Chaim Weizmann

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Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) was a scientist and diplomat, a leader of the Zionist movement for an entire generation, and the first President of the State of Israel. Born in Motol, Belarus, he studied chemistry in Germany, received his doctorate from University of Fribourg in Switzerland in 1899 and took a position at Manchester University in 1904. He married Vera Chatzman in 1906. They had two sons: Benjamin (1907) and Michael (1916).

Considered a master negotiator, Weizmann convinced the British government to issue the Balfour Declaration just before the British conquered Palestine in November 1917. The document, in which “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” was a turning point in the history of the Jewish people and made Weizmann the figure most identified with the Zionist movement. Weizmann achieved significant breakthroughs in organic chemistry, discovering in 1916 in Manchester a process to synthesize acetone (used to manufacture munitions), and later established leading academic and research institutions in Israel (the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot, now the Weizmann Institute of Science). He viewed Zionism as fulfillment of political and spiritual independence for the Jewish people and considered science a noble activity, but also the economic basis for a modern economy.

Seeking friendly relations between Zionism and Arab nationalism, Weizmann met with Emir Faisal in 1918. During World War II, he recruited the Jewish home front in Palestine for the British war effort against Germany and fought for the establishment of the Jewish Brigade. He worked to establish democratic institutions in the Zionist movement and for the integration of the State of Israel into the international community.

When the State of Israel was established, Weizmann was appointed President of the Provisional State Council. In February 1949, after the first Knesset met, Weizmann was elected as the first President of the State of Israel. He served in this position, to which he was re-elected in 1951, until his death in November 1952 in Rehovot, Israel.

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