Behind the Scenes on the Path to Israel’s Statehood

In March of 1958 United Nations Correspondent David Horowitz received a visit from an old friend. It provided the occasion for the two to reminisce about an extraordinary event that took place in 1947 that propelled the Jewish people toward statehood, an event in which they both played an important and decisive role. 

His old friend was Ovidio Gondl, a Christian man of Spanish descent who became the only non-Jew to serve as the Latin-American expert on the Israel Delegation to the United Nations. As everyone now knows, it was the votes of the Latin-American Bloc that proved decisive in November 1947, when the question of Israel’s statehood was placed before the world forum. 

First, let me provide a little background. Following the end of World War II the Arab-Zionist conflict in Palestine was internationalized, and greater efforts were made to resolve it. After a few unsuccessful Anglo-American endeavors, in February 1947 the British handed over the Palestine problem to the United Nations. 

In May 1947 the UN General Assembly created a special committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to study and propose options for the future of British Mandatory Palestine. It was mandated to investigate all matters relevant to the Palestine problem and to submit a report, including proposals for a solution, to the General Assembly. It was decided that the committee should be composed of “neutral” countries, excluding the five permanent members of the Security Council. The committee’s final composition was: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia.

A newspaperman by profession, Ovidio Gondl served as a Lieutenant for the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War, later landing in a refugee camp in France. In 1939 he made his way to Mexico where he resumed his newspaper career, contributing to various magazines and daily newspapers. In a short time he became the Managing Editor of a leading publication.

In 1945, to the good fortune of the Jewish cause, Gondl moved to the United States where he met David Horowitz and Guatemalan Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Jorge Granados. It was Dr. Granados who introduced Gondl to Dr. Moshe Tov, Latin American expert for the Jewish Agency. Recognizing Gondl’s abilities as a diplomat, Tov immediately enlisted him into the services of the agency that was then fighting a bitter battle for Israeli statehood. One of Gondl’s first assignments was to write a series of educational articles on Jewish Palestine and the Middle East for publication in the Latin American states. They proved a great success in reawakening the Americas to the true picture of the Palestine issue. 

Following the completion of the UNSCOP committees work, they met in Geneva, Switzerland to draft their report. While writing the report, the committee was subject to Jewish, Arab, and British pressure. Zionist representatives vigorously lobbied the committee, but they were not alone. The influence of journalist David Horowitz and Jewish Agency delegate Ovidio Gondl had effectively opened back door channels to key Latin American delegates and key members of the UNSCOP committee. It was Gondl’s good friends, Ambassador Granados of Guatemala and Professor Enrique Fabregat of Uruguay who led the victorious battle in behalf of the Jewish cause. 

The UNSCOP Report, submitted on August 31, 1947, unanimously supported the termination of the British mandate in Palestine. The representatives of Iran, India, and Yugoslavia supported a federal solution (known as the minority plan) that envisaged Arab and Jewish regions within a federal union with Jerusalem as its capital. The representatives of the other states (except Australia) favored a partition into two separate independent states (the majority plan) with Jerusalem as a “corpus separatum” under an international regime. It was time to bring it to a vote.

On November 29, 1947 the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, based on the UNSCOP majority plan, by a 33-13 vote, with 10 abstentions. The Jewish Agency accepted the UN Resolution plan for the establishment of two states, and the Arab Higher Committee rejected it. But there was a twist as to how it happened.

Passage of the resolution required a two-thirds majority of the valid votes, not counting abstaining and absent members, of the UN’s then 56 member states. On November 26, after filibustering by the Zionist delegation, the vote was postponed by three days. According to multiple sources, had the vote been held on the original set date, it would have received a majority, but less than the two-thirds required.

 The delay was used by supporters including journalist David Horowitz, Israel delegate Ovidio Gondl, and their friend Ambassador Granados of Guatemala to exert extra pressure on states not supporting the resolution. Given the extra time, Dr. Granados organized a lobby of South American countries to support the partition plan and in the end it was the difference.

The day after Resolution 181 was passed, Arabs attacked Jewish property in Palestine while riots broke out against Jewish communities in Damascus, Aleppo, Cairo, Beirut, and Aden, where in some cases synagogues were destroyed. The leaders of Al-Azhar University in Cairo declared a Holy War. The first phase of Israel’s independence war had begun.

I’m sure there were many nostalgic moments to recall when old friends Horowitz and Gondl met on that day in March 1958. 

First, there was Dr. Jorge Granados, the Guatemalan Ambassador to the UN. Dr. Granados cast the very first vote for the creation of the state of Israel and Guatemala became the first Latin American country to recognize Israel after the proclamation of the state in 1948. In 1956, Guatemala became the first country to open an embassy in Jerusalem, with Granados appointed as the first ambassador. The Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Ramat-Gan named streets to honor Dr. Granados. Later, he wrote about his experience serving on the UNSCOP in his book, “The Birth of Israel: The Drama as I Saw It.”

Then there was Ovidio Gondl. Though diplomacy and governmental work constituted his main activity, he still found time for his first love, writing. He began writing a weekly column for a Latin American syndicate on general UN affairs. Over sixty Latin American newspapers carried his columns. He was, as one Cuban correspondent called him, “the living encyclopedia on Latin America.” 

Finally, there was journalist David Horowitz. His behind the scenes efforts would again play an important role in influencing a sitting U.S. President and a vote for Israel’s statehood in 1948. Now in 1958, he had just been elected to the Executive Committee of the Foreign Press Association, later becoming its President. 

Now it was time for the two old friends to prepare for a most significant milestone celebration; the 10th anniversary of Israeli statehood just two months away. It might be safe to guess that their March 1958 reunion rendezvous went well into overtime.

Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. An author, historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

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