Ephraim Katzir

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Ephraim Katzir
אפרים קציר
Ephraim Katzir by Chaim Topol.JPG
4th President of Israel
In office
24 May 1973 – 29 May 1978
Prime MinisterGolda Meir
Yitzhak Rabin
Menachem Begin
Preceded byZalman Shazar
Succeeded byYitzhak Navon
Personal details
Born16 May [O.S. 3 May] 1916
Kiev, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Died30 May 2009(2009-05-30) (aged 93)
Rehovot, Israel
Political partyIsraeli Labor Party
SpouseNina Gottlieb

Ephraim Katzir (Hebrew: אפרים קציר, romanizedEfrayim Katsir; 16 May [O.S. 3 May] 1916[1] – 30 May 2009) was an Israeli biophysicist and Labor Party politician. He was the fourth President of Israel from 1973 until 1978.[2]


Efraim Katchalski (later Katzir) was the son of Yudel-Gersh (Yehuda) and Tzilya Katchalski,[1] in Kiev, in the Russian Empire (today in Ukraine). In 1925 (several publications cite 1922[3]), he immigrated to Mandatory Palestine with his family to escape Soviet terror by the newly-elected Joseph Stalin and settled in Jerusalem. In 1932, he graduated from Gymnasia Rehavia.[4] A fellow classmate, Shulamit Laskov, remembers him as the "shining star" of the grade level. He was “an especially tall young man, a little pudgy, whose goodness of heart was splashed across his smiling face.” He excelled in all areas, “even in drawing and in gymnastics, where he was no slouch. He was the first in the class in arithmetic, and later on in mathematics. No one came close to him.”[5]

Like his elder brother, Aharon, Katzir was interested in science. He studied botany, zoology, chemistry and bacteriology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1938 he received an MSc, and in 1941 he received a PhD degree.[4] In 1939, he graduated from the first Haganah officers course, and became commander of the student unit in the field forces ('Hish).

He and his brother worked on the development of new methods of warfare. In late 1947, after the outbreak of the 1948 Palestine war, and in anticipation of the War for Israel’s Independence, Katzir met the biochemist David Rittenberg, then working at Columbia University, stating:’ ‘I need germs and poisons for the [impending/ongoing Israeli] war of independence,’ Rittenberg referred the matter to Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann initially dismissed the request, branding Katzir a ‘savage’ and requested his dismissal from the Sieff Scientific Institute in Rehovot, but weeks later he relented, and his dismissal was rescinded. Shortly afterwards, in March 1948, his brother Aharon, who decades later was one of the victims of the Lod Airport Massacre, was appointed director of a research unit, HEMED, in Mandatory Palestine involving biological warfare. A decision to use such material against Palestinians was then taken in early April.[6] In May Ben-Gurion appointed Ephraim to replace his brother as director of HEMED, given his success abroad in procuring biological warfare materials and equipment to produce them.[7]

Katzir was married to Nina (née Gottlieb), born in Poland, who died in 1986. As an English teacher, Nina developed a unique method for teaching language. As the president's wife, she introduced the custom of inviting children books' authors and their young readers to the President's Residence. She established the Nurit Katzir Jerusalem Theater Center in 1978 in memory of their deceased daughter, Nurit, who died from accidental carbon monoxide exposure and another daughter, Irit, killed herself.[8] They had a son, Meir, and three grandchildren. Katzir died on 30 May 2009 at his home in Rehovot.[4][9]

Scientific career[edit]

After continuing his studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, Columbia University and Harvard University, he returned to Israel and became head of the Department of Biophysics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, an institution he helped to found. In 1966–1968, Katzir was Chief Scientist of the Israel Defense Forces.[4] His initial research centered on simple synthetic protein models, but he also developed a method for binding enzymes, which helped lay the groundwork for what is now called enzyme engineering.


President Katzir meeting with Bedouin sheikhs

In 1973, Golda Meir contacted Katzir at Harvard University, asking him to accept the presidency. He hebraicized his family name to Katzir, which means 'harvest'.

On 10 March 1973, Katzir was elected by the Knesset to serve as the fourth President of Israel. He received 66 votes to 41 cast in favour of his opponent Ephraim Urbach and he assumed office on 24 May 1973. During his appointment, UN approved resolution 3379 which condemned "Zionism as Racism". He had to involve in the dispute between Mexico (where the resolution was initially promoted during the World Conference on Women, 1975) and the US Jewish community because of a touristic boycott directed from the later to that country.[10]

In November 1977, he hosted President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in the first ever official visit of an Arab head of state. In 1978, he declined to stand for a second term due to his wife's illness,[9] and was succeeded by Yitzhak Navon. After stepping down as President, he returned to his scientific work.

Awards and recognition[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Запис про народження 3 травня (ст. ст.) 1916 року Ефраїма Качальського в метричній книзі київського рабинату // ЦДІАК України. Ф. 1164. Оп. 1. Спр. 158 (колишній номер — 514). Арк. 337зв.–338. (ru) (uk)
  2. ^ a b Arnon, Ruth; Sela, Michael; Shindler, Colin (2016). "Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir. 16 May 1916 – 30 May 2009". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 62: 267–275. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2016.0015.
  3. ^ KUnderground group's explosives maker who became president. Theage.com.au. Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d "Israel's fourth president, Ephraim Katzir, dies". The Times of India Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2009.
  5. ^ Memoir / A History of Her Own, Haaretz
  6. ^ Benny Morris, Benjamin Z. Kedar, ‘Cast thy bread’: Israeli biological warfare during the 1948 War Middle Eastern Studies 19 September 2022, pages =1-25 pp.2-3,p.19,n.15.
  7. ^ Benny Morris, Benjamin Z. Kedar, ‘Cast thy bread’: Israeli biological warfare during the 1948 War Middle Eastern Studies 19 September 2022, pages =1-25 p.9:'A major shift in modus operandi and personnel occurred after the return of Ephraim Katchalsky from New York, via Europe, to Palestine.82 On 13 May Ben-Gurion jotted down in his diary:‘Ephraim has come’, and then went on to list the scientist’s expenditure on chemicals and sniper-scopes (due to arrive by boat), four radar systems (still in the United States), and ‘biological materials’ that Katchalsky bought for $2,000 and most probably carried with him. Ben-Gurion decided that Ephraim should stay in the country and replace his brother Aharon as overall commander of HEMED.83 Evidently Ephraim’s efforts to obtain ‘germs and poisons’, or at least equipment to facilitate their weaponization, met with success, and we may assume that the ‘biological materials’ he acquired boosted the capabilities of HEMED B. (It is significant that the editors of the printed version of Ben Gurion’s war diary – Gershon Rivlin and Elhanan Oren – chose to delete the words ‘Biological materials $2000’ from the entry for that day.)8.'
  8. ^ Nurit Katzir Jerusalem Theater Center Archived 17 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Jerusalem.muni.il. Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  9. ^ a b Israel's fourth president Ephraim Katzir dies at 93 Haaretz, 31 May 2009
  10. ^ Katz Gugenheim, Ariela (2019). Boicot. El pleito de Echeverría con Israel (in Spanish). Mexico: Universidad Iberoamericana/Cal y Arena. ISBN 978-607-8564-17-0.
  11. ^ "Israel Prize recipients in 1959 (in Hebrew)". Israel Prize Official Site. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
  12. ^ "Ephraim Katzir". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 25 July 2022.
  13. ^ "Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 25 July 2022.
  14. ^ The International Who's Who 2004. p. 859.
  15. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 25 July 2022.
  16. ^ "Katzir Scholarship Program". Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2009.

External links[edit]