When Israeli Citizens Acquired Tanks for the IDF

In 1955, amidst rumors about a weapons deal between Czechoslovakia and Egypt, the Israeli government decided to once again employ the familiar Israeli pioneering spirit and camaraderie and to make an unconventional appeal to its citizens.

As soon as the leadership of the State of Israel became aware of the gargantuan arms deal occurring between Czechoslovakia and Egypt in 1955, they rushed in search of resources that would fund new weapons.

Picture it like this: A young country (barely 7 years old), bravely fighting to establish itself on the international stage, all the while absorbing enormous waves of immigrants that more than doubled its population, and developing the desolate swaths of desert it contains.

In addition, Israel was attempting to persuade other countries to warm up relations and adopt the fledgling state as a new strategic ally.

If that doesn’t make your head spin, consider how one would feel if they heard on the radio that a colossal arms deal had been signed between and a former partner that assisted you significantly in the War of Independence. And by the way, this neighbor would occasionally voice terrifying threats about your future.



‘A national rally in the face of the enemy plot’ in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a poster for donations to the Defense Fund

This is precisely the situation the brand new State of Israel found itself in in March 1955, when its leaders discovered the enormous arms deal Egypt had signed with Czechoslovakia. “The second round” the Arab countries had promised Israel after its victory in the War of Independence went from being a threat to a promise.

The above was the backdrop of the Israeli government’s decision to once again employ the famous Israeli pioneering spirit and camaraderie, and to make an unconventional appeal to its citizens: help us purchase new and superior equipment for the IDF.


Time is short, rush to donate to the Defense Fund! A poster from the Shamir Brothers Collection


This grassroots operation was given the name “Keren Magen” [Defense Fund]. Dozens of posters and notices were distributed throughout the county. The poet Haim Hefer wrote the appropriately titled song “Totachim Bimkom Garbaim“[Canons Instead of Socks] for the Nachal choir.


Rush to donate to the Defense Fund. A poster from the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection


Between autumn of 1955 and spring of 1956 the Israeli public donated en masse: the Netanya Municipality collected money from its citizens for a combat airplane which was going to be named “Netanya 1”, the Haifa Municipality funded a fleet of torpedo boats from its residents’ donations and Ramat Gan decided to purchase a cargo aircraft and 100 parachutes for Battalion 890.

No, you are not looking at a hostile civilian commandeering of IDF weaponry, but a military parade in King George Street in Jerusalem in support of “Defense Fund”. Photographs from the Eddie Hirschbein Collection in the National Library


It wasn’t just cities that donated to the acquisition efforts: the professional soldiers donated towards the purchase of two airplanes out of their wages, the National Kibbutz Movement and the Shomer Hazair movement jointly purchased two combat planes. The Union of Laborers made do with purchasing one airplane. Even commercial companies joined the effort: the Discount Bank and Bank HaPoalim each purchased a tank.


We are all united for the Defense Fund. A poster from the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection


Throughout the country, teachers, laborers, children, moshavim and kibbutzim, pupils and students joined the effort, and in reality the entire Jewish people donated money, equipment and sometimes even jewelry and other valuables. In the spirit of recruitment and of the times, the President’s wife, Rachel Yanait Ben Zvi called for bereaved parents of soldiers who had been killed in the War of Independence to donate their compensation payments to the “Defense Fund” in memory of their dear ones.


Arms for the IDF – Defense Fund. A poster from the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection


“Residents of Netanya! Donate to the “Netanya 1” Airplane. A poster from the National Library’s ephemera collection


What Did Martin Buber and His Friends Write to President Johnson about Martin Luther King Jr.?

From the Martin Buber Archive: A letter to the American president about MLK's 1965 release from jail

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham Jail, 1965

Word of the jailing and release of Martin Luther King Jr. from an Alabama jail in February 1965 reached Jerusalem quickly and drove some of Israel’s intellectual elite to write to President Lyndon B. Johnson about it.

The letter, discovered in the Martin Buber Archive at the National Library of Israel, is dated February 14th, 1965. It was written shortly before Buber’s death and is the only letter to an American president found among the philosopher’s personal papers.

Just a few months after receiving the Nobel Prize, King had been jailed on February 2, 1965 after leading some 300 protestors in Selma, Alabama. He would quickly be released and meet with President Johnson just a few days later to discuss voters’ rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply influenced by the Israeli Jewish philosopher Buber. In 1963’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, one of the defining statements of the United States civil rights movement, King referenced Buber directly, using his famous  “I and Thou” principle to argue against the evils of segregation and “relegating persons to the status of things.”

The professors’ letter to President Johnson, February 14th, 1965. From the Martin Buber Archive, National Library of Israel

Full transcript of the letter:

Jerusalem, 14.2.1965.

Dear Mr. President,

We are taking the liberty to express our deep satisfaction that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now again a free man and can continue his righteous fight for the equality of his people, a fight to which you Mr. President, have given your full assistance.

We are not equally sure that all of the other emprisoned [sic] 300 liberty fighters have meanwhile been released. If this suspicion should prove correct, we submit that urgent steps should be taken to return all of them as soon as possible to their families.

Believe us, Mr. President,

Respectfully yours

Professors at the Hebrew University

What Did Barbra Streisand Write to Assi Dayan?

The archive of Assaf (Assi) Dayan, famed actor, poet, and son of General Moshe Dayan, was recently given to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping.

Assi Dayan

Following the death of Assaf (Assi) Dayan, just over three years ago, the iconic actor’s archive has been entrusted to the NLI for safekeeping and preservation and will soon be made accessible to the public.  From family photos to Hollywood rejection letters, Assi Dayan’s archive documents the life of an important member of the legendary Dayan family.

Moshe Dayan with his sons, Assi and Udi. Circa mid-1950s.

In a career that spanned over forty years, Dayan acted in over 50 movies and television series episodes, many of them considered to be among Israel’s most important cultural achievements.  His career included a part in John Huston’s “A Walk with Love and Death” (1969), in which he acted alongside Anjelica Huston, establishing himself as an international icon of the 1960s and 1970s.  Dayan also directed 16 films.

While the public is most familiar with the actor’s professional triumphs, Dayan also chose to preserve some of his failures.  After he auditioned for the role of Avigdor in Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl”, and Mandy Patinkin went on to get the part, Assi kept Barbra’s rejection letter for over thirty years.

“Casting a film is always a difficult task”, Barbra Streisand’s letter to Assi Dayan

Dear Assaf


Casting a film is always a difficult task, and “Yentl” was certainly no exception. The difficulty was not in finding talented actors that were right for the role – that was easy – but rather in having to decide among the several fine actors we talked to.


It was a long process, and I especially want to thank you for your time and interest. It was most valuable to me, and I hope we have the opportunity to work together at some future time.


With best wishes,



Barbra Streisand

Assi Dayan’s personal archive has been entrusted to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping and preservation and will soon be made accessible to the public. Beyond the photos and scripts he kept, his own artistic and creative processes shine through in his notes and poetry, as does the decline in his health in the last decade of his life

The responsibility for deciding about where to house the archive fell to the actor’s son, Lior Dayan.  After considering requests from many of Israel’s leading cultural institutions, including various Cinemateques, Mr. Dayan ultimately decided to entrust this important collection to the National Library of Israel, as the preserver of Israeli and Jewish culture. Lior Dayan also felt his father would have loved to have his archives dwelling alongside those of his idol, Franz Kafka.

National Library of Israel CEO Oren Weinberg said, “The quality and quantity of the material and items in the Assi Dayan Archive will enable scholars, students, and the general public to study and know his work – from his early days in cinema to his last days on earth, and so be exposed to the vast assembly of his creative endeavors, as well as to the writings and drafts that he wrote over the years, which were never published.”

Once the Assi Dayan Archive is catalogued, parts of it will be made accessible to the general public through the Library’s website.

From the Political Wilderness to the Asian Jungle: Moshe Dayan in Vietnam

Not long before his appointment as Minister of Defense ahead of the Six-Day War, Moshe Dayan visited the Vietnamese war zone. Israel would end up applying much of what he learned there...

Moshe Dayan accompanies a military patrol in Vietnam, photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection

Lightheaded from the fatigue and the experiences of the long day he had had, Moshe Dayan described the obstacles preventing sleep in the base in the heart of the Vietnamese jungle: “At night I spread a double layer of mosquito repellent on myself. The sleep predicament is two-faceted: mosquitoes and artillery. The artillery guns inside the camp’s perimeter shake the ground and walls with their every shot (especially the 175mm. artillery). Apart from that, you need to pay attention to the distinction between ‘exiting’ shells – artillery guns shooting outward – and ‘incoming’ Vietnamese shells, which explode inside the camp” (August 22, 1966, “Vietnam Diary” by Moshe Dayan).


Moshe Dayan takes a nap on the ground, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


The Minister of Agriculture Seeks an Eastern Adventure

After five years as the Minister of Agriculture, the political career of the most renowned Chief of Staff in Israeli history was going through a bit of a slump. In 1965, he joined the Rafi party founded by his long-time patron, David Ben-Gurion. This short-lived experiment ended in failure; the party, which presented itself as a replacement for the ruling Labor Alignment movement, received only ten mandates in the general elections. Dayan went from being Minister of Agriculture to a junior member of the opposition. He was in desperate need of a new experience, one which would help him realize the zenith of his ambitions: the Ministry of Defense.

A year later, he received an offer he couldn’t refuse: an offer from the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv to fly to South Vietnam and join US forces in the field as a reporter. Dayan’s decision to travel to the war-torn country was criticized from every possible side: his fellow party members saw it as a misguided move, and MK Shmuel Mikonis of Maki (the Israeli Communist Party) challenged his forthcoming journey and claimed that the presence of such a well-known Israeli figure in the middle of a contentious war would damage Israeli neutrality. The Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, dismissed this claim, but he did express puzzlement at what appeared to be a hasty step; he questioned why Dayan did not consult with the government at all before leaving. A heated debate about his trip to Vietnam was held in the Knesset, but Dayan was not deterred by the reactions.

Before boarding the airplane, he explained to a journalist from the newspaper Davar that “This trip to Vietnam does not express solidarity or opposition with America’s actions there. I am travelling to Vietnam to see the political and military aspects of what is being done there, and I believe that there is much that can be learned from my visit.” The series of articles and the diary published over ten years after his trip proved just how right he was.



“M. Dayan Left for Vietnam through Paris, London and Washington…” An article published on July 4, 1966 in the “Davar” newspaper

Dayan travelled from Israel to Paris, to hear from another superpower that had intervened in Vietnam why it failed to retain control of the country. He met, among others, with Generals Luasion and Niko, who served in the region before the French defeat. They expressed opposing opinions on almost every topic. General Luasion chastised Dayan and cautioned that the rebel forces in the north are tired: “And that I am likely to arrive too late: by the time I reach Saigon there will already be a ceasefire between the Vietcong and the Americans.” Luasion attributed the Americans’ difficulty in finishing the war to public opinion, both worldwide and internally in America, which refuses to support the tough steps which must be taken. If it were not for this subversive public opinion “everything could have been concluded satisfactorily – or more precisely: militarily”. General Niko, on the other hand, saw the situation differently. He told Dayan that the air raids must be stopped, and that the efforts should be directed towards obtaining intelligence. The Americans are looking for “a radical action to end the battle ‘once and for all'”, but they will discover that only a prolonged battle will defeat the Vietcong (July 4, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

From Paris, Dayan flew to London to talk with the hero of the Second World War, Field-Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. Montgomery had clear views on the topic of Vietnam. He saw China as the rising power and Communism as a governmental system well suited to Asia. “The Americans are mistaken by wanting to impose their ‘lifestyle’ on others.” Dayan summarized the meeting in his dairy, “We left after two hours, and he parted from me saying: ‘When you return from Vietnam come and tell me what you think and tell the Americans they’re crazy.'” (July 10, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

Dayan flew from London to Washington. Here Dayan could ask the representatives of the U.S. military some piercing questions. He found it hard to believe the claim of the colonel who reported that the Vietcong’s winter attack was defeated by General Westmoreland’s troops. If the ratio of the U.S. army and the North Vietnam forces was really three to one (a claim he heard repeatedly), and the North Vietnam underground were not in possession of “tanks, artillery and above all, have no air force, in contrast to the Americans who have all the above – I find it hard to understand why the Americans did not want to achieve a definitive victory.” (July 14, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

This was the first but definitely not the last time during his two month trip that he was given a pre-prepared answer devoid of logic.


Americanization of the War

Dayan landed in Saigon, the capital city of South Vietnam on July 25th. After dozens of conversations and briefings in various capitals, a festive dinner and off-the-record meetings, Dayan tired of words and demanded to go out to the field. He spent the following day in what he referred to as “a paper zone”. He was issued three different journalist certificates: American, South Vietnamese and Israeli; equipped himself with appropriate army clothing and underwent a singularly unimpressive military briefing from a sergeant who did not hesitate to stress, whenever he was asked a question he did not know how to answer, “that he is only a public relations officer”. At the end of this long day, Dayan received what he desired: he set out to see the war itself.


Crossing a river with the troops, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection

From the very first (daytime) patrol Dayan participated in, he was unable to keep his professional opinion to himself: he told the soldiers and commanders he met that the heightened American patrols in the Delta rivers would not prevent the enemy forces from smuggling weapons and ammunition without stopping every boat, boarding it and conducting a thorough search, thereby paralyzing the trade in the region. The impression the locals were receiving was that the Vietcong was so strong that only reinforcements armed with state of the art weapons would have any chance of subduing it. He suggested a significant reduction of American forces as an alternative “and to position air and sea reinforcements in specific places which can be mobilized by two-way radio” (July 27, 1966 “Vietnam Diary”).

After the maritime tour which included sleeping on an aircraft carrier, Dayan was initially assigned to the 7th squadron of the second brigade of the First Marine Division and later to the “Green Berets”- the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.


The former Israeli Minister of Agriculture in the Vietnamese jungle, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection

Despite his advanced age (he was 51 at the time), his American escorts quickly understood that this one-eyed journalist had seen a battle or two in his lifetime, and could hold his own. He did not hesitate when it came to approaching the frequently-shifting front lines, laying in ambushes, crossing rivers or immersing himself in pools of mud or sweat. “He moves like a worm through hot soil”, one American commander described it. Still, the Vietnamese mud left a deep imprint upon Dayan: “I have seen mud before in my life, we sunk up to our knees in the early years of Nahalal, but I have never seen mud like this before. Mainly ‘thanks’ to the tanks which grind up the ground which is wet from the incessant monsoons” (August 13, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

American might and arrogance were all around him: the aircraft carriers fighting wooden boats, tanks attacking wooden huts and helicopters relentlessly pursuing two barely armed guerilla warriors. Dayan’s conversations with the soldiers and officers he met left him with a positive impression of their characters: “Liberal, experienced, pleasant and laidback. As individuals – they are ‘gold’. All up to one point: as long as U.S. power is not ‘disparaged’. On this topic, even in a conversation, they are completely inflexible” (July 29, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).



Flying to the battlefield, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


What he saw convinced him that the war in Vietnam was a war of appearances, in which the North Vietnamese were paying a heavy price for their attempt to defy the superpower: “My impression is that they are not currently fighting against illegal immigration to the South, nor guerilla war and not even a war against Ho Chi Minh [the commander of the North Vietnamese troops], but an American war against the entire world. To demonstrate their power and the steadfastness of their decisions to everyone (including England, France, the USSR), to make it known: when the Americans enter the fray – they are undefeatable (July 29, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).


Shaving in the jungle, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


Dayan did not just observe and document the military experience and the battles: he also insisted on trying to understand what the divided country would look like after the military battle ended – assuming it would be concluded to the satisfaction of the Americans. He interviewed soldiers who worked in regional development: assisting in agriculture, helping build infrastructure for schools and the health system. It was from these soldiers that he heard the prevalent prognosis of the American military: it would take decades until the locals would manage to establish a “regional administration which would take the reins into its hands” (August 3, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).


Dayan eating corn with a local family, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


Dayan did not spare the senior commanders from his criticism: he refused to accept General Westmoreland’s claim that the army’s goal was helping the Vietnamese people. At this stage of the war, America’s objective was the extermination of the Vietcong. “Nothing to do with helping the Vietnamese: simply, an American war against the Vietcong. It does not matter how they reached this point – out of a desire to help the Vietnamese, to uphold the Geneva Agreement, or for any other reason. They will not stop the war at this point, even if the good of the Vietnamese (who decides?) should require it”.

This was not a pessimistic slip of the tongue, Dayan supported the right of a mighty military superpower such as the United States of America to shoot “an artillery barrage at any enemy sniper”. Nonetheless, he deeply opposed what he referred to as “the Americanization of peace. The doctors, teachers, administration, the desire (which stems from good intentions) to teach the children here ‘baseball’, to be ‘scouts’ – is all pointless. Vietnam – like any country – can receive external aid, but not patronage; its progress needs to be organic and independent – through advice and assistance but not dictation and taming” (August 4, 1966, “Vietnam Dairy”).


Dayan’s conclusions were not only published in Israel: his articles were published in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’, the French ‘Le Figaro’, and the American ‘Washington Post’. The news about Dayan’s arrival in Vietnam was extensively reported in the various Arab countries that feared Israeli intervention in the war. An article published on October 16, 1966

Conclusions to Take Home

Toward the end of Dayan’s stay in Vietnam, he became convinced that the war – which would definitely last much longer – was a lost cause. He estimated that the US Army had the strength to destroy the Vietcong, but would never be able to uproot the support and affection most of the country’s residents had for the North’s battle for independence.

Dayan’s Vietnamese adventure gave new life to one of the most worn out clichés quoted ad nauseum by Israel’s founding fathers – how imperative it is that the State of Israel face its challenges itself. “By the way – in Israel, when we talk about “American involvement” we must know what ‘American military aid’ means: it is not placing the Seventh Fleet under the IDF’s command, but quite the opposite, transfer of Israeli sovereignty to the American troops. In order to maintain an ally’s independence – they first take it from them for safekeeping” (July 29, 1966 “Vietnam Diary”).



“Ho Chi Minh’s path cannot be blocked with bombs” Moshe Dayan’s penultimate article on behalf of Ma’ariv. The article was published on October 28, 1966