Saturday, March 31, 2007

Israeli founding father is unmasked as British agent

Friday March 30th 2007

ISRAEL is reeling from the revelation that one of its founding fathers was a British spy who betrayed Jewish freedom fighters in the turbulent years before the state's creation in 1948.

Teddy Kollek, who later served as mayor of Jerusalem for almost 30 years, fed sensitive information to MI5 when Britain ran Palestine under a League of Nations mandate.

Evidence of Kollek's secret past has been revealed in documents discovered at the Public Record Office in Kew by Ronen Bergman, an investigative journalist working for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

"From all the documents it is clear he worked very closely with British intelligence between 1943 and 1947," Mr Bergman said.

While there is no clear evidence that Kollek's leaks led to anyone's death, he certainly caused dozens of Jewish activists to be arrested and detained for lengthy periods.

Coming just a few months after Kollek's own death in January at the age of 95, the furore is likely to radically alter his place in Israel's national hall of fame. Additionally, the fact that his secret past has only come to light now has added to the controversy, with some commentators suggesting that the Israeli state has connived to suppress the information until he passed away. Mr Bergman explained that Kollek's decision to help the British came at a time of deep divisions among Jews trying to create their own homeland.

As the occupying power, Britain's occasionally ambivalent attitude towards the Zionist cause had led to deep frustrations, with more radical Jewish groups adopting terrorist tactics.

Kollek represented the more moderate, mainstream Zionism of the Jewish Agency, which embarked on what is still referred to as the "hunting season", when it sought to neutralise the radicals' bombing and murder campaigns.

The internecine fighting of the hunting season stirs bitter memories in Israel even today - memories that will be reactivated by the revelation.

When Kollek died in January tributes flooded in from around the world. He was praised for the 28 years he served as mayor of Jerusalem, overseeing a period of building and expansion as Israel sought to adopt the city as its capital.

Further revelations are expected when remaining papers in his personal MI5 file are declassified. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Tim Butcher

© Irish Independent

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