israel.”
The recording of Begin is part of a speech he made on the Irgun radio station on May 15, 1948, the day after the establishment of the State of Israel. In it, Begin proclaims that “we won’t buy peace from our enemies at the price of giving up our independence. Only one kind of ‘peace’ was bought at the price of this concession: the peace of the cemetery, the ‘peace’ of a new Treblinka.”
Begin refused a request from his longtime foe, then prime minister David Ben-Gurion, to review his speech before he gave it, according to Begin’s book The Revolt. The auction house said that “Begin was tense on the day of the speech. He apparently regretted having refused Ben-Gurion’s request, as this could have opened the way for broader agreements between the two, and he was angry at changes made to his earlier wording.”