Tag Archives: Suez Canal

Jews of the Week: Lionel and Edmond de Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part four of five. Click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

Lionel de Rothschild

Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) was the eldest son of London’s Nathan Rothschild. After studying in university and apprenticing with family members, he entered the family business at age 28. He helped raise funds for Britain for a number of its wars, including the Crimean War, as well as to help victims of the Great Irish Famine. He would organize the largest private relief fund for the famine (which tragically took the lives of over one million people). Lionel pushed for, and secured funding, for Britain’s pivotal purchasing and construction of the Suez Canal. In 1847, he was elected to the British House of Commons. He was required to take a Christian oath and swear on a Bible, which he refused. The Prime Minister passed a “Jewish Disabilities Bill” to remove the necessity to swear a Christian oath. However, the House of Lords rejected it. Lionel resigned. He won the election again in 1850, but was stifled by the House of Lords once more; then again in 1851 and 1852. It was only in 1858 that the Lords relented, and that year Lionel took an oath on a Tanakh, wearing a kippah, and became the first Jew in British Parliament. He was reelected three more times. In 1885, after previously being refused by Queen Victoria, he was finally elevated to the House of Lords, the first Jew in that house as well.

Edmond de Rothschild

While there were Rothschilds who were vocal anti-Zionists, and some have even refused to visit the State of Israel, one of the greatest Zionists of all time was Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934). Edmond was the youngest son of Paris’ Jacob de Rothschild. He was a noted patron of arts and sciences, and founded multiple biology, chemistry, and physics institutions. He spent vast sums on art, amassing a collection of over 40,000 valued pieces, most of which would be donated to the Louvre. This continued until he was inspired by the Zionist vision, and stirred to action by horrific pogroms in Russia. Henceforth, he spent whatever money he could to reestablish a Jewish state in the Holy Land. It was Edmond’s funds that created Rishon LeZion, the first modern Jewish settlement in Israel, as well as Metulla, Ekron, Rosh Pina, and Zikhron Ya’akov (named after his father). He later established the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, through which he acquired 125,000 acres of land in Israel. Edmond spent another $50 million (equal to some $700 million today) to plant farms and wineries, drain swamps, fight malaria, build schools, synagogues, factories and electrical grids, invest in industry and economic development. He supported the Arab populace as well, affirming that putting “an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.” Beloved by Jews (and many Muslims, too) he was nicknamed “the Famous Benefactor”. Streets and landmarks across Israel are named after him, including Tel Aviv’s central Rothschild Boulevard, the major financial, cultural, and tourist artery of the city. Until 1986, he was on Israel’s 500 shekel note.

This November is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Click here to watch Jacob Rothschild (whose life we shall explore in the final part of the series next week) speak about the Declaration and the Rothschild role in the founding of Israel.

Click here to go to Part Five.

Words of the Week

I doubt that, in the entire history of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, a period of 2,000 years, one could ever find a man comparable in stature to the incredible character that was the Baron Edmond de Rothschild – the builder of the Jewish Yishuv in our renewed homeland.
David Ben-Gurion

Edmond de Rothschild on an Israeli 500 Shekel Note (1982)

Jew of the Week: Meir Dagan

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Huberman (1945-2016) was born on a train while his parents, Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, were fleeing to the Soviet Union. Five years later, they made aliyah to Israel and ultimately settled in Bat Yam, where Meir’s parents opened up a laundromat, and changed the family name to Dagan. Meir went on to study art at Tel Aviv University, and when conscripted to the IDF, joined the elite Paratroopers Brigade (which accepts just 1 in 5 applicants). A year following the completion of his mandatory service, he was called up to serve in the Six-Day War. As an officer, he commanded a paratrooper unit in the Sinai. Following the war, he stayed in the military and was soon tasked with leading a commando unit, Sayeret Rimon, operating undercover in the Palestinian territories. During one daring mission, Dagan tackled and disarmed a terrorist holding a live grenade, a feat that earned him a Medal of Courage. He was called to command a unit once more during the Yom Kippur War, successfully pushing across the Suez Canal. In 1982, the armored unit under his command was among the first to reach Beirut during the Lebanon War. Dagan retired from the military in 1995 with the top rank of Major General. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him as National Security Adviser, and then Director-General of the Mossad. Unlike former Mossad heads who were weary of doing so, Dagan was praised for his aggressive tactics in assassinating terrorist leaders (most famously Imad Mughniyeh, the terror chief of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad). Dagan essentially tripled Mossad’s activities, and a Knesset member has said that under his watch, the Mossad “has undergone a revolution in terms of organization, intelligence, and operations”. Dagan continued to head Mossad until the end of 2010, when he crossed paths with Netanyahu over plans to strike Iran, which Dagan opposed, saying “Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck.” (Instead, Dagan had sent countless cyberattacks to cripple Iran’s nuclear program, together with car bombs to assassinate its engineers.) After stepping down, Dagan became director of Israel’s Port Authority, as well as chairman of Gulliver Energy, an Israeli mining company. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. After chemotherapy failed, he received a liver transplant, but this, too, didn’t remove the cancer completely. Sadly, Dagan passed away last week. He was eulogized by President Rivlin as “one of the greatest of the brave, creative and devout warriors that the Jewish people ever had. His devotion to the State of Israel was absolute.”

Words of the Week

The issue of Iran armed with a nuclear capability is not an Israeli problem; it’s an international problem.
– Meir Dagan

This is a photograph of Meir Dagan’s grandfather right before being murdered by Nazis. The photo hung in Dagan’s office as a constant reminder of his important work.