Just seven years after the state of Israel was created, Albert Einstein gave his final interview. What shined through were his hopes that a pacifist, humanist approach would bring about Israeli peace with the Arab world. Some day. That was in 1955.
Edwin Roth, an Austrian journalist and fellow Jew, conducted the interview, which made the rounds of some European papers and was subsequently filed away in the morgue. But now, a Jerusalem collector named Tomer Kaufman has purchased the five-page draft copy of that interview from Roth’s descendants, complete with edits from Einstein during the course of the interview.
This was a hopeful-yet-tentative time for both Einstein and Israel. Three years prior, Einstein had turned down an offer to run to be Israel’s president, saying in a statement:
“… All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. For these reasons alone I should be unsuited to fulfill the duties of that high office, even if advancing age was not making increasing inroads on my strength. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”
In the interview, Einstein hadn’t wavered from the stance that he took in a letter to the editor of the New York Times in late 1948, some three years after the atomic energy he’d help to describe was used for military means in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In it, Einstein warned of ultra-orthodox elements within the Jewish state, known as the Freedom Party, that were starting to take on a fascist or Nazi look. “Within the Jewish community they have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority,” the letter states. “Like other Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions. In their stead they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model.”
Of course, he was quick to direct the blame at all orthodox factions of organized religions, according to Dissident Voice.
Einstein was and remains one of civilization’s go-to fountains of wisdom in times of strife. And that’s why Kaufmann is quick to point to all the ways in which Einstein held hope for the future.
He’s posted the transcripts and spoken broadly about what he describes as a roadmap toward something like Israeli-Palestinian peace. Maybe there is that kid they’re claiming is Albert Einstein Smart; nobody’s going to that kid for advice on how to find lasting stability and peace. Yet.
In the photos published recently by Haaretz, Einstein’s humility shines through, such as in his editing out of a sentence in Roth’s final transcript that read, “Albert Einstein is one of the most delightful human beings it has yet been my good fortune to meet.”
In other pages, Roth prompts Einstein to expound on the future of the Israeli state, and Einstein manages to express “great hopes for the future of the Jewish state”:
“I’m certain it will succeed. A responsible approach by the government and common interests will ultimately lead to real and sustainable peace with the Arabs. also hope, with a bit of confidence, that the current treatment will influence the narrow-minded and the Orthodox, and that it will be possible to overcome them by means of intelligent cooperation in the not-so-distant future.”
But how? “I prefer educational work to political and coalition tactics,” Einstein wrote.
A half-century later, it’s still unclear which tactic has worked the best.