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Poster Commentary
"Independence is never given to a people. It has to be earned and defended."Chaim Weizmann
Poster design:James Steinberg


by Jehuda Reinharz

How does someone who has no army behind him, doesn’t even have the entire Jewish people behind him, accomplish what Weizmann did?

It was largely due to his efforts that Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, stating it would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” It was Weizmann who persuaded U.S. President Harry Truman to recognize the State of Israel, as well as to help displaced persons in postwar Europe and lend $100 million (an untold fortune in the late 1940s) to the fledging Jewish state.

What was his secret? In a word – personality. He had a relentless passion, political “smarts,” a keen awareness of class distinctions, and an ability to speak to his interlocutors at eye level. (He was six feet tall and persuasive.) Weizmann did not entreat, did not ask to be pitied. He favored pragmatism over ideology and made the case for Zionism in a compelling way at the highest levels of government.

When Weizmann was not yet nineteen years old, he set out from Russia, made his way to England, and devoted himself to Zionism and chemistry – in that order. He was a good chemist, but he had no peers as a Zionist activist.

As Weizmann famously stated – and poet Natan Alterman later turned into an iconic Israeli poem – “a country is not given on a silver platter.” It took enormous effort and devotion – and a figure like Chaim Weizmann – to establish the State of Israel.

Jehuda Reinharz is former president of Brandeis University and current president of the Mandel Foundation. He has authored or co-authored 31 books, including a three-volume biography of Chaim Weizmann. He is an elected member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations and serves as chairman of the board of the Weizmann Institute of Science.


Conversation Guide


  • Do you agree with Weizmann’s claim? How has Israel “earned and defended” its independence?
  • Does Weizmann’s idea apply to people as well as countries? If so, how did you earn your independence, and how do you defend it?
  • What do the elements in the poster suggest about Weizmann’s personality and his commitment to the development of Israel?



Wall of Fame©2020, James Steinberg, Quote: Chaim Weizmann, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA