Yad Chaim Weizmann and the Westernness of Israel*

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Zionist historical narratives and commemorative practices have focused to a great extent on articulating and endorsing the Jewish nation's individuality, its unique bond with the Land of Israel and need for existential and territo- rial separation from the wider world.1 Certainly, the complex connections between Zionism and the Middle East and the West have been important aspects of Zionist culture since the inception of the movement.2 For the most part, however, these wider spheres of belonging have not featured in mainstream Zionist celebrations of the past, and appear to have been secondary to the chief concern of historicizing the Jews as a nation and their claim to the land.

An important exception to this picture, however, is to be found in the early years of the State of Israel, when the relationship between Zionism and the West became a key focus of Zionist public history. In the 1950s the Government of Israel became acutely concerned with securing political support in the West for the new state, which they saw as crucial for its survival. Towards that end, the Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wished to convince the governments of the United States and Britain, in particular, not only of the pragmatic, political benefits of an alliance but also of Israel's natural place within the West. It was primarily for this reason, this article contends, that the memorialization of Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann, who died in November 1952, became the foremost public history project of the Jewish state in its first decade - an enterprise

1 See esp. Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (Chicago, 1995) and David N. Myers, Re-Inventing the Jewish Past : European Jewish Intellectuals and the Zionist Return to History (Oxford, 1995).

2 Michael Berkowitz, Zionist Culture and West European Jewry before the First World War (Cambridge, 1993); Michelle Campos, Ottoman Brothers: Muslims , Christians , and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine (Palo Alto, CA, 201 1); Abigail Jacobson, From Empire to Empire: Jerusalem Between Ottoman and British Rule (Syracuse, NY, 201 1), 26-27, 32-34, 51, ch. 3; Arieh Bruce Saposnik, Becoming Hebrew: The Creation of a Jewish National Culture in Ottoman Palestine (Oxford, 2008), ch. 7; David Tal, "David Ben-Gurion's Teleological Westernism", Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 10, No. 3 (201 1): 351-64

which has nonetheless been neglected by scholars. At a time when the Israeli political elite failed to evince enthusiastic support for the memorialization of the Holocaust, and when the newly instituted gravesite of the Zionist founder Theodor Herzl was marked by its simplicity and modesty,3 the government of Israel and the Zionist establishment invested substantial political and financial capital in the creation of an elaborate national memo- rial project for the late President, named Yad Chaim Weizmann, in the small green city of Rehovot.

Ben-Gurion and others in the Zionist leadership saw Weizmann as the preeminent symbol of the Western character of the Jewish nation, a concep- tion derived from his legend as the scientist-statesman embraced by the political elites of

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