The Weizmann year
GEORGE WEIDENFELD once remarked to me: “While a Zionist has a built-in pride of where he belongs, he doesn’t mind if he doesn’t belong elsewhere. A non-Zionist feels that doors are locked to him because of his origins.”
He was more than qualified to pronounce on the subject. In 1949, he took a sabbatical to work as Chaim Weizmann’s chief of cabinet.
Although he has said that, at the time, he was he was astonished to get the job, it is evident that he took to the role like a duck to water.
It not only gave Weidenfeld a closeup view of the birth of Israel, but helped him launch himself as the ultimate networker: alongside Weizmann, he got in touch with Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Teddy Kolleck, Chaim Herzog and Shimon Peres. Not only did they become lifelong friends and contacts, they enabled Weidenfeld to serve as a high-level mediator between the Jewish diaspora and the Israeli government throughout the rest of his life.
In addition to serving as Weizmann’s personal secretary, in 1953, when Israel transferred its Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he was appointed “in charge of all publicity on Jerusalem” at the Israeli Embassy in London.
Weidenfeld’s publications on Israel were plentiful. In addition to Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s The Chariot of Israel: Britain, America, and the State of Israel, he published the memoirs of Israel’s leaders, including David BenGurion, Shimon Peres, and Abba Eban.
In Golda Meir’s negotiations with Weidenfeld over the publication of her autobiography, My Life, she insisted that she would not write about her private life; would not settle political scores; and would not take advantage of the high office she had left.
He made an indelible contribution to Israel, to Israeli institutions, and especially to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which he promoted to his high-powered friends and colleagues.
In establishing the Weidenfeld Fellowships at the Middle East Centre at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, he allowed Israeli scholars to collaborate with academics who may otherwise have remained out of reach. Upon their return to Israel, a greater appreciation of British, and Anglo-Jewish, society was passed on to their students. Dr Natan Aridan is Editor of the Israel Studies journal at Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism
With Weizmann in 1950