Gershon Agron

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Gershon Agron
Gershon Agron, Jerusalem (997008872718605171) (cropped).jpg
Agron in 1948 during the Battle for Jerusalem
Mayor of Jerusalem
In office
1955–1959
Preceded byYitzhak Kariv
Succeeded byMordechai Ish-Shalom
Director of the Israeli Information Services
In office
1949–1951
Director of the Zionist Executive's Press Office
In office
1924–1932
Personal details
Born
Гершон Агронский (Gershon Agronsky)

1893 or 1894
Mena, Russian Empire
Died (aged 65)
Jerusalem, Israel
NationalityAmerican
Israeli
Political partyMapai
Spouse(s)
Ethel Agronsky
(m. 1921⁠–⁠1959)
Children3
RelativesFamily tree
Agron family
EducationDropsie College
Gratz College
Temple University
University of Pennsylvania
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army (Jewish Legion)
Years of service1918–1920
RankSergeant
Battles/wars

Gershon Harry Agron (Hebrew: גרשון אגרון, Russian: Гершон Агрон, audio speaker iconlisten ;[a] 1893 or 1894 – 2 November 1959), also known as Gershon Agronsky, was a Russian-born American-Israeli[b] newspaper editor, politician, and the mayor of West Jerusalem between 1955 and his death in 1959. A Zionist from his youth, Agron joined the Zionist Commission as a press officer and helped form the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, of which he served as editor, before lobbying for the creation of Mandatory Palestine and immigrating there. In Palestine, he headed the Jewish Agency's press office and the Government Press Office before founding The Palestine Post, which was renamed as The Jerusalem Post after Israel's founding; he changed his own name around the same time. He continued to serve as press officer, promoting Zionism, in the new government, and became mayor of West Jerusalem in 1955. Spearheading development in this role, he died in office, supposedly from a curse. He was one of the most influential proponents of Zionism.

Early life and education[edit]

Gershon Harry Agron was born Gershon Harry Agronsky in Mena, Chernihiv, in the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine),[1] to Yehuda Agronsky and Sheindl Mirenberg,[2] in 1893[3] or 1894.[4]: 201  His maternal grandfather was a rabbi.[2] He received an education as a child based in traditional Eastern European Jewry and Judaism in general,[3] before he immigrated with his family to the United States in 1906, aged between eleven and thirteen.[1][4]: 201  He grew up in Philadelphia,[5] where he became friends with Israel Goldstein.[6]: 109 

He attended several universities, all in Philadelphia: Temple University,[1][7] Gratz College,[8] Dropsie College, and the University of Pennsylvania. His university education introduced him to the Western world,[3] but he never became fully Americanized. Prior to entering Temple University, in 1914, Agron wrote to Arthur Ruppin, at the time the World Zionist Organization's officer in Jaffa, expressing his desire to settle Palestine.[4]: 201 

Career[edit]

1918–1932: Jewish Legion and Press Office roles[edit]

Agron joined the Jewish Legion in April 1918, being promoted first to corporal and then to sergeant during training in Windsor and Plymouth. While in England, he was "hand-picked from the beginning" to be the spokesman of the American Jews, and his progress was of import to Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) officials. Meeting prominent Zionists in London and being surrounded by other young men sharing his Palestine-based cause uplifted Agron and invigorated his belief in Zionism, particularly American Zionism. During his visits to London, he became a public speaker on Zionism.[4]: 205 

Agron fought in Ottoman Palestine in World War I,[9] sending dispatches back from the front for the ZOA.[4]: 205  In 1919, Agron wrote a pamphlet, "Survey of the Jewish Battalions", for the Zionist Commission, in which he "lavishly recollected" an enthusiasm among American Jewry for the Legion once war was declared, highlighting the Zionist ideals of recruits. His report was idealised, focusing on success and cultural connections, while avoiding mentions of many interpersonal conflicts and other disappointments among recruits; months after it was published, Agron expressed distaste at his own words, including his kindness to write that the English soldiers' fortune to not be stationed in the Tell El Kebir desert with the Americans was accidental. The positive impression of the British he gave may have helped the cause with their approval of the Mandate in Palestine.[4]: 204–206 

When he was discharged from the Jewish Legion, he became a member of the Yishuv, living in Jerusalem.[3] From 1920 to 1921, he worked for the Press Office of the Zionist Commission as a public relations attaché there,[9][4]: 201  returning to the United States in 1921 to become news editor of the Jewish Correspondence Bureau (Jewish Telegraphic Agency; JTA), based in New York.[3][4]: 201  Until his return to Palestine in 1924, he stayed as the editor of the JTA and was the Yishuv correspondent for international newspapers and press agencies, particularly British and American ones, including The Times; the Manchester Guardian; the Daily Express; and United Press International.[9][3]

In 1924, Agron outlined his objectives to Chaim Weizmann:[5]

Of course, the sledge-hammer does not do here. It's got to be insidious. Any attempt to jam propaganda down the news agencies or papers' throats would only bring rejection slips. As it is, two or three non-Zionist items make even a downright Zionist item acceptable [...] My stuff, though it may not deal with Zionism or even anything Jewish breathes a spirit of constructive optimism, predisposing the reader to see that in Palestine there is a state of 'normalcy,' where Zionist reconstruction can be taken for granted.

— Gershon Agron, 18 August 1924 letter to Chaim Weizmann

In 1924, he became the Director of the Zionist Executive's Press Office, and returned to Jerusalem;[3] the role corresponded to and was also known as Commissioner of Press Relations in the Political Department of the Jewish Agency and head of the Government Press Office (GPO). As the director of the press for Zionism and Jewish Palestine, his main duties were to advocate on behalf of the Yishuv to the world, encouraging tourism and immigration through relationships with the global media. The GPO also published its own news media, a weekly bulletin called "News from the Land of Israel", available in multiple languages.[10] Despite his international media connections, Agron's attempts at having the Associated Press carry his pro-Zionism articles regularly failed throughout the 1920s; the United States, where he was initially based and later sent copy from Jerusalem, had a media landscape at this time based on isolationism, and was loathe to publish the affairs of the Yishuv.[4]: 202 

Despite this, and the fact journalism was a prominent career among Zionists, Agron was still the only established English-language newsman in Palestine, and was sought-after when local events caught international attention: when the 1927 Jericho earthquake occurred, Agron wrote for multiple wire services and filed copy with his wife's name after making an exclusivity deal with Hearst's Universal Service.[4]: 202 

1932–1948: The Palestine Post[edit]

In 1932, Agron founded The Palestine Post, an English-language newspaper that was renamed The Jerusalem Post in 1950.[11] Among the paper's earliest reporters was Agron's nephew, Martin Agronsky, later a famous American television journalist.[9]

On various occasions, Agron served as envoy of the World Zionist Organization. He was a member of the Jewish Agency delegation to the UN conference in San Francisco.[11] He was also a delegate of the ZOA and did publicity for Keren Hayesod.[4]: 201 

Agron admitted many of his Zionist biases, saying that under his editorship, The Post deliberately minimised the oppositions of Arabs to Israel and belittled Palestinian Arab views.[5] Louis Fischer, a fellow Jewish Legion soldier, and friend but also sparring partner of Agron, was more interested in Russian and Communist ideology.[4]: 203–204 [12] Scholar Matthew Silver wrote that Fischer was "uncharitable" in describing Agron's journalism work as pure Zionist propaganda; Fischer "regarded [it] as a poor career choice".[5] Silver instead described Agron's "indirect propaganda", borne from his start in publicity, as useful outreach, writing that in the cultural context of the time it dispelled antisemitism and the poor image other Jewish groups were giving the Yishuv to people around the world.[5]

1949–1959: Information Office and mayoralty[edit]

Following the 1947–1949 Palestine war, the Israeli Information Services were created, headed by Agron;[10] when he took the role as Information Chief in June 1949, Agron dropped the "-sky" suffix from his name[13] and took a leave of absence from being editor of The Post.[3] He left his Information Chief role in 1951,[11] after asking to be relieved of it towards the end of 1950, citing its lack of independence.[10] In 1955, he was elected mayor of West Jerusalem, officially resigning his editorship.[4]: 201  He remained in office until his death in 1959. During his term, he played a key role in the development of the western sectors of the city.[11] Historian Howard Morley Sachar lauded the achievements of cultural and construction projects planned and approved by Agron. He had some detractors, due to his modernisation of the city, with protesters creating caricatures of Agron in the uniform of a Nazi officer.[4]: 202 

Personal life[edit]

Family[edit]

Ethel Agronsky in 1948

Until his death, Agron was married to Ethel (née Lipshitz), the daughter of his half-sister Anna Agronsky;[14] they had married between 1921 and 1924, when Agron was living in the United States.[4]: 201  They had three children: son Dani Agron (c. 1921–1992), who married Hassia Levy-Agron; daughter Varda Tamir (1926–2008), who married Avraham Tamir; and daughter (Yehudit) Judith Mendelsohn (1924–2006), who married Harvey J. Mendelsohn and lived in Cleveland.[1][15]

Ethel also served in public life; she worked with the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America and was on the Hadassah Council in Palestine and Israel. In particular, she was the head of the Hadassah Youth Services Committee and, from 1948, the head of the Hadassah Council. This council typically saw socialite wives on its board, including Ethel Agronsky; she took her role seriously, campaigning for children and writing for Hadassah Magazine. Through her advocacy work, she was eventually put on the Israeli government's Social Service Advisory Committee.[16]

Daniel "Dani" Agron (also Danny, also Agronsky/i), was born in New York but raised in Palestine; he was part of the Haganah and a weapons smuggler for the Israel Defense Forces during the Israel-Palestine war, and co-founded Israel Aerospace Industries with Shimon Peres.[17][18][19] As a leading figure in the Haganah, Dani Agron controlled the secret flying school and its pilots, as well as other aerospace concerns, including around Rome as it served as a transition ground for volunteers to fight for Israel against Palestine. In charge of Machal volunteer pilots, he sent them around Europe and the world to learn to fly whatever planes the group could acquire, ironically including former German World War II planes. He lived in various hotels, finally settling on the Excelsior Hotel in Rome at the same time as figures like Orson Welles spent time there, as it would allow him to keep a dog; he turned his room into a communications headquarters. Later in the war, Dani Agron recruited American pilots Jack Weinronk (to lead the pilot school) and Danny Rosin (to be an instructor).[20] In the 1970s, Dani Agron worked as the business manager of The Jerusalem Post;[21] he was also a noted woodcarver.[17]

The family was one of the wealthiest in Jerusalem even when they first settled there, only becoming more comfortable as Agron became a more prominent journalist. However, he crafted "a bourgeois brand of idealism" to fit in with the ideals of Zionism and the society of the Yishuv, pretending that he owned and lived off little; Silver also suggested that Agron was very self-conscious and anxious about gaining success, and would want to hide this.[4]: 202 

Agron was fluent in English and Hebrew.[3]

Views on Zionism[edit]

A preeminent and influential Zionist,[3][6] Agron had personal views on the ideology. Silver opined that what made Agron more successful than other young Zionist journalists in the 1920s was his professional rejection of the Zionist principle of negation of the Diaspora. Though he personally wanted to be part of a Yishuv "that utterly rejected the diaspora", he believed the only way to create and safeguard this community was to engage with the diaspora as well as gentiles abroad, using public relations and propaganda.[4]: 202–203 [5]

Death[edit]

Agron was admitted to the Hadassah Medical Center in early September 1959, for routine liver surgery to treat cancer. Following the surgery, he contracted pneumonia and subsequently died of this infection on 2 November 1959[27][28][7] at the age of 65.[1] A year earlier, he had approved the opening of a public swimming pool which would be integrated for men and women to swim together; ultra-Orthodox rabbis of the Edah Haredit court put the Pulsa diNura curse on him for this, and his premature death has been credited to the curse.[27][29][30] The Canadian Jewish Review said he "died after a long illness."[1] At the time of his death, Agron was running for re-election as mayor of Jerusalem, with the vote set to happen on 3 November 1959.[28]

Legacy and impact[edit]

Beit Agron on Hillel Street

Agron Street [he; commons] in downtown Jerusalem[31] and Beit Agron [he], the former headquarters of the Israeli Press Association, are named after him.[6]: 109  The cornerstone of Beit Agron was laid on 10 October 1961 by Moshe Sharett. Cemented into it was a scroll signed by his widow Ethel, children Danny and Varda, his mayoral successor Mordechai Ish-Shalom, and members of the Agron Committee as well as other Israeli notables.[32] The Agron Committee was a group formed of his friends who had first convened a year after his death in Sharett's room in the Savoy Hilton Hotel in New York to plan a memorial project dedicated to Agron. Sharett was the group's chairman, with Goldstein and Meyer Weisgal co-chairs; Goldstein and Weisgal had previously worked on the construction of the Jewish Palestine Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair together.[6]: 90, 293 

In a tribute at the Beit Agron cornerstone ceremony, Goldstein said Agron was "the journalist par excellence", also praising his services as an ambassador for Israel and Zionism:[6]: 110 

Wherever he came, he not only reflected the light of Zion but radiated it to Jews and non-Jews. His warm, sparkling personality captured many hearts and his brilliant, untrammeled approach captured many minds. Gershon disarmed antagonists, converted neutrals into partisans, and partisans into enthusiasts.

In 1950, he was said to be "one of Yishuv's most influential and courageous spokesmen".[3]

The personal papers of Gershon Agron are kept at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem.[33]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Agronsky, Gershon (1927). Jewish Reclamation of Palestine. OCLC 56843116.
  • Agronsky, Gershon (1928). The View of a Palestinian: A Letter from one American in Palestine to another. OCLC 22032319.
  • Agronsky, Gershon (1928). Ten Years of Zionist Activity in Palestine. OCLC 173026923.
  • Agronsky, Gershon (1948). Palestine After the Mandate. OCLC 1117113179.
  • Agron, Gershon (1956). Portrait of Jerusalem: Contemporary Views of the Holy City. OCLC 19295487.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Audio file of typical Hebrew pronunciation.
  2. ^ Agron identified himself as Palestinian, referring to the geographic region. See also: Definitions of Palestinian.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Was Journalist, World Zionist, Mayor Of Jerusalem". Canadian Jewish Review. 20 November 1959. pp. 1, 13. Retrieved 7 January 2022 – via SFU Digitized Newspapers.
  2. ^ a b c "Gershon Agron". Jerusalem Municipality. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Who's Who in Israel: Gershon Agron". Israel Digest: A Bi-weekly Summary of News from Israel. 1. Israel Office of Information. 1950. p. 2.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Silver, Matthew (2003). "Fighting for Palestine and Crimea: Two Jewish Friends from Philadelphia during the First World War and the 1920s". In Medding, Peter Y. (ed.). Studies in Contemporary Jewry: Volume XVIII: Jews and Violence: Images, Ideologies, Realities. Cary: Oxford University Press. pp. 201–216. ISBN 978-0-19-534778-4. OCLC 960165908.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Silver, Matthew (28 December 2006). "A founding father". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 17 January 2015. Excerpted from Matthew Silver (2006). First Contact: Origins of the American-Israeli Connection. The Graduate Group.
  6. ^ a b c d e Goldstein, Israel (1984). My World as a Jew: the memoirs of Israel Goldstein. New York: Herzl Press. ISBN 0-8453-4765-9. OCLC 9083972.
  7. ^ a b "GERSHON AGRON DEAD IN ISRAEL; Jerusalem Mayor Founded Newspaper There in 1932 -- Noted World Zionist". The New York Times. 2 November 1959. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  8. ^ "Leadership & Notable Alumni - Gratz College". Gratz. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d Carnes, Mark Christopher (2002). American National Biography: Supplement. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-522202-9.
  10. ^ a b c Magen, Clila; Lapid, Ephraim (2015). Watson, Tom (ed.). "Facing Peace and War: Israel's Government Press Office, 1948─2014" (PDF). The Proceedings of the International History of Public Relations Conference 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d "Gershon Agron". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  12. ^ Frank, M.Z. (13 March 1970). "Joseph Brainin Belonged To Unusual Generation". Jewish Post. p. 9. Retrieved 15 January 2022 – via Hoosier State Chronicles: Indiana's Digital Historic Newspaper Program.
  13. ^ "Gershon Agronsky Assumes Duties as Israeli Information Chief; Changes Name To Agron." Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 10 June 1949. Referenced in Cummings, Jonathan (2016). Israel's Public Diplomacy: The Problems of Hasbara, 1966-1975. Lanham. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-4422-6598-1. OCLC 939911251.
  14. ^ Museum of the Jewish People (2021). "Ethel Lipshitz 5343". Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  15. ^ a b "Judith A. Mendelsohn Obituary (2006) The Plain Dealer". Legacy.com. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  16. ^ Reinharz, Shulamit; Raider, Mark A. (2005). American Jewish Women and the Zionist Enterprise. UPNE. pp. 243–254. ISBN 978-1-58465-439-1.
  17. ^ a b "Hassia Levy-Agron". Jewish Women's Archive. Archived from the original on 16 May 2021. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  18. ^ "Daring to dream". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 19 May 2021. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  19. ^ Goren, Uri (2010). On Both Side of the Crypto (PDF). Translated by Aryeh Malkin. p. 66. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 May 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  20. ^ Katzew, Henry (2003). Woolf, Joe (ed.). "SOUTH AFRICA'S 800: The Story of South African Volunteers in Israel's War of Birth" (PDF). Machal. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 September 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  21. ^ "'It is always better to explain than to fight'". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  22. ^ Museum of the Jewish People (2020). "Family tree of Shmuel Labe Agronsky 1325". Archived from the original on 3 June 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  23. ^ Museum of the Jewish People (2020). "Martin Agronsky family tree". Archived from the original on 24 September 2020. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  24. ^ Museum of the Jewish People (2020). "Dianna Agron 5343". Archived from the original on 16 October 2020. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  25. ^ "Varda Agronsky 5343". ANU - Museum of the Jewish People. Archived from the original on 31 December 2021. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  26. ^ "⁨אברשה טיטוריס⁩". Hadashot (in Hebrew). 16 November 1987. pp. 16–17. Retrieved 5 January 2022 – via National Library of Israel.
  27. ^ a b "Unleashing the Tongues of Fire". Baltimore Sun. 1995. Archived from the original on 22 June 2021.
  28. ^ a b "Gershon Agron, Mayor of Jerusalem, Dies; Israel Government Mourns". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2 November 1959. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  29. ^ "Rabbis to curse parade organizers". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  30. ^ Ben-Yehuda, Nachman (29 November 2010). Theocratic Democracy: The Social Construction of Religious and Secular Extremism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-020840-0.
  31. ^ Stuart Schoffman (1 October 2009). "Streets of the Westerners". JUF News. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  32. ^ Zvielli, Alexander (10 October 2011). "From Our Archives". Jerusalem Post. p. 14.
  33. ^ "אתר הארכיון הציוני המרכזי בירושלים - הארכיון הציוני". Central Zionist Archives. Retrieved 17 December 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Stephen Klaidman, 'The Jerusalem Post [and the story of Gershon Agronsky (Agron)]', Present Tense 6, 3 (1979), 36–42.