P. 259

   Pinhas Rutenberg, "the Old Man of Naharayim" and the President of the Jewish National Council for two brief periods
He was called to the flag ten years previously as well, following the 1929 Palestine riots, was not particularly successful and returned to his electricity business. Now in 1939, 17 days after the outbreak of World War II, he was again called to serve in a position that was tailored just for him: President of the Jewish National Council.
The proposal to appoint him to the position caused a tremendous drama. It began at a nadir the Jewish Yishuv had reached in May 1939, with the publication of the "White Paper" of the Secretary of State for the Colonies Malcolm MacDonald, a document that completely repudiated the British promises implied in the Balfour Declaration and which explicitly favored the Arab side in the struggle for the Land of Israel.
The Jewish Yishuv was in a tumult, enraged, demonstrated and felt itself betrayed. More and more voices called for a change in leadership or at least that its ranks be refreshed. The sixty-
year-old Pinhas Rutenberg seemed to be the magic drug. He was a particularly resolute person, well-connected with the British rulers in Jerusalem and in London and the successful electrification of the Land of Israel was credited entirely to his name. David Ben-Gurion did not like the idea of Rutenberg being appointed as President of the Jewish National Council. Rutenberg's good relations with Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the leader of the Revisionist Movement that broke with the World Zionist Organization, certainly won him no points with Ben-Gurion.
But the pressure was great and towards September 1939, the various entities of the Yishuv agreed to crown Rutenberg as President of the Jewish National Council. On the 18th of that month, he entered his new office in the National Institutions Building in Jerusalem. "HaBoker" Newspaper reported: "Mr. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Chairman of the Jewish National Council, proposed choosing him [Rutenberg] in the General Meeting of the Jewish National Council, in which members of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, the chief rabbis, the municipalities' proxies, the local communities and councils, and a large delegation of Agudat Yisrael had also participated." It also reported that Ben-Gurion promised to fully cooperate with the new President of the Jewish National Council.
Quite a few at the time had said and written that in the emergency that began in May, and which intensified in September – upon the outbreak of World War II – the Jewish Yishuv needs a dictator, a strong leader who would receive special powers. Rutenberg did not object to this, however he quickly learned that the Yishuv in the Land of Israel encompasses a very broad array of parties and opinions. It was initially proposed that in executive terms, a leadership triumvirate would be appointed – Rutenberg, Ben-Gurion and Menachem Ussishkin (more as the representative of the Zionist General Council than as the representative of KKL-JNF), however reality created a different structure: An executive of 18 members was elected alongside Rutenberg. He demands that it be reduced were not heeded. It was later reduced to 11 members – which was still a large forum.

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