Ben Zvi, Yitzhak (1884 - 1963)

historian, Labor Zionist leader, the second and longest-serving President of Israel.

Yishuv leader, second President of the State of Israel. Born in Poltava, Ukraine; received a Jewish education in a Heder and, later, graduated from a Russian gymnasium [high school]. In 1905, he entered the Unversity of Kiev, but his studies were interrupted by the general strike that year.During the 1905 pogroms he became active in the Jewish self-defense organization in Poltava and played a leading role in Po'alei Zion - the Zionist socialist party, which was founded in Poltava in 1906.

In 1907, Ben- Zvi settled in Eretz Yisrael. In the same year he was sent as a Po'alei Zion delegate from Eretz Yisrael to the Eighth Zionist Congress, which took place in the Hague. In 1907, Ben-Zvi participated in the founding of the Bar Giora self- defense organization, and in 1909, along with labor leader Rachel Yanait, whom he married in 1918, of the Ha-Shomer ("The Watchman") assocation of Jewish watchmen in Eretz Yisrael (see Struggle and Defense ).

In 1909, he was sent by Po'ale Zion to Turkey, where he established ties with the Jewish communities and with Jewish labor movement leaders.In 1910, Ben- Zvi, together with Rachel Yanait and other, founded the first Hebrew socialist periodical in Eretz Yisrael - Ahdut (Unity).

With the outbreak of World War I, Ben Zvi, together with David Ben Gurion*, was deported. Both made their way to New York, where, in 1915, they founded the He- halutz movement in America, and established branches in many cities. In 1918, they returned to Palestine as soldiers of the Jewish Legion in the British Royal Fusiliers.

In 1919, Ben-Zvi was elected to the central committee of the Ahdut Ha'avodah party and a year later to the secretariat of the Histadrut - The General Federation of Labor in Eretz Yisrael. With the establishment of the Va'ad Le'umi (National Committee) in 1920, he was elected to its leadership, first as a member, later as chairman (1931), and finally as president in 1945.

From 1920, the year the Haganah was founded, Ben-Zvi was one of the most prominent figures of the Yishuv self-defense organization. His son Eli, a Kibbutz member, was killed in the War of Independence*.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Ben-Zvi was elected as a "Mapai" (Labor) member to the first and second Knesset (parliament), in 1949 and 1952.

Upon the passing of Chaim Weizmann* Ben-Zvi was elected President of the State in 1952, and in 1957 was returned by the Knesset to that office for five more years. In 1962, he was elected president for a third term and died in office on April 23, 1963.

Ben-Zvi headed the Institute for the Study of Oriental Jewish Communities in the Middle East, which he founded in 1948, later named the Ben-Zvi Institute. His scholarly works were devoted mainly to research on communities and sects and to the geography of the land of Israel, its ancient populations, antiquities and traditions.




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02 May 2005 / 23 Nisan 5765 0