Declaring Independence – An Introduction

This week, Raúl Castro at the age of 86 finally transferred his position as President of Cuba to a non-Castro successor, 57 year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel, if even in name only. He did not transfer political power at the same time, for he retained control over the Communist Party of Cuba. This was not the longed-for political step towards liberalization. A year ago, Castro had declared that, “Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side, respecting their differences, but no one should expect that for this, one should have to make concessions inherent to one’s sovereignty and independence.”

In declaring independence, what characteristics are inherent to sovereignty and independence upon which there can be no concessions? By focusing on those, one can tease out much more precisely what national leaders mean when they declare their sovereign independence. Many countries have made such declarations – Norway did so from Sweden in 1814 by convening a constituent assembly, though Sweden took until 1905 to fully recognize that independence; on 17 July 1992, the Slovak parliament adopted its Declaration of Independence of the Slovak nation from the Czechs. Those two were “velvet” separations. In Sudan, on 9 July 2011 in Juba, South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan after a long war that began in 1955. A host of other colonies declared independence from the imperial powers that previously held ultimate power over their people and territory also after long, protracted wars.

I concentrate on the Declarations of Independence of Israel because yesterday was Yom Haatzmaut 5778 when Israel celebrated 70 years since it declared independence. The document is also unique and distinctive in several ways. I also focus on the Declaration of Independence of the United States because it is seen by most observers to be a prototype for such declarations. Further, if you try to look up declarations of independence on Google, the first dozens of references will be to the U.S. as if the generic can be equated with a specific example of one species.

A declaration is a formal announcement to proclaim either what you contend you have or what you aspire to have, in this case, absolute and ultimate sovereignty over a people and its land. Helpfully, the Israeli Declaration of Independence is a written document. So is that of the American declaration. Even though the circumstances were radically different, the two documents can be used to gain insight into the reasons the declaration was made and the historical conditions that propelled such a declaration. More importantly for me, the philosophical and political presumptions are built into the proclamations.

The first thing to note about the Israeli document issued on 14 May 1948 is that it is not a declaration of independence from but a declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. Second, the document is significant as much for the recognition granted to the status claimed by the proclamation within a few minutes by the United States of America, and, within three days by the USSR.

Except for a minor postscript that follows, this morning I simply want to put before you the document so that you can read it. The analysis will follow in the next few blogs.

ARETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim [(Hebrew) – immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.

This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.

The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.

In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.


WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel”.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.

WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.

WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.


David Ben-Gurion

Daniel Auster
Mordekhai Bentov
Yitzchak Ben Zvi
Eliyahu Berligne
Fritz Bernstein
Rabbi Wolf Gold
Meir Grabovsky
Yitzchak Gruenbaum
Dr. Abraham Granovsky
Eliyahu Dobkin
Meir Wilner-Kovner
Zerach Wahrhaftig
Herzl Vardi
Rachel Cohen
Rabbi Kalman Kahana
Saadia Kobashi
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin
Meir David Loewenstein
Zvi Luria
Golda Myerson
Nachum Nir
Zvi Segal
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Fishman
David Zvi Pinkas
Aharon Zisling
Moshe Kolodny
Eliezer Kaplan
Abraham Katznelson
Felix Rosenblueth
David Remez
Berl Repetur
Mordekhai Shattner
Ben Zion Sternberg
Bekhor Shitreet
Moshe Shapira
Moshe Shertok

* Published in the Official Gazette, No. 1 of the 5th, Iyar, 5708 (14th May, 1948).


A Minor Postscript.


On the very day that Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland made her second trip to Washington to meet with her U.S. and Mexican counterparts over NAFTA, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau was in that same capital city to attend a working dinner of the finance ministers and bank governors of the G20 at  IMF headquarters, is Canada recognized as an independent sovereign nation by the U.S. when Canada must continually negotiate its economic interdependence and, more specifically, when even an esteemed, and justly so, venerable newspaper like The Washington Post cannot spell the capital of Canada correctly? (You – meaning me – should complain, you who miss typos all the time!) From today’s paper: “As the United Nations urges Canada to do more to help its “peacekeeping” mission in Mali, a piece in The Globe and Mail says Ottowa (sic!) needs to get more specific before it ramps up its efforts.” Perhaps Major-General Lewis MacKenzie (retired), who wrote the redacted article, should be blamed for he failed to use the name of the capital of Canada, and, by implication, identify the country with the shenanigans of its capital city.


With the help of Alex Zisman



John F. Kennedy – Redux I

Corporeality XIV: JFK Redux I


Howard Adelman

I received quite a bit of correspondence from readers, especially on my Kennedy piece. Two stand out. One took issue with my contrasting LBJ’s belief in the domino theory with that of JFK. The implication was that LBJ’s beliefs made him prone to greater subservience to the entreaties of the military promoting escalation in Southeast Asia. In contrast, I pointed out that in the last year of his presidency, JFK advocated an unequivocal peace agenda that could have been taken directly from the information sheets provided by the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND). The implication was that JFK, if he ever did, no longer subscribed to the Domino Theory. Victory by one set of communists in one country in Southeast Asia would not necessarily lead to a triumph of communism in the adjacent country.

The reader pointed out that one month after JFK gave his famous “Strategy for Peace” speech at American University in June of 1963, in a press conference he said the following:  “We are not going to withdraw… for us to withdraw would mean a collapse not only of South Vietnam, but of Southeast Asia. So we are going to stay there.” At the beginning of September, he repeated the same sentiments in an interview with Walter Cronkite. This was an unequivocal expression of an intention to retain troops in Vietnam and a continuing belief in the Domino Theory by JFK as well as LBJ.

A second reader from Florida, himself a Cuban exile who fled Castro’s regime, took issue with my statement that JFK had told the anti-Castro insurgents from the exile community in Miami that he would not be providing air cover when they landed, but they insisted on launching the insurgency operation anyway. There are really two issues. What air cover are we discussing – U.S. government forces, the use of which were expressly forbidden under U.S. policy with respect to covert operations, or the air contingent of the exiles themselves? At what stage of the invasion was the cancellation of air cover determined? Secondly, did JFK inform the Cuban exiles before they launched their mission that he would not authorize an air cover?

“I am very surprised that you would write the sentences below…These are patently not the facts…There was a sequence of decisions and counter-decisions made, ultimately (not always directly) by JFK that took place from Saturday April 15 (D Day minus 2) and Tuesday April 19 (D Day + 2), when it was all over. The key actor (and likely manipulator/hedger of the record as regards JFK’s precise step-by-step involvement during those 4 days, which is not 100% crystal clear) is identified by all as McGeorge Bundy (NSA), closely followed by Dulles (DCIA), Bissel (CIA DDP Plans-Ops) and Gen. Cabell (CIA, Air Force general and military liaison)….also Dean Rusk and Adlai Stevenson. I can give you the sequence of these decisions and center-decisions in that 5-day period, by the day and hour. All this is NSA open, public record, and is mostly consistent with the 2 competing post-mortem reports that JFK, followed by Bissell in his own defense, commissioned and delivered, plus a rebuttal by Tracy Barnes, a CIA Under-secretary.

“JFK approved the landing order at 12:00 noon Sunday 16, with air exile Brigade air cover. US air cover was never ever approved by JFK, the issue was the Brigade’s own air cover, flying from Nicaragua and Guatemala. But Brigade air cover, yes. He rescinded the air cover part at 9:00 PM. The final shot at an “air cover yes” from JFK took place at 10:15 PM Sunday 16th (Cabell and Bissell were offered by Rusk to insist to JFK; they declined to insist), and the landings schedule during the night of 16 to 17 was already activated. Supplies were being landed already and soldiers’ landings started at 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM. JFK “made nothing clear to the exiles” about the planned, approved and last-minute cancellation of Brigade air cover. . I can support at minimum this assertion.”

I had written one paragraph in the whole blog about the event, clearly grossly insufficient for such an important and controversial event in American history. More importantly, I missed an opportunity to zero in with greater precision on the dilemma of the President of the United States being both the political leader of the country as well as the Commander-in-Chief, and this was my main subject. Third, I had omitted my own personal involvement at the time on this issue, which I usually include. Now that President Obama has initiated the American rapprochement with Cuba and is planning a visit on 21 March, let me correct my errors of both omission and commission and, as well, zero in with greater precision on the dilemma I am addressing about reconciling two expressions of presidential power, but beginning with my personal involvement.

When Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959, in anticipation of Castro’s victory, I and most of my friends had already turned a New Year’s Eve Party into a celebratory party for the new Cuban regime. Subsequently, when the American government was giving sympathetic consideration to the Castro regime, at least as I erroneously believed then (Eisenhower and Nixon had already by then privately branded Castro a communist), I was very active in the co-operative movement. I learned of a speech Castro had given to an association of Cuban cooperative farmers after the 17 May 1959 Cuban Agrarian Reform Act was passed. In his usual long talks – this one was 3 hours – he told the farmers that the government had a shortage of seeds. Since co-operative farmers represented only the interests of members of the co-operative and not the interests of Cuba as a whole, he could allocate the seeds the government possessed only to farms that operated within the policies and priorities of INRA (the National Institute for Agricultural Reform) as was the case with the collective farms owned and controlled by the state and the co-operative farms initiated by the state.

The “best and largest lands from the U.S. monopolists,” “paid” for (at the low evaluation for tax purposes of the Batista regime) in Cuban bonds and in Cuban currency earning 4.5% in interest for twenty years, were transferred to co-operative farmers (the peasant co-operatives) which sold their products through INRA on the principle that “those who benefit must accept the conditions” that the policy was intended to serve all Cubans and not just the co-operative membership. As Che Guevara had said in 1961, “peasants fought (for the revolution) because they wanted land for themselves and their children, and to manage and sell it and enrich themselves through their labour.” They would soon learn otherwise. The underlying governing principle was social ownership of the basic means of production. What was more basic than growing food?

At that meeting to which I referred above, the “free” co-operative farms voted to subject their policies to the “guidance” of INRA, thereby, making them eligible to receive seeds – which they did. Suddenly, there were enough seeds to go around for the increase in the number of communal and government-initiated farm operations. Indeed, the farmers had sacrificed their autonomy for security. The Cuban government in 2013 finally passed a new agricultural act that restored autonomy to the older cooperatives under a new policy of decentralizing power and “updating” the system.

Incensed by the 1959 blatant act of bullying and open deceit, the betrayal of the cooperative movement and the use of state power to shape Cuban choices towards a collectivist framework, I became an ardent anti-Castro proponent and fell out on this issue with many of my close friends, but particularly with my older brother who had been in the same class in medical school. I had spent the previous year living in Mt. Sinai Hospital and working in the radiology department, but by then, I had left medical school, much to the chagrin of my brother. He became an even more avid Castro supporter whereas I had fallen away. After the Bay of Pigs incident when he finished medical school that spring, he traveled to Cuba, got trapped there by the American blockade and eventually had to be flown back to Canada on a Canadian air force plane. While he was trapped in Cuba, he became for a while a pro-Castro broadcaster in English sending news of the regime’s successes to Miami 90 miles away.

While I had been sympathetic to the expropriation of the American-owned electrical and telephone companies, and even the large land holdings of the American corporations, such as the United Fruit Company, though I admired and praised his health, educational and literacy programs, I was by the fall of 1960 critical of Castro. My friends and especially my brother remained champions of Castro. But I was also at odds with both Kennedy and Nixon who seemed to be trying to outdo one another in recreating Castro as a bogeyman. As JFK said in the Fall of 1960, “we must (my italics) make the Cuban people know that we sympathize with their legitimate economic aspirations, that we know their love of freedom, and that we shall never be happy until democracy is restored in Cuba.” We must not allow the Soviet Union to turn Cuba into its Caribbean base.” Kennedy was a Cold War warrior. Though I had become a critic of Castro, I was not.

Some have erroneously credited my passionate involvement with Cuba in 1959-61with the fact that my oldest son, who was born in 1960 when Kennedy was ending his campaign against Nixon for the presidency of the United States, with his becoming a famous historian of Latin America. I can assure everyone I deserve no such credit. My tensions with my brother and my friends over Cuba had nothing to do with my son’s career. However, credit might be given to Linus Pauling who, with his wife, visited our house when Jeremy was just a few months old just before he won his second Nobel Prize for his anti-nuclear campaigning. He physically blessed Jeremy. If there is any credit to be given, it is to Linus Pauling. With that very important piece of trivia, I will return to the main issue of the events before and during the Bay of Pigs and, subsequently to the implications for the President both being a political leader and a Commander-in-Chief.