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Two men, two destinies, one ideal
"The Man through the Cause"

On September 24th, over a hundred people attended our traditional Sukkot evening that, since 2007, has become the "tribute evening " of the Henry Dunant Lodge of B'nai B'rith in Geneva. 

Integrated in the 65th anniversary of the State of Israel, the evening was dedicated to the similar destinies of two great men who moulded the future of Israel : Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and David Ben Gourion. Prepared and hosted by our Brother David Nahmany with the participation of Mrs. Elizabeth Antébi, historian and author, it enabled us to learn how these two great men, with the same ideal, achieved,  one his mission and the other his dream.

Two destinies, two very different personalities.

First of all, the historic perspective : Edmond James de Rothschild was born in 1845 and lived until 1934. Born into the French branch of the Rothschild's, rich, art amateur and involved in the humanist tradition of the3rd Republic. He had a traditional religious education and subscribed to the values of defence and protection of the Jewish people part of the "Alliance Israélite Universelle (AJU)". After the pogroms in Russia, he considered that he had a mission : save the Jews that were persecuted by offering them a refuge and a future, thanks to land he had bought in Eretz Israel.
He himself never considered moving to Palestine : he went there 5 times but always lived in Paris.

David Ben Gourion (at the time David Gryn) was born in the Russian Empire in Plonsk in 1886 and died in Sede Boker (Isral) in 1973. He was born in a Zionist well-off family : his father was one of the founders of the movement  the Lovers of Zion (Hovevei Tsion), he learned Hebrew when he was very young and did not
conceive his life any other way than by returning to Zion, on the land of his ancestors, and by creating  a National Jewish Home in Palestine to unite Jews that were scattered all over the world.
After living in Warsaw, where he was arrested for his Zionist activities, he immigrated to Palestine that was then Ottoman in 1906.

41 years separated Edmond James de Rothschild and David Ben Gourion to such a point that when he arrived in Palestine the young David Gryn started to work in one of the settlements created by the Baron. One generation that most certainly explains their different approach : buying land to turn it into a refuge for the people of Israel for Baron Edmond, bringing the people to its land for David Ben Gourion. Both conceptions will oppose each other, and then finally come closer.

Edmond James de Rothschild was advised by Charles Netter, one of the founders of AJU an organisation that had the goal not only to defend Jews but also oppressed minorities. AJU was also a party to international negotiations : starting in 1878, after the Russian/Turkish war, they managed to put on the agenda of the Berlin conference the protection of Jews in the Ottoman Empire. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild will then consider himself invested of a mission : save Jews by giving them refuge in Palestine in buying land and developing agriculture and later on industry. An enormous task to such a point that he answered Rabbis who claimed that he was going to build on sand : "only a Rothschild can do it !". And he did in a particularly discreet way.

One can also say that besides the generation difference between Baron Edmond and David Ben Gourion their difference was also in their approach,  one very French and the other very Anglo-Saxon.

Baron Edmond always simultaneously linked 3 pillars to his tasks : the synagogue, the health centre and school. This is what he implemented in all the settlements created in those days:  Rishon Le Tzion, Zichron Yaakov, as well as the farm of the Alliance, Mikveh Israel. AJU was also involved in the
installation of Jews in Palestine and strongly contributed to their education.

Considering that "there is no faith, just acts of faith" the repurchase and development of land was his mission, his mitzvah. He was however still very reserved towards Zionists because he was bothered by their Marxist approach. For example, he was completely against kibboutzim, and in particular the separation of children from their parents that he considered contrary to Jewish traditions. He was furious against Zionist trade unionists who forbid Arabs to access building sites, but is violently opposed to the1930  British 2nd White Book that limited Jewish development in Palestine.

On the contrary, David Ben Gourion considers that his mission is to create a national Jewish home in Palestine to unite Jews that are scattered all over the world. He considers that Hebrew is an essential factor to the rebirth of a National Jewish Home (the Yishouv) and fights for this language to be adopted by everybody. This was far from being the case in the first years of his life in Palestine. He considers that there is no other possibility than to create strong defence forces to be protected from Arabs that pillage cultures, even if this is against Jewish tradition which privileges reason.

His whole life is based on the conviction that it is not for the occupying forces to give a home to the Jews of Palestine, that it is the right of the Jewish people to return to Zion and that "the bible is our mandate", as he declared in front of the Peel  Commission in 1936.

In this same testimony at the Peel Commission, he declared :

"Our right to the land of Israel is based on two arguments unprecedented in history :
- First, the Land of Israel is the only country in the world that Jews have as a people and not as individuals...
- Second, there is no other people or race in the world, people and not population, that consider this Land as its only homeland. We are not receiving a National Home, we are recreating our National Home"

At the end of his life, Baron Edmond will, in a certain way,  come closer to the Zionist movement : he financially helped German Jews to immigrate to Palestine in 1933 and realised that his action could only be strengthened by the Zionist movement.

As for David Ben Gourion, after having had the responsibility and essentially the defence of the new State of Israel against the attacks of the Arab states, he will do his best to improve life between Jews and Arabs.

In his conclusions, David Nahmany reminded parts of speeches showing the convergence of both men, on the essential return of the Jewish people to its land and Hebrew installed the official language. He also gave the example of B'nai B'rith that, in its way, contributed to the United States change of policy first under Roosevelt, then under Truman, thanks to the intervention of Eddie Jacobson.