We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East. (From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

When Australia Banned Menahem Begin

The reported recent discovery in a house in England of an original  letter connected with the Irgun's notorious hanging of two young British sergeants in 1947 (one of them, incidentally, was Jewish) revives memories of a horrible episode, which prompted antisemitic incidents in Britain at the time and, like the bombing of the King David Hotel the previous year, was talked of long afterwards.

It would have still been raw in the memory of people both in Britain and the Dominions in the early 1950s, when former Irgun leader Menahem Begin was prevented from entering Australia.  This seems to be a little-known footnote to Australian history, and since in the process of moving house I've come across some copies of archival documents from Canberra relating to it, I thought it would be not without interest to reproduce them here.

On 21 November 1952, the head of the Australian Legation in Tel Aviv,  Osmond Charles William Fuhrman (whom some historians regard as an antisemite), sent a memorandum to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, Canberra, concerning Begin, whose photograph was attached:
"Subject: Menahem Beigin [sic] – Member of Parliament[,] terrorist and leader of the "Herut" party (I.Z.L.) may wish to visit Australia during the early part of 1953.
1. The Israel press has featured a story, the accuracy of which I do not doubt, that Menahem Beigin , leader of the "Herut" party[,] has been invited to participate in a conference in London of the British branch of the world movement of Revisionists.  The conference is to be held early in 1953 and it is said that at its conclusion, Beigin intends to tour Australia and New Zealand.  I do not know whether this is so, but I suggest that the Security services in Australia might be informed.  Begin is the author of a recently published book – "The Revolt", which is probably one of the most anti-British books which has ever found its way onto the world's bookstalls.
2.  The "Herut" party, of which Menahem Beigin is the leader, is a political offshoot of the outlawed Irgun Leumi terrorist organisation, and, so far as Israel [sic] politics are concerned, it stands on the extreme right and its policy is based purely on nationalism.  It demands a Jewish State which would include the whole of Palestine and Jordan.  The party claims to have neither a pro-Western nor a pro-Eastern orientation; it is indifferent to the United Nations and pledges itself, if ever put in power, to the abrogation of the United Nations partition plan.  "Herut" is regarded by the Centre and Left parties in Israel as being Fascist in character.
3.  I suggest that the appropriate Department in Australia might consider, in advance, what action should be taken if and when Beigin might apply for a visitor[']s visa to enable him to visit Australia."
Upon receipt, Department of External Affairs official Alfred Herbert Body forwarded (9 December 1952) a copy of that memorandum to the Secretary, Department of Immigration, and another to ASIO.

On 10 December 1952, L. W. Pratt, Senior Security Officer at the Australian Embassy in The Hague, sent Fuhrman, in Tel Aviv, a memorandum advising that "a security objection" pertained to twelve men listed, and that accordingly visas to Australia should not be granted.

(Those listed – presumably Displaced Persons who had gone to Israel but did not wish to remain there, and perhaps former Communists, which would have made them undesirable as far as the Australian government was concerned – were, for the historical record: Henryk Szykier, Jakub Poznanski, Polycratis Danielides, Moshe Zalcman, Nikolaus Bilek [?;  first letter smudged], Erich Rostholder, Josef Rostholder, David Teicher, Ignacy Izak Ringler, Witalis Lewenta, Andre Gluck, Hugo Fasler-Falowski.)

A further two individuals, one male, one female, were not deemed security risks, and so visas were permitted to be issued.

At the end of the memorandum Pratt advised that, following checks with the Austrian authorities, a married couple who had contravened Israeli currency law, and a male individual, were not objected to on security grounds.

Begin's case was mentioned tersely in the middle of the memorandum,  Pratt merely stating:
"The information contained in your memorandum no. 33/52 of 27.11.52 is of great interest to this office.  Mr. Beigin should not be granted a visa to Australia. We have advised all our posts to this effect."
On 13 January 1953  Fuhrman sent a cablegram marked "Confidential" to the ministries of External Affairs and Immigration as well as to the Prime Minister's Department:
'Menahem Begin [sic].
I have today, 13th January, received a letter from Begin acknowledging mine to him of 9th December and am forwarding the original to you. 
2.  Meanwhile the gist of Begin's latest letter is "Visit being sponsored and organised by the Zionist Revision of Identity [sic] Organisation of Australia".  Basic topics of the lecture would be the political and economic situation of Israel and the Prague trials implications.  Begin said he would like to visit Australia in July or August next and added that in the course [of] nearly three quarters of a year, events may take place in the West, in the East or the Middle East, which at present cannot be foreseen.  Any such new events if they occurred would be included in his lecture.
3.  Begin is on the special list of New Scotland Yard.  He is a trouble-maker and a terrorist and I would strongly advise against permitting his entry into Australia.
A scribbled memorandum to A. H. Body of External Affairs, dated 20 January and bearing the initials I.[?] M., ran:
"Watson, Imig.[,] says that their file has been passed to Mr Holt [future prime minister Harold Holt, who was at that time Minister For Immigration] with departmental recommendation that visa should not be issued.  This is in line with Mr Casey's recommendation [Richard Gardiner Casey, later Governor-General Lord Casey, at that time Minister For External Affairs]."
On the same day Body dashed off his own memorandum, for J.C.G Kevin, a member of Australia's diplomatic corps, whose involvement in this matter is unclear from the correspondence to hand:
"Begin was reported to be coming to Australia later this year and Mr. Fuhrman advised us of the background in an earlier memorandum.
2.  Later Mr. Casey was asked by a M.H.R. [a member of the federal House of Representatives] if it were the case that a visa was refused Begin.
3.  A cable was sent to Tel Aviv from which it appeared that no visa application was made, but, if it were made, Mr. Fuhrman advised against its being approved.
4.  Mr. Casey agreed that a visa should not be given Begin and asked us to advise immigration.
5.  Immigration are now considering the matter."
Across the bottom of that typed memo was subsequently handwritten:
"Immigration have recommended to their Minister against a visa."
And so Menahem Begin's planned visit to Australia was thwarted.

We might think "fair enough".

But many Australians today must wonder why their government is not similarly strict in keeping out representatives of Hizb-ut-Tahrir!

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