Yosef Ross and “THE BAD GUY” in the story of the state of Israel's Birth
Historical memory and historical documentation do not necessarily correspond. As a rule, there are considerable disparities between the two. In the common Israeli memory, the British appear, at least during the last decade of their rule in Eretz Yisrael, as “the Bad Guy in the story of the creation of the Zionist State.” Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin played a major role in this story. His persona embodied all of the loathing, hatred, opposition, and the evil which the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael (yishuv) harbored towards the Mandate authorities and the British government. Thus related Professor Motti Golani of the Tel Aviv University’s Jewish History Department in a special session held at the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel devoted to the launch of an exhibition of political caricatures by Yosef Ross, now appearing on the newly-designed Web site of the Jabotinsky Institute www.jabotinsky.org. The June 21, 2015 seminar was entitled “Facing the Lion of Britain—With Only a Pencil in Hand: The Caricatures of Yosef Ross (Josef Rosenberg)—from the Newspaper to the Internet.” (Curator: Yoram A. Shamir; Production: Olga Gechman). This exhibition has been dedicated to the memory of Amiram Bukspan, who held the position of Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel until his recent untimely death. The overflow audience that crowded into the Jabotinsky Institute Museum for the opening of the exhibition included members of the Ross and Bukspan families, friends, special guests, and members of the Jabotinsky Institute Amutah. According to Professor Golani, if the memory is a tool for creating legends, which holds a certain vitality of its own, then history grants a number of points in Ernest Bevin’s favor. Whatever the outcome, the British Foreign Secretary generated a major amount of criticism aimed toward himself — and justifiably so. Bevin was far from the image of a conventional foreign minister, especially that of one within the rigidly stalwart British tradition of governing and statutes of behavior. Bevin was a man who had grown up bereft of parents, whose entire education amounted to barely two grades of public school. He was vulgar, short-tempered in his interpersonal relationships, lacking in manners and cultural finesse, aggressive and insensitive. Every quality that is required for a foreign secretary was totally lacking in Ernest Bevin. Bevin vehemently opposed the (Passfield) “White Paper” of 1931, and particularly opposed the 1939 “Black Paper” of Malcolm MacDonald. Not only did his opposition cease to ebb upon his appointment to the post of Foreign Secretary, but he toughened its implementation by closing Israel’s gates to Jewish immigration, including Holocaust refugees, undermining the granting of independence to the majority of the citizens, meaning the creation of an Arabic state in Eretz Yisrael, and using offensive language against the Jews that was often tinged with anti-Semitic slurs. In a videotaped message from abroad to the audience gathered at the opening of the exhibition, Yosef Ross’s granddaughter Gali Ross-Chason spoke of her love and longing for her grandfather. Yoram A. Shamir, curator of the exhibition, delivered a lecture and PowerPoint presentation on “Elegance and Passion,” declaring that these words best describe Yosef Ross’s artistic traits. Ross drew some 25,000 portraits, caricatures, and landscapes, all of which are being preserved by his son Gideon Ross. At the suggestion of Yoram Shamir, the Harvard University Judaica Collection has undertaken to scan the entire collection of Yosef Ross’s works in order to make them accessible to researchers and students. To date, 1800 works have been scanned. Jabotinsky Institute historical consultant and researcher Joseph Kister presented a lecture and PowerPoint presentation on Ross’s political cartoons under the topic “The British in the Israeli War of Independence: From Interaction to Interference.” According to Kister, the United Nations General Assembly decision of November 29, 1947 to create two states in western Eretz Yisrael, Jewish and Arab, and the delineation of Jerusalem and its environs as “corpus separatum” hit the British government like a bolt of lightning. Britain decided to consciously exclude itself from the three great powers, the USSR, United States and France, which supported the creation of a Jewish State, deciding to “foil the implementation of the decision in the field” by assuming a “neutral” stand. In other words: to abandon the field which they evacuated to the Arab rioters. From interaction to interference, the British clashed with the Etzel in the conquest of Jaffa (April 25-28, 1948), when the British Army fought against what they termed the “terrorists” (Etzel) on the third day of the battle. The majority of Etzel casualties resulted from combat with the British forces. “If one picture is worth a thousand words,” Kister remarked, “a caricature is the addition of wit, sarcasm and commentary for major events illustrated by the hand of the artist. Ross’s illustrations frequently made the editorial commentaries and diplomatic analyses completely extraneous.” Moderator Yossi Ahimeir, director of the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, mentioned the late Amiram Bukspan, who had always helped his family to decipher the nuances of Yosef Ross’s illustrations. Ahimeir noted the distinctive nature of this Internet exhibition, which may be viewed from countless locations throughout the world via the Jabotinsky Institute’s newly-designed website. “It’s evident that the pencil does not merely write history, but it makes history,” Ahimeir declared at the close of this fascinating event.