The decision by B’nai B’rith World Center Jerusalem to honor veteran Tel Aviv-born journalist Shlomo Nakdimon with a lifetime achievement award in its annual recognition of excellence in Diaspora reportage by Israeli journalists, is timely, in addition to being a matter of merit. Nakdimon who has previously won prizes including the Sokolov Prize, which is Israel’s most prestigious award for journalism, has worked for various publications, mostly for Yediot Aharonot, and has interviewed every prime minister since David Ben-Gurion, with the possible exception of Naftali Bennett. He had a particularly close relationship with Menachem Begin, and served for two years as Begin’s media consultant.
This is the 30th anniversary year of Begin’s passing. He died in March 1992. In one of his numerous articles, many of which were scoops, Nakdimon wrote of how Ben-Gurion and Begin could have been allies, had the long animosity between the two subsided before 1967. In wartime, especially when Israel faces an existential threat, the barriers erected between different sectors of the population and between individuals of differing ideologies and political affiliations are temporarily cast aside. The first Knesset meetings were a testament to the most bitter conflict between Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, but it came to an end in 1967 on the eve of the Six Day War, wrote Nakdimon. Begin, who was then opposition leader, suggested to prime minister Levi Eshkol that he invite Ben-Gurion to join the government as defense minister.
Nakdimon was present when Ben-Gurion came to the Knesset and began looking for Begin. The Knesset ushers eventually found him, and told him that Ben-Gurion wanted to talk to him. Unfortunately, their conversation was never recorded.
One day, in February 1969, Nakdimon saw Begin in the Knesset cafeteria. In Begin’s hand was a brown envelope printed with the insignia of the state. Nakdimon was naturally curious, and a few days later, he discovered what was in the contents of the envelope.
It was a copy of a letter addressed to Begin in which Ben-Gurion was highly critical of Eshkol, but in which he wrote complimentary words to Begin. “I opposed you way before the establishment of the state,” he wrote, “and for some time after that the same way that I opposed Ze’ev Jabotinsky. But I’ve never had a personal grudge against you, and as I got to know you more over the last few years, I’ve learned to cherish you.” Begin wrote back in a similar vein.
Nakdimon, who in addition to being a first-class reporter, was also a political analyst, believes that Ben-Gurion made two major mistakes in distancing himself from Jabotinsky and Begin before Israel’s establishment and during the early years of the state.
It may be remembered that before Jabotinsky died, he had written in his will that his remains be transferred to the Land of Israel, should he die outside the country. Jabotinsky died in New York in 1940, but Ben-Gurion refused to accede to his request. It was Eshkol who honored the request in Jabotinsky’s will and had his remains brought to Mount Herzl in Jerusalem a quarter of a century after Jabotinsky’s death.
Nakdimon was witness to and wrote about many of Israel’s historic personalities and events, in addition to several books, which have been translated into many languages. Hopefully, when he has to deliver an address at the awards ceremony, he will share some anecdotes about Israel’s founding fathers that are not generally known, but which are bound to be exceedingly interesting.
■ THE PAIN of loss of a loved one seldom disappears entirely, though it may abate somewhat with time. But in the case of the disappearance of a child, with no clue as to the fate of that child, the pain remains acute, even after three-quarters of a century have passed. Grieving families of Yemenite, North African and Balkan children who disappeared in the early years of the state – mostly from hospitals, health clinics, crèches and kindergartens, have never come to terms with the loss of their children. In most cases, they were told that the child had died – but they had not been shown the child’s body, nor had they been told the place of burial.
In various inquiries that have been conducted over the years, including by the Knesset, the dominant theory was that most of these children had been illegally adopted by childless Holocaust survivors or by wealthy American-Jewish families. When Prof. Itamar Grotto was deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, he consolidated a report on the involvement of medical personnel in the disappearance of the children and submitted it to the Health Ministry for approval. The report was never made public.
Prof. Nachman Ash, the present director-general of the ministry, when in the course of an interview on Reshet Bet, was asked about the reason it wasn’t made public, he replied that it wasn’t really an official document and that therefore the ministry was not authorized to make it public. At some stage, the Justice and Finance ministries came to an agreement about paying compensation to the families, as if such a move would clear the air.
Of course, it hasn’t, but the two ministries have published large advertisements in the Hebrew press and have also broadcast on radio to the effect that the government has reached a financial arrangement with the families and urges those families that have not already done so to apply and to ascertain their rights no later than June 1, 2022. They can do so by telephoning 074-7122338 or going to the website of Inbal, the government insurance company, www.inbal.co.il. This will still not clear up the mystery. If anything, it legalizes human trafficking.
■ WITH HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day taking place this week, there is greater awareness of antisemitism, neo-Nazisim, nationalist extremism and Holocaust distortion. Dr. Rafael Medoff, the founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, is angry about the latest wave of Holocaust distortion and Holocaust-related analogies, such as calling advocates of immunization against COVID-19 “Nazis”; or placing yellow Stars of David on their clothing in protest against COVID restrictions. There are people rewriting history to make the US look good on Holocaust-related issues, primarily issues in which America’s policy was flawed. Medoff writes that there were 15 hostile statements about Jews that were made by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which have been documented by historians, but which are conveniently overlooked by certain filmmakers specializing in documentaries.
Medoff is far from the only Jewish researcher who is concerned about Holocaust distortion and acts of antisemitism. In Australia, Dr. Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, releases reports almost daily about anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli prejudice, blatant antisemitism and neo-Nazism, and of course reports from countries such as Britain and France, which are serious causes for concern. Some French Jews are worried that if far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who heads the National Rally party, wins the presidential election, that there will be fresh and more violent outbreaks of antisemitism. Thus, Israel may be faced with a huge influx of immigrants not only from Ukraine and Russia but also from France.
Joining the International March of the Living on Thursday, April 28, will be a delegation of refugees from Ukraine, as well as Holocaust survivors, and relatives of people who lost their lives in terrorist attacks by antisemites. In the realization that this may be the last time actual survivors participate in the March of the Living, the focus this year will be on combating antisemitism and in transferring the torch of remembrance, from those who actually witnessed what happened during the Holocaust, to their children and grandchildren, who will continue to tell the story so that humanity cannot forget its potential for evil under the spell of powerful influences, and thereby try to ensure that Never Again is not just an empty slogan, but a reality.
■ PEOPLE DEALING with Holocaust history and research are troubled by the possibility that two or three generations down the road, the Holocaust will become nothing more than just another episode in history. Under the heading of “The Past That Does Not Pass,” a two-day conference will be held at the Ramada Hotel, Jerusalem, on Monday and Tuesday May 9-10 with the participation of first- and third-generation Holocaust survivors. A special session will be devoted to life in the Soviet Union during the years of the Holocaust and the manner in which the Holocaust was commemorated before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The event is being organized by Shem Olam, the Institute for Faith and Holocaust Education, Documentation and Research.
For details and to register: 04-6301637 or 052-4700906