Kollek's Place in American History

Some have said Teddy Kollek, the former mayor of Jerusalem who died yesterday at 95, was favored by events. But many are given the chance to excel, and few have leaped for it as successfully as Teddy did.

Freedom Scholar Michael A. Ledeen
Freedom Scholar
Michael A. Ledeen
Shortly after moving into City Hall in 1965, Kollek was given an extraordinary opportunity following Israel's lightning destruction of the massed Arab armies. He seized his moment. He tore down the wall that divided Jews and Arabs, called upon philanthropists, architects, and artisans to recreate the glory of the place, and hammered out a modus vivendi between the many potentially hostile groups clamoring for special privilege and domination. It was enough to sap the strength of the most vigorous leader in short order, but Kollek carried on for nearly 30 years.

Few Americans know of the unique role Kollek played in this country's history, when he was the right arm of David Ben-Gurion. I know about it only because, many years ago, the Forward newspaper asked me to write a serialized novel about Kollek and the CIA's legendary chief of counterterrorism, James Jesus Angleton. There was a condition: The story had to begin and end with the memorial stone dedicated to Angleton on the Jerusalem hillside overlooking the Jaffa Gate, a short stroll from the King David Hotel.

So I combined the two most famous spies to come up with my pseudonym: Joshua Caleb. I went to Jerusalem to see the stone and talk to Angleton's surviving Israeli friends. While there, I discovered a history of which I had been totally ignorant. The novel was called "Teddy and Jesus," and it contained the following story.

In the late 1940s, there was a steady flow of Jewish immigrants into Israel from the Soviet Union and its satellites. Many of them had achieved positions of some importance, and had important information about Stalin's regime. All--every one--had been recruited by the KGB and asked to spy on Israel and America once they had assimilated. Some did. Others informed their new country. All were systematically debriefed by Israel's domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, providing the most complete window into the Soviet bloc available to anyone outside at the time.

Relations with America at the time were strained. Many top U.S. intelligence, diplomatic, and military leaders believed Israel was a communist cats' paw in the Middle East. It was a socialist country, after all, and the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognize Israeli independence.

Ben-Gurion was desperate for a close working relationship with America, and he and Kollek went to Washington in 1950. There, they met with the director of the recently created Central Intelligence Agency, General Walter Bedell Smith. Ben-Gurion offered the Americans access to the information gathered from the Russian immigrants--not just summaries, but the transcripts of the interviews. Smith put Angleton in charge.

At first, Angleton was suspicious of Kollek and the others, but over time he became impressed--and emotionally attached. The relationship was so close that it provided America with the greatest intelligence breakthrough in the history of the Cold War.

A Polish Jewish journalist had obtained the text of Khrushchev's secret speech to the Politburo in February 1956, the speech that outlined Stalin's many crimes. It arrived in Jerusalem, and a top Shin Bet officer hand-carried it to Angleton's home in Virginia. Angleton passed it on to Allen Dulles, who by then was head of the CIA, and the two of them brought it to President Eisenhower.

The most intriguing aspect of the Kollek-Angleton partnership was Angleton's slow transformation from an American strongly tinged with anti-Semitism (he had edited the Yale literary magazine and befriended the likes of T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound) to one of Israel's greatest supporters. I once posed this idea to the mayor of Jerusalem, and the answer was classic Teddy: "It will sound terribly arrogant, but it's the truth. He was dealing with superior people, and he knew it and loved it."

Michael A. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at AEI.

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