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  • Change and Continuity in Soviet Policy Towards Soviet Jewry and Israel, May–December 1948
  • Binyamin Pinkus (bio)


This article focuses on the Jewish national awakening among Soviet and East European Jewry and the first signs of official Soviet policy on the Jewish Question. Although May-December 1948 is a relatively brief period in Israeli-Soviet relations, it is one of utmost importance because it reflects the dilemmas and inconsistencies of Soviet policy toward Israel and Jewish issues. The Soviet regime under Stalin's leadership would solve these issues in typical totalitarian style: a war to the death using all means available to the state.

Israel requested that the Government of the USSR grant official recognition to the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. On May 18, 1948 Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov notified Israel of the USSR's decision to grant full de jure recognition. He asserted that the "Soviet Government hopes that the establishment of the sovereign independent state by the Jewish People will serve to strengthen peace and security in Palestine and the Near East, and it expresses its faith in the development of friendly relations between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the State of Israel."1

The Soviet Union was the first superpower to extend de jure. Although Washington preceded Moscow in endorsing the Jewish State, it had only accorded de facto recognition. The other two Western powers, France and Britain, after exhaustive efforts granted de facto recognition to Israel in January 1949. De jure recognition was delayed until May 1949 and April 1950 respectively.

The situation in eastern Europe was different. The new socialist states competed with one another to be the first to recognize Israel after the Soviet Union. On May 18, Zygmunt Modzelewski, the Polish Foreign Minister, informed Moshe Sharett, the Israeli Foreign Minister: [End Page 96]

In the name of the Polish Government, I would like to express [Poland's] satisfaction with the Provisional Government as the provisional Jewish regime in Israel . . . The Polish Government's position on matters related to the Jewish People and Jewish Government in Israel is common knowledge in international forums and especially in the UN. The Polish Government has consistently maintained a position of great sympathy for the Jewish People who have fought for their freedom and their own state.2

One of the members of the Polish delegation at the UN, Julius Katz-Sukhy, lauded the establishment of the Jewish state and expressed hope that "the Arabs of Palestine would also establish their own state."3 In mid-June, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Rumania extended de facto recognition to Israel, and Bulgaria followed in turn.4

The "right" person had to be selected to serve as Israel's representative to the Soviet Union. Eliahu Elath, a senior official of the Jewish Agency who was involved in Zionist diplomatic affairs, could have been chosen, or a top figure in the ruling political party, Mapai. The heads of the left-wing parties in Israel had been unconditionally excluded from the mission to Moscow and were allowed a place only on the mission to Warsaw. According to Eli Tzur, "The most sensitive ministry under Mapai's control was the Foreign Ministry headed by Moshe Sharett. Mapam's (left-wing Zionist- Socialist party) involvement in this ministry was perceived as a major political issue because of the party's pro-Moscow orientation."

Mapai's Central Committee debated whether to admit Mapam representatives into the Diplomatic Corps, especially to posts in eastern Europe, according to a proportional party key.5 Mapai could offer many qualified candidates of Russian origin who were fully acquainted with the country's history and culture. One of top contenders was Mordechai Namir, a leader of the Histadrut and key Mapai figure, who asked Ben-Gurion "for an assignment in Moscow or another Slavic country."6 He had already carried out a number of important diplomatic missions in February and July 1948 in East European countries and negotiated with Czechoslovakia and Rumania on arms, oil, and immigration. Namir recalled that they had received him there "with a standing ovation."7

Sharett considered Golda Meir the most suitable candidate for the Soviet mission. He approached...


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