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Chaim Weizmann

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Chaim Azriel Weizmann
חיים עזריאל ויצמן
Weizmann 1948


In office
17 February 1949 – 9 November 1952
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion
Preceded by Position established
(Provisional State Council)
Succeeded by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi

In office
17 May 1948 – 14 February 1949
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion
Preceded by David Ben-Gurion
Succeeded by Became President

Born 27 November 1874(1874-11-27)
Motol, Russian Empire
Died 9 November 1952 (aged 77)
Rehovot, Israel
Nationality Israeli
Political party General Zionists
Spouse Vera Weizmann
Profession Chemist
Religion Judaism
Signature Chaim Weizmann Signature

Chaim Azriel Weizmann, Hebrew: חיים עזריאל ויצמן‎, (27 November 1874 – 9 November 1952) was a Zionist leader, President of the World Zionist Organization, and the first President of the State of Israel. He was elected on 1 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952. Weizmann was also a chemist who developed the ABE-process which produces acetone through bacterial fermentation. He founded the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Early life and career

Weizmann was born in the small village of Motol (Motyli, now Motal') near Pinsk in Belarus (at that time part of the Russian Empire). He graduated the University of Freiburg in Uechtland/Switzerland in 1899 with a degree in chemistry. He lectured in chemistry at the University of Geneva between 1901 and 1903,) and he later taught at the University of Manchester.

He became a British subject in 1910, and while a lecturer at Manchester he became famous for discovering how to use bacterial fermentation to produce large quantities of desired substances. He is considered to be the father of industrial fermentation. He used the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum (the Weizmann organism) to produce acetone. Acetone was used in the manufacture of cordite explosive propellants critical to the Allied war effort (see Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath). Weizmann transferred the rights to the manufacture of acetone to the Commercial Solvents Corporation in exchange for royalties.[1] After the Shell Crisis of 1915 during World War I, he was director of the British Admiralty laboratories from 1916 until 1919.

Zionist political leader

Weizmann missed the first Zionist conference, held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, because of travel problems, but he attended each one thereafter. In 1902, he broke with Theodor Herzl and founded the Democratic Zionist Party. Beginning in 1903, he lobbied for the founding of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

What is the significance of a Hebrew University? What is going to be its functions? Whence will it draw its students? What languages will it speak? It seems paradoxical that in a land with so sparse a population, in a land where everything still remains to be done ... we should begin by creating a centre of spiritual and intellectual development. But it is no paradox for those who know the soul of the Jew. ... We Jews know, however, that when our mind is given fullest play, when we have a centre for the development of Jewish consciousness, then coincidentally we attain the fulfillment of our material needs. ... schools of learning on one hand helped to maintain our national existence, and on the other blossomed forth for the benefit of mankind when once the walls of the ghetto fell. The sages of Babylon and Jerusalem, Maimonides and the Gaon of Vilna, the lens polisher of Amsterdam and Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine and Paul Ehrlich, are some of the links in the long, unbroken chain of intellectual development.

A proposal to this effect was adopted by the 11th World Zionist Conference in 1913. In 1904, Weizmann became a chemistry professor at the University of Manchester and soon became a leader among British Zionists. At that time in Manchester, Arthur Balfour was a Conservative MP representing the district, as well as Prime Minister, and the two met during one of Balfour's electoral campaigns. Balfour supported the concept of a Jewish homeland, but felt that there would be more support among politicians for the then-current offer in Uganda. Following mainstream Zionist rejection of that proposal, Weizmann was credited later with persuading Balfour, then the Foreign Minister, for British support to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the original Zionist demand.[2]

Weizmann first visited Jerusalem in 1907, and while there, he helped organize the Palestine Land Development Company as a practical means of pursuing the Zionist dream. Although Weizmann was a strong advocate for "those governmental grants which are necessary to the achievement of the Zionist purpose" in Palestine, as stated at Basel, he persuaded many Jews not to wait for future events, stating:

A state cannot be created by decree, but by the forces of a people and in the course of generations. Even if all the governments of the world gave us a country, it would only be a gift of words. But if the Jewish people will go build Palestine, the Jewish State will become a reality - a fact.

In 1917, he worked with Arthur Balfour to obtain the milestone Balfour Declaration, which stated in part that the British government "views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ... it being clearly understood...". A founder of so-called Synthetic Zionism, Weizmann supported grass-roots colonization efforts as well as high-level diplomatic activity. He was generally associated with the centrist General Zionists and later sided with neither Labour Zionism on the left nor Revisionist Zionism on the right. In the 1917, expressed his view of Zionism in the following words,

We have [the Jewish people] never based the Zionist movement on Jewish suffering in Russia or in any other land. These suffering have never been the mainspring of Zionism. The foundation of Zionism was, and continues to be to this day, the yearning of the Jewish people for its homeland, for a national center and a national life.
Weizmann and feisal 1918

Weizmann (left) with Faisal I of Iraq in Syria, 1918.

On January 3, 1919, he and the Hashemite Prince Faisal signed the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement attempting to establish favourable relations between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. At the end of the month, the Paris Peace Conference decided that the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire should be wholly separated and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them.[3] Shortly thereafter, both men made their statements to the conference.

After 1920, he assumed leadership in the world Zionist movement, serving twice (1920-31, 1935-46) as president of the World Zionist Organization. In 1921, Weizmann went along with Albert Einstein for a fund-raiser to establish the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. At this time, brewing differences over competing European and American visions of Zionism, and its funding of development versus political activities, caused Weizmann to clash with Louis Brandeis.[4] During the war years, Brandeis headed the precursor of the Zionist Organization of America, led in fund-raising for Jews in Europe (and Palestine[5]), and established American Jewry as the financial center for the world Zionist movement.[6] Although Weizmann retained Zionist leadership, the clash led to the departure from the movement of Brandeis and other prominent leaders. By 1929, there were about 18,000 members left in the ZOA, a massive decline from the high of 200,000 reached during the Brandeis years.[7]

Concurrently, Weizmann devoted himself to the establishment of a scientific institute for basic research in the vicinity of his sprawling estate, in the town of Rehovot. Weizmann saw great promise in science as a means to bring peace and prosperity to the area. As stated in his own words :

"I trust and feel sure in my heart that science will bring to this land both peace and a renewal of its youth, creating here the springs of a new spiritual and material life. [...] I speak of both science for its own sake and science as a means to an end."[8]
His efforts led in 1934 to the creation of the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, which was financially supported by an endowment by the Baron Israel Sieff in memory of his late son. Weizmann actively conducted research in the laboratories of this institute, primarily in the field of organic chemistry. In 1949 the Sieff Institute was renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science in his honor. Weizmann's success as a scientist and the success of the Institute he founded make him an iconic figure in the heritage of the Israeli scientific community today.

File:Weizmann Truman 1948.jpg

In 1936 he addressed the Peel Commission, set up by Stanley Baldwin, whose job it was to consider the working of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Commission published a report that, for the first time, recommended partition, but the proposal was declared unworkable and formally rejected by the government.

During World War II, he was an honorary adviser to the British Ministry of Supply and did research on synthetic rubber and high-octane gasoline. (Formerly Allied-controlled sources of rubber were largely inaccessible owing to Japanese occupation during World War II, giving rise to heightened interest in such innovations). Tragedy struck when his younger son Flight Lt Michael Oser Weizmann, serving as a pilot in the British No. 502 Squadron RAF, was killed when his plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.[9]

He met with United States President Harry Truman and worked to obtain the support of the United States for the establishment of the State of Israel. Weizmann became the first President of Israel in 1949. His nephew Ezer Weizman also became president of Israel. He is buried beside his wife, Vera, in the garden of his home at the Weizmann estate, which is located on the grounds of Israel's science research institute, The Weizmann Institute of Science.

Published work

  • Chaim Weizmann (1949). Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. Jewish Publication Society of America. 

See also

References

  1. Local Industry Owes Much to Weizmann
  2. Current Biography 1942, pp 877-80. The story goes that Weizmann asked Balfour, "Would you give up London to live in Saskatchewan?" When Balfour replied that the British had always lived in London, Weizmann responded, "Yes, and we lived in Jerusalem when London was still a marsh."
  3. International Boundary Study, Jordan – Syria Boundary, No. 94 – December 30, 1969, p.10 US Department of State
  4. Ben Halpern, A Clash of Heroes: Brandeis, Weizmann, and American Zionism (Studies in Jewish History) Oxford University Press, 1987
  5. Michael Brown, The Israeli-American connection: its roots in the yishuv, 1914-1945, p.26
    In early October [1914] the USS North Carolina arrived in Jaffa harbor with money and supplies provided by Schiff, the American Jewish Committee, and the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, then acting for the WZO, which had been rendered impotent by the war.
  6. Louis D. Brandeis and American Zionism
  7. Donald Neff, Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy towards Palestine and Israel since 1945[1]
  8. Chaim Weizmann Lab,Dept. of Organic Chemistry Weizmann Institute
  9. Casualty Details Commonweath War Graves Commission

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