Which “we” declared Israel’s independence?

If you ask most Israelis, they’ll tell you without hesitation that it was David Ben-Gurion who declared the State of Israel. But the declaration itself says otherwise:

We, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, . . . hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Each bit of that sentence tells its own story. Ben-Gurion, after all, didn’t sign alone, and even the name “State of Israel” wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I unravel this key passage in the third installment of my Mosaic series on Israel’s declaration of independence. Go here, or download here.

And here’s an amusing and timely footnote. An Israeli auction house is selling a pen it claims was used by all those who signed the declaration on May 14, 1948. It belongs to a grandson of David-Zvi Pinkas, a signatory, who left a handwritten statement attesting that he used it. The auction house hopes to sell the pen for at least half a million dollars.

The problem? As this television report (in Hebrew, by Ita Gliksberg) shows, none of the experts interviewed thinks that this pen was used by all the signatories on that day, and some suspect only Pinkas used it. The evidence lies in the appearance of the signatures, and in still photographs of the signatories, which show them using a variety of pens. 

Among the doubters is the State Archivist, Ruthi Abramovich, who even pulls out the declaration to show it to the reporter. “We see that Ben-Gurion signs with one pen,” she says, “[Moshe] Sharett with another pen, [Peretz] Bernstein with another pen. The color is different, the fading is different. The thickness of the line is totally different. And to tell the truth, without even being an expert, you really see the differences.” (You can take a close look here, on the Israel States Archives website.)

The reporter points out that the signatures of Pinkas and Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman (Maimon) look like they were executed by the same pen. “There may be some resemblances,” the archivist says, “but in still photographs, we see that the pens with which these two people signed are different.” The reporter interviews the owner of a prestige pen shop, who identifies the brands of the different pens from the still shots. The mavens consulted here think there were at least three pens used at the signing on the 14th, and perhaps as many as six. (It should be noted that this excludes about a third of the signatories. They weren’t present in Tel Aviv that day and so they signed the declaration later. Chaim Weizmann, by the way, wasn’t invited to sign, much to his chagrin. I explain why in the present installment.)

But while this pen may not be the one and only, no other pens have turned up. The sale is scheduled to take place this coming Saturday evening. When I distribute my next installment, I’ll follow up.

UPDATE: The pen did not sell.

Israel, the (independent) state

Although Israel has what is commonly called a declaration of independence, its actual formal name is something else: the Proclamation of the State of Israel. Not independence, but statehood: the two may seem identical, but they are not.

If that claim intrigues you, then you should read the second installment of my series on Israel’s declaration of independence, which, as I show, was something rather more complex than that. Go here, or download here.

Israel declares independence: new series

Mosaic marks Israeli independence day with the first installment of my new series on Israel’s Declaration of Independence. This essay does more than lay out the series. Read the declaration and hear it read, and soak in the atmosphere that enveloped the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948, where David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues renewed Jewish sovereignty after a hiatus of 2,000 years. 

“When Ben-Gurion’s car pulls up, he emerges with his wife Paula to the salute of a policeman. His crisp return salute, captured on film, will become one of the iconic images of the day. The hall is now packed, standing room only….”

Read the rest at Mosaic, at this link.