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BEN-ZVI, YITZHAK (1885-1963).

Second president of Israel, born in the Ukraine. At age 18 he went to Palestine. Upon his return to Russia in 1905, the year of widespread pogroms in many parts of Russia, he joined Ber Borochov in establishing the Socialist Zionist party, Poale Zion. The Tsarist government, troubled by revolutions, found the Jews a convenient scapegoat and in many cases actually encouraged attacks upon them. Ben-Zvi, along with his father and brother, helped organize Jewish self-defense units. The Russian police exiled the entire Ben-Zvi family to Siberia, but Yitzhak succeeded in eluding his captors and escaped from Russia. For about two years he engaged in intensive Zionist work in Germany and Switzerland. In 1907, he finally reached his destination Palestine. On his arrival, Ben-Zvi immediately became a spokesman for and leader of the Jewish workers in Palestine. He was among the founders of Hashomer, the earliest Jewish defense force in modern Palestine. During World War I he accompanied David Ben-Gurion to America, where he organized first the Hehalutz, or pioneer movement, and later the Jewish Legion, which fought with the British for the liberation of Palestine from Turkish rule. After the war, he returned to Palestine, where he participated in the establishment of the Histadrut, the Palestine Workers Union, and Knesset Yisrael, the organized Jewish community of Palestine. For fourteen years, from 1931 to 1945, Ben-Zvi was head of the Vaad Leumi, or National Council, the executive arm and official representative body of Palestine Jewry. With the establishment of Israel, Ben Zvi became a member of the Knesset, the state’s parliament. In 1953, he succeeded Chaim Weizmann as the second President of the State of Israel.

In addition to his political and communal activities, Ben-Zvi devoted a great deal of time to scholarly studies and writing. His books on the history of the Jews in the Holy Land and on the different ethnic groups that made up Palestine Jewry are regarded as authoritative and exhaustive studies. His wife, Rahel Yanait Ben Zvi (1884-1979), was a well-known Labor Zionist leader, pioneer, and educator in her own right.

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