P. 193

A surprising response came from Cuba. Miguel Suárez Fernández, the then President of the Cuban Senate, sent his best wishes to the Constituent Assembly at its first session. He mentioned that twice before, in 1945 and in 1947, the Cuban Senate adopted decisions regarding the need to establish a state for the Jews in the Land of Israel. "We send our sympathies and hope the Constituent Assembly succeeds in all it does and that days of greatness are ahead of you." In his well wishes, Fernandez ignored a single fact: That Cuba was one of two non-Muslim and non-Arab states that voted against the Partition Plan (the other being Greece), in the historic vote at the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947...
These were three days of national intoxication. The following day, February 15, the Constituent Assembly adopted the "Transition Law," and its first Section said it all: "The Legislature of the State of Israel shall be called Knesset. The Constituent Assembly shall be called the 'First Knesset'. The representative of the Constituent Assembly shall be called a 'Member of the Knesset'." Thus, the Constituent Assembly cancelled itself, changed its name and, as of February 15, 1949, it was called the First Knesset. This was a far-reaching constitutional change that not all had agreed with in the following weeks and months, since it delayed, and in fact prevented, the drafting of a constitution, as had been predetermined.
Later that day, the procedures of the Knesset's work was debated, and towards its end, the First Knesset's representatives witnesses an event that was viewed as historic: The Member of the Knesset from Nazareth, Amin-Salim Jarjora, made the first speech in Arabic and commended the equal rights granted to all citizens of the country, in accordance with the Scroll of Independence. He expressed his hope that the war was approaching its end and that peace would follow it.
The activities of the First Knesset at the National Institutions Building ended at that stage on the third day of deliberations, on February 16, 1949, which is even more memorable than the previous two days, since it was the day on which Dr. Chaim Weizmann was elected in a spectacular ceremony as the first president of the State of Israel.
A drama had unfolded around the election, if only because of the unusual hour of the meeting, which began at midnight of February 16. The Chairman of the Standing Committee, Zalman Rubashov went on the stage and declared the names of the two candidates: Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the 75-year-old senior Zionist leader, and Prof. Joseph Klausner, also 75 years old. Weizmann was supported by most of the parties in the Knesset while Prof. Klausner's candidacy was raised by the Herut Movement. A ballot box was brought to the table of the Speaker of the Knesset, Yosef Sprinzak, and the Knesset Members were asked to drop envelopes into it with the names of one of the candidates. Weizmann won by a landslide: 84 members of the House voted for him and 15 for Klausner, 15 abstained and one vote was disqualified. Six were absent from the meeting and four of them were outside of the country.
The election of Dr. Weizmann was met with tumultuous applause of most of the representatives and the audience present in the hall. A spontaneous singing of "Hatikvah" concluded the short

   191   192   193   194   195