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Ben-Gurion declines Haifa Mayor’s invitation to attend Israel’s first industrial exhibition
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The darkening clouds in our country’s skies… not just the IDF will be put to a supreme test, but the staying power of the economy as well, and first and foremost our industrial capacity…

DAVID BEN-GURION. Typed Letter Signed, in Hebrew, to Abba Khoushy, April 20, 1956, Jerusalem, Israel. 1 p., 6⅛ x 7¾ in.

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Complete Translation


The Prime Minister

Jerusalem, 9th of Iyyar, 5716 / 20 April 1956

To Abba Khoushy,Mayor, / Haifa.                                                        K/ ‘A2340

Dear friend,

To my regret, due to my many undertakings at the present time, I cannot take part in the opening of the industry exhibition which is to open in your city of Haifa. The darkening clouds in our country’s skies, which do not dissipate even momentarily, oblige us to examine and inspect to what degree we are prepared for what is to come; not just the IDF will be put to a supreme test, but the staying power of the economy as well, and first and foremost our industrial capacity which will be put to our national test. And I am confident – [our] industry will not let [us] down.

                                                                        With friendship and with regards,

                                                                        David Ben-Gurion / Prime Minister.

Historical Background

Israel held its first industrial exhibition in Haifa from April 24 to May 13, 1956. More than 800 industrial enterprises participated, and the Israel Philharmonic orchestra and various theatrical groups provided concerts and plays in a 1,200-seat open air theatre constructed for it. Haifa Mayor Hushi hoped that the Prime Minister would participate in the opening.

Soon Orthodox Jews would demonstrate against the exhibition being open on the Jewish Sabbath. Clashes with police left several injured. On May 9, the Herut Party demanded a no-confidence vote due to the government allowing merchants to “desecrate” the Sabbath. Ben-Gurion’s government survived the vote by a wide margin - 52 to 11.

But that was still weeks away. Ben-Gurion refuses the invitation due to his focus on security concerns. In the 1950s, Palestinian militants (fedayeen) repeatedly launched attacks against Israel from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. On April 5, 1956, two weeks before this letter, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched an intensive mortar attack on a Gaza town. Three months later, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and refused access to Israeli ships. In October, Israel, the United Kingdom, and France formed a secret alliance to regain control of the Suez Canal and topple Nasser. Four days later, Israeli forces invaded Egyptian territory. As expected, both Egypt and Israel ignored British and French public demands to withdraw, and Anglo-French force invaded and helped defeat the Egyptians. Nasser sank ships in the Suez Canal, thus closing it until March 1957. International pressure forced the Anglo-French forces to withdraw and Israel to end its occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel gained freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran, which Egypt had blocked since 1950.

David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) was born in the Kingdom of Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, as David Grün, and he studied at the University of Warsaw. In 1906, he immigrated to Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912, he moved to Constantinople to study law and adopted the Hebrew name Ben-Gurion. He supported the Ottoman Empire in World War I, but was deported to Egypt and traveled to the United States, where he remained for three years. After the Balfour Declaration of 1917, he joined the Jewish Legion of the British Army. He returned to Palestine after the war and became a leader of the Zionist movement. As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, Ben-Gurion was effectively the leader of the Jewish population before there was a nation. He accepted the 1947 partition plan as a compromise that would establish a Jewish state, and declared the independence of the state of Israel in May 1948. After leading Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Ben-Gurion won election as Prime Minister of Israel in 1948 as head of the Mapai political party in the Knesset. He resigned in December 1953, effective January 26, 1954, then resumed office in November 1955 and served as Israeli Prime Minster until 1963. He then moved to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev desert, where he lived until his death.

Abba Hushi or Abba Khoushy (1898-1969) was born in Turka, Galicia, then part of Austria-Hungary (today in Ukraine) as Abba Schneller. In 1920, he migrated to Palestine, and by 1922, he was a founding member of kibbutz Beit Alfa. He traveled to Poland for the Jewish National Fund to raise money and promote emigration to Palestine. He married Hannah in 1926 in Haifa. From 1932 to 1951, he served as chairman of the Haifa Workers Council. He was elected to Israel’s first Knesset in 1949 as a member of the Mapai political party, of which David Ben-Gurion was general secretary from 1930 to 1953 and from 1955 to 1963. In 1951, Hushi left the national government to become mayor of Haifa. He served as mayor of Haifa from 1951 to 1969. As mayor, he was one of the founders of the University of Haifa and the Haifa Theater.