Obituary: Yaacov Hazan

Joseph Finklestone
Tuesday 28 July 1992 23:02
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Yaacov Aryeh Hazan, politician, born Brisk Russia 4 June 1899, died Mishmar Ha'emek Israel 23 July 1992.

IF ONE single political figure in Israel symbolised the spirit of pioneering idealism, the chalutz movement at its most pristine purity, it was surely Yaacov Hazan.

Hazan was an exceptional, symbolic figure: tall, vigorous, idealistic, physically strong, a doughty political opponent but never one given to personal attacks or vendettas, a lively, humorous speaker, a genuine searcher for harmony, a profound believer in the pioneering tenets, a champion of a brotherhood with the Arab inhabitants of Israel. It is through people like Hazan that the whole kibbutz concept flourished for so long and still significantly adds to Israel's strength. Without leaders and idealists like Hazan it is inconceivable that Israel could have sprung into existence in 1948. It is he and men like him who laid the idealistic foundation of modern Israel and gave it its initial impetus.

Yet Hazan was not in the mainstream of the Labour Israel leadership. Leaders like Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first President, and, even more, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister and the 'father' of the state, greatly appreciated Hazan's personal qualities but were bemused by his early belief in strict Marxism and its ostensibly shining champion, Stalin and his Soviet Union. It is to Hazan's credit that he refused to remain blind to Stalin's excesses and to the tyrant's use of vicious anti- Semitism to further Soviet aims.

Hazan's left-wing Mapam party, which he helped to found, favoured the establishment of a national Jewish-Arab state, which ironically later became the policy of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), led by Yasser Arafat. But Hazan and his colleagues were far more idealistic and altruistic. Despite being tough Zionist pioneers, they thoroughly believed that Jews and Arabs could live together in the land of milk and honey in one unitary state.

Hazan and his colleagues were greatly impressed by the Soviet Union's unexpected support for the establishment of a Jewish State in 1948 and Stalin's agreement for the supply of urgently needed arms by Czechoslovakia. They urged that Israel should virtually enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union and be included in the Soviet sphere of influence.

Stalin's obvious anti-Semitic mania, which was graphically demonstrated in the European scene when the Czechoslovak Communist leader Rudolf Slansky was arrested and executed in 1952 on ridiculous charges and his Jewishness widely proclaimed, came as a profound shock to Mapam. An even more lasting shock was inflicted by the Czech Communists when they arrested and charged Mapam members. The group's slavish adherence to Stalin's ideas was fractured.

Noting the Soviet wooing of the Arab states and the massive supply of arms to Egypt, Hazan spoke out bravely against Soviet policy. This did not please many Mapam members, who still believed Soviet assurances about peace and comradeship. 'It is Russia that is blocking peace in the Middle East,' Hazan proclaimed at a Mapam convention in 1968. This proclamation incurred the wrath of his friend and colleague Meir Ya'ari, whose heir and successor he was deemed to be. It was a sad parting of the ways for these two pioneering stalwarts.

It was Hazan who in 1969 brought about an end to Mapam's traditional isolation from the mainstream, middle-of-the-road Labour Party led by David Ben-Gurion. All workers, he declared, should work for their rights together. Hazan's early experiences typified the struggle between the secular political Zionist movement of Weizmann and Theodore Herzl and the ultraOrthodox rabbinic leaders who feared the establishment of a Godless Jewish country in Palestine.

Hazan was born in Brisk, Russia, in 1899, the son of Haim, an ordained rabbi and veteran Zionist, who was forced to leave Brisk for Warsaw after the ultra- Orthodox Jews of the town imposed a 'herem' ('exclusion from the community') against him. They just could not accept a Zionist rabbi in their midst. When Hazan was seven years old his father died. At 16 Hazan became one of the founders of the Jewish scouts organisation in Poland. Part of this group became the influential left-wing organisation Hashomer Hatzair ('the young watchman'), which was to play a notable role in Israeli labour and kibbutz movements.

After serving for two years in the Polish army, Hazan rejoined Hashomer Hatzair and then made his way to what was then Palestine in 1923. Only a Zionist pioneer with the philosophy of 'ein breira' ('no alternative') - which Hazan shared with Ben-Gurion - could have continued to struggle in the impoverished Jewish community of Palestine. After obtaining a succession of odd jobs in Tel Aviv, Hazan spent a year working in the Samsonov orange grove in Hadera. Later he dug ditches in the perilous swamps of Sachne and in the Beit She'an Valley, until he joined the Mishmar He'emek kibbutz. Hazan became the recognised ideological father of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, advocating in his voluminous writings a radical programme of revolutionary Zionism, meant to achieve the physical redemption of the Jewish people by changing merchants, ghetto victims and assimilated diaspora Jews into proud and prosperous farmers.

When he entered the Knesset in 1949, as a member of the newly formed Mapam, Hazan made his mark as a somewhat flowery speaker but a sound administrator. He enjoyed 25 years of fruitful parliamentary work, liked and admired equally by colleagues and opponents. There was general applause when he received the Israel Prize for his services to the country.

(Photograph omitted)

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