When Baron de Rothschild wanted to buy the Western Wall

Known for their philanthropy and playing a major part in establishing the State of Israel, the Rothschild family also held eccentric events and caused some scandals - as seen through the timeline of Israeli newspapers at the time

Gad Lior|
Without Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and the continued contributions of the Rothschild dynasty, it’s clear that much of today’s State of Israel wouldn’t exist.
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  • This is no mere hypothesis. It’s a fact. The Baron supported building the national home more than any other Jew by purchasing land from Turkish authorities and Arab landlords, quickly doubling the land in Jewish hands.
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    רפרודוקציה של הברון אדמון דה רוטשילד
    רפרודוקציה של הברון אדמון דה רוטשילד
    Photo reproduction of Edmond James de Rothschild
    (Photo: Zionist Archives)
    He founded ICA (Jewish Colonization Association) which later became PICA (The Palestine Jewish Colonization Association), which purchased more land than the Zionist institutions, the JNF (Jewish National Fund), Hachsharat HaYishuv (Israel Land Development Company) and further institutions initiated by Jewish leaders in the Land of Israel. In 1929, Baron de Rothschild was elected honorary president of the Jewish Agency.
    Edmond also took over the patronage of the first colonies and oversaw their economic growth. He developed public infrastructure and community services and he founded educational institutions, health systems and various innovative financial systems in various new communities.
    Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the country’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, said: "Without the donation of the Known Benefactor, we couldn’t say which of the settlements would have survived and developed,"
    As a culture and archaeology lover, Edmond de Rothschild funded numerous archaeological excavations at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1913, at vast expense, he purchased the southern slope of the City of David and managed to bring French Jewish archaeologist, Raymond Weill to start site excavations, which are still ongoing over a century later. The important historical discoveries made at the site by late archaeologist, Yigal Shiloh, would not have been possible without Rothschild’s purchase.
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     דוד בן גוריון עם אדמונד דה רוטשילד (יושב מולו ממושקף)
     דוד בן גוריון עם אדמונד דה רוטשילד (יושב מולו ממושקף)
    David Ben Gurion meeting Edmond de Rothschild
    (Photo: David Rubinger Archives)
    On 6th April, 1954, Yedioth Ahronoth published a special commemoratory supplement in honor of the baron’s remains arriving and being interred in a special plot adjacent to Zichron Yaakov, founded specially for the family.
    The newspaper’s scoop-headline read: “Baron de Rothschild wanted to buy the Western Wall, but the Jews wouldn’t let him.” James de Rothschild recited the mourner’s kaddish at his father’s grave “continuing his father’s work.”
    The newspaper’s 6th April, 1954 edition describes brining Edmond de Rothschild’s remains to a final resting place: “In the presence of government ministers, members of Knesset (Parliament), public leaders and thousands of people from the Yishuv.”
    The newspaper describes the site: “The mausoleum complex stretches over 1500 dunam of inerrable forest, but is spectacular for the eyes looking over the verdant hills. To the west lies the sea and vineyards and sown fields. In the landscape to the north, Zichron Yaakov can be seen, Binyamina to the south, Givat Ada and Shfeya to the east.”
    Baron de Rothschild memorialized family members with names of colonies he founded and supported: Zichron Yaakov was named after his father, Yaakov, James de Rothschild. Mazkeret Batya was named after his mother, Betty de Rothschild. The educational institution, Meir Shfeya is named in honor of the dynasty’s founder, Meir Amschel Rothschild.
    Bat Shlomo is named after his mother and her father, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild. Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov, founded on land purchased by the Baron was named for his son, James (Yaakov). The moshav, Shadmot Dvora in the Lower Galilee was named after Edmond’s daughter-in-law, Dorothy (Dvora) de Rothschild. Pardes Hanna is named after Hanna de Rothschild, another daughter-in-law.
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    Pardes Hanna
    Pardes Hanna
    Pardes Hanna
    (Photo: Ido Erez)
    The “Known Benefactor” himself, has a series of places named in his honor: Binyamina, Givat Binyamin, Kiriyat Atta neighborhood of Kiryat Binyamin, the Gan Binyamin Park in Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood, Beit Rothschild Cultural Center on the Carmel (later named the “Hecht Center”).
    Foundations and institutions established by the family also bore names of its members: “Yad Hanadiv” (the Rothschild Foundation), the “The Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation”, the “Rothschild Prize”, the “The Rothschild Prize in Education”, the “The Batsheva de Rothschild Fund”. The list goes on…
    In recent years, Edmond de Rothschild’s descendants have also been investing in Israel including in: The Israel Corporation (Israel Corp), The Trans-Israel Pipeline (known by Hebrew the acronym “Katsa”), the Caesarea Development Corporation and dozens of further companies and initiatives.
    Late president and prime minister, Shimon Peres, has been quoted saying: “No family has contributed so much of its own private assets to the create the history of the State of Israel as much as the Rothschild family.”
    On November 2, Israel’s presidents and prime ministers always mention that Baron de Rothschild died on the same date as the issue of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government first recognized the Jewish People’s right to a national homeland in the Land of Israel.
    Things didn’t always run smoothly for the Rothschild family. Their popularity among Jews and their support for establishing the State of Israel attracted much antisemitism. Élisabeth, de Rothschild was murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In the 1930s and through to the end of World War II in 1945, numerous family members were forced to flee Europe.
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    אדמונד דה רוטשילד בזיכרון יעקב
    אדמונד דה רוטשילד בזיכרון יעקב
    Edmond de Rothschild in Israel
    (Photo: David Rubinger Archives)
    Over the years, Edmond de Rothschild’s successors of all generations have accompanied the State of Israel. Their deeds, both in Israel and overseas have been extensively reported in Yedioth Ahronoth, now Ynet's sister outlet.
    The billionaire who escorted the State of Israel for many years was the grandson of Edmond de Rothschild, named after Edmond (the Rothschild family often names family members after their grandparents and the dynasty’s founders). The love of the State of Israel guided Edmond the grandson throughout his life.
    Family members continue donating and contributing to the State of Israel’s development. Since the country’s inception, newspapers have been reporting on Rothschild family members, titled barons and baronesses.
    On July 1, 1963 the newspaper reported: “Actress, Nadine Tallier, married 37-year-old Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the richest man in Europe. Last week, he cut short his visit to Israel to wed in a modest family ceremony at Parisian Palace.”
    Before marrying him, Tallier, a daughter of a police officer, converted to Judaism. “The Rothschild family does not conduct mixed marriages.” The article continued, “The baron recently secretly divorced his first wife, a refugee from Bulgaria named Veselinka Vladova, who had also converted.”
    An announcement was published on August 3, 1966 declaring the establishment of a new Knesset building in the Government Complex (Kiryat Hamemshala) in Jerusalem.
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    רחבת הכנסת בירושלים
    רחבת הכנסת בירושלים
    The Knesset
    (Photo: AFP)
    The headline declared: “It’ll cost 22 million - but not to us.” The report explained: “Experts estimate that the new Knesset building will cost 22 million lira."
    It added: "The Rothschild family have donated no less that 18 million. We’ll be covering the rest, but not in cash, but rather by not collecting the taxes that the Rothschild family is obligated to pay our authorities for the building materials for building the Knesset complex.” Even back then, the Treasury apparently knew all about “Israbluff” tricks.
    On August 24, 1966, the newspaper reports that over 5000 guests from all over the world attended the opening of the new Knesset, including Rothschild family members.
    On October 4, 1967 the newspaper ran a story about actor Haim Topol, now 87, who was to star in a musical about the Rothschild family called “The Amazing Rothschilds.” The report told the reader: "Topol continues reaping success in London with his performance in the musical Fiddler on the Roof."
    March 5, 1968, the newspaper published an international millionaires list for 1968. Edmond de Rothschild ranks top of multi-millionaires’ resident in France. Shipping magnet, Aristotle Onassis (who married Jacqueline Kennedy that year) came in fourth, while aircraft and entrepreneur Marcel Dassault earned fifth place.
    The same article also mentions that 72-year-old Baron James de Rothschild does not live with his new wife, 28-year-old theater usherette, Yvette Choquet. The “pensioner baron and his wife meet once a day, in the afternoon. He drives to pick up Yvette in his Lancia, they have lunch in a restaurant and they part until the following afternoon.” Gossip about the Rothschild family has never been lacking.
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    הסמל של משפחת רושטילד
    הסמל של משפחת רושטילד
    The Rothschild family's coat of arms
    (Photo: Wikipedia)
    The Rothschild family have always been involved in philanthropy. On April 3, 1958, at an economic conference at the Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, Edmond de Rothschild remarked: “I’m certain that this conference will produce far-reaching results. Why? Because this is the first conference where I don’t know over 80% of the participants. I mean, this isn’t a conference of Zionist donors, but rather of genuine business people meaning to seriously examine business opportunities.”
    On November 19, 1968, the newspaper wrote: “To encourage the Jews of Vienna to donate more, the Israel Bonds people managed to get Baron Edmond de Rothschild himself to come to the city specially to shake hands with the city’s top brass. Israel Bonds management ensured the right setting and organized a festive reception at a palace once owned by the Prince of Auersperg which was used during WWII as a meeting place for British anti-Nazi underground in Vienna."
    Bank Klali was a Rothschild family business in Israel. On March 2, 1971, it was announced that the Rothschilds had done good business: “In 1970, Bank Klali’s volume increased by 80% to the amount of 137.2 million lira. Bank Klali has been owned by Baron Edmond de Rothschild for the last five years and this year the bank increased its business volume sevenfold.”
    The newspaper reported on 26th June, 1972 that “Marisa Berenson is a happy girl and smiling with good reason – she managed to trap into her net one of the world’s richest men – Baron David de Rothschild, and she’s just got engaged.” The headline above the picture read: “The Rothschild family’s newest flower.”
    Earlier, on April 3, a small scandal is reported: “Nude photographs create storm in the Rothschild household.” The article continued: “European society has been eagerly awaiting happy news from the Rothschild family: The wedding of the son of Baron J. de Rothschild, David and Marisa. Now the nuptials have apparently been postponed due to a scandal involving nude pictures that are causing havoc for the Rothschild family."
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    רוטשילד
    רוטשילד
    Marisa Berenson
    (Photo: Yedioth Ahronoth Archive)
    It added: "It has come to light that early in her career, while working as a model, Miss Berenson was photographed nude on more than one occasion. As the young lady made headlines as the bride of David de Rothschild, semi-pornographic magazines across Europe started printing these photographs which have shocked the esteemed family. They are currently consulting with a legal team as to how to stop the publication of the photographs.”
    Sometimes, a Rothschild family member would actually ask to reduce donations to Israel. On November 2, 1972 the newspaper published an article citing French Jews claiming that their donations to the State of Israel were too large.
    “Baron D. de Rothschild claims that donations to Israel are causing old age homes and other institutions in France to close. Next week, I’ll be meeting with the Aryeh Pincus, chairman of the Jewish Agency and I’ll ask him to agree to reduce Israel's share of the funds of the United Jewish Appeal in France," the article read.
    The following day, a caption beside a picture of the signer read: “The famous singer, Frank Sinatra was awarded Israel’s Medallion of Valor for his ‘unprecedented efforts for humanity’.” Edmund de Rothschild presented the medal to Sinatra in Los Angeles with United States Vice President Spiro Agnew in attendance.
    On May 9, the newspaper reported: "The Open University will operate on a trial basis and will be funded by the Rothschild family's 'Hanadiv Foundation'." Yes, it’s Israel’s largest university and is still operational.
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    האוניברסיטה הפתוחה
    האוניברסיטה הפתוחה
    The Open University
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    On July 5, 1973, the newspaper happily reported: “Baron Edmond de Rothschild will increase his investments in Israel. The announcement made by the baron’s representative in Israel, Admiral (Res.) Mordechai Limon.
    Limon explained that the baron’s investments had been primarily focused on the “Israel Corporation”. Limon did not detail the baron’s investments in this company for which a special law was legislated promising him various benefits.
    It was announced that the baron invested $7 million out of share assets of $50 million. The baron controls Bank Klali in Israel, Banca Privata in Geneva and Lugano and La Compagnie Financiere in Paris. The baron recently sold the ownership of 50% the Plantex pharmaceutical factory in Netanya to ‘Koor’.”
    On April 27, 1975, Yedioth Ahronoth announced a tragedy that affected the Rothschild family: 28-year-old Israeli singer, Mike Brant jumped to his death off the sixth floor of a building in Paris.
    Paris correspondent, Edouin Eitan, reported being told by a source: “Two weeks ago, I had dinner with Mike at the home of a mutual friend. The diners included one of the world’s richest men, Baron Edmond de Rothschild. He said to Mike 'I envy you. You seem to have it all: talent, youth, good looks, success with women, impressive professional achievements and all your life is before you.'" This “success” story ended in tragedy that sent shockwaves through the music world.
    The Known Benefactor also seemed to know how to thank his staff. On December 2, 1975, it was announced that Edmond de Rothschild gifted his bank’s first employees gold coins embossed with the bank’s famed coat of arms.
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     דוד הורוביץ נגיד בנק ישראל אדמונד דה רוטשילד ברון לוי אשכול שר האוצר
     דוד הורוביץ נגיד בנק ישראל אדמונד דה רוטשילד ברון לוי אשכול שר האוצר
    Edmond de Rothschild in Israel
    (Photo: David Rubinger Archives)
    A heartfelt report was published on November 25: “For the first time in a century, the Rothschild family, old and young, were photographed together - 80 in number, they came from all over the globe for an historic event: the wedding of a Rothschild and an Israeli: Baron Nathaniel and Nili Limon.”
    The ketuba boasted the Rothschild coat of arms on the right and the symbols of the State of Israel on the right. Nili is the daughter of Amiral Mordechai “Muka” Limon, former Commander of the Israeli Navy who initiated smuggling "Cherbourg ships" from France during the embargo imposed on Israel.
    On September 18, 1973, the newspaper reported that thousands of Shefaya Youth Village alumni would be coming together to celebrate the village’s golden jubilee. The village was founded by Baron Benjamin Edmond de Rothschild in 1923 adjacent to a colony also named Shefaya near Zichron Yaakov, which no longer exists.”
    Yedioth Ahronoth reported on February 24, 1976 that a “reconciliation meeting” was held between Baron de Rothschild and the minister of finance and his aides. The report notes that an agreement was reached regarding quick development on Caesarea land and the construction of residential and business buildings. The 30 dunam of Caesarea lands are owned by the baron.
    The land had been owned by PICA before the establishment of the State of Israel. The ‘Caesarea Foundation’ was created to develop the region. The foundation’s management includes representatives of the baron and the State of Israel. The ‘Dan Caesarea’ hotel, restaurants and dozens of villas have been built.”
    The report continues to explain that “following losses caused to the baron, development of the territory was effectively frozen. The baron became more embittered as the government decided to freeze 1000 dunam to build a power station for the Israel Electric Corporation.
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    הגן הלאומי קיסריה
    הגן הלאומי קיסריה
    Caesarea
    (Photo: Israel Bardugo)
    It added: "only following prolonged arbitration conducted by the late finance minister, Pinchas Sapir, was a compromise reached and the baron was promised compensation for the territory which had been frozen. Following the reconciliation, the baron has promised to increase his investment in Israel through the Israel Corporation, which he chairs.”
    On February 19, 1980, an agreement was announced to build 800 villas in Caesarea "Azorim" and investors from abroad have signed a 'percentage deal' with Baron Rothschild.
    On December 30, 1976 declared: “The first Rothschild Sabra will be adorned with 180-year-old clothing.” The report detailed the “tiny cream-colored dress made of pure lace and hand embroidery, a hand-crafted infant’s coat and a tiny kippa. This outfit has become a tradition in the French wing of the Rothschild family – a 180-year-old tradition.
    The report added: "In this outfit, the Rothchild Sabra will make his first appearance. Raphael Benjamin Jacob de Rothschild, the son of Netanel and Nili de Rothschild, who will enter into the covenant of the Patriarch Abraham in a small family gathering. The ceremony will be attended by ten of Nili's close family members, as well the groom's parents, Baron Élie de Rothschild and his wife Liliane. The birth of the first sabra descendant of the ‘Known Benefactor,' who invested millions in the establishment and development of the agricultural colonies in the Land of Israel, brings us full circle."
    Happy occasions and the tradition of developing the country continue: on March 16, 1978, under the headline “The young Rothschild wants no presents”, an article tells us of a further descendant of the “Known Benefactor” named Benjamin has reached his Bar Mitzvah.
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    רוטשילד
    רוטשילד
    Netanel and Nili de Rothschild
    (Photo: Photo: Yedioth Ahronoth Archive)
    To mark the occasion, a celebration will be held in Israel to which the Rothschilds have invited guests from Israel and overseas. The baron and baroness noted on the invitation that the Bar Mitzvah boy “asks to present no gifts. If you so wish, you can join planting trees in my name in the Forest of the Jewish Child.”
    On January 16, 1977, Amalia Argaman reported that “the Rothschild family kiddush goblet was sold for 6,500 lira at an auction for the Association for the Soldiers of Israel. The cup is gold plated silver, decorated with engravings and has been used by five generations of the Rothschild family for kiddush wine.” The article adds that the cup was bought by a Tel Aviv industrialist who manufactures coats.
    On May 10 of the same year, another article notes that “millionaires are flocking to an auction of the Rothschild Collection.” Arriving from all over the globe to purchase the precious gems that have been in Britain for a hundred years. The auction will mainly be attended by art lovers interested in the Baron Meir de Rothchild’s collection.”
    On April 13, 1979, Orly Azulay published a heartwarming report about an upcoming reunion: “Forty years after their first meeting, the ‘citizens of the children’s state’ at the Chateau de la Guette will meet again. Some 120 children from Austria and Germany who were saved from the Nazi on the eve of WWII by Baron Rothschild had many experiences together until they each went their own way. They’re now planning their reminiscences and get to know each other again after all these years."
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