Ussishkin, Menachem Mendel

(1863–1941)
   Zionist leader. Ussishkin’s burly frame, brusque manner and tenacity of purpose made him a commanding figure among the early Russian Zionists. WEIZMANN wrote of him that ‘his bearing suggested a mixture of a Turkish pasha and a Russian governor-general. But nothing mattered to him but Zionism’.
   He was born in the White Russian town of Dubrovno, qualified in Moscow as a technical engineer, and settled near Odessa. From an early age he was active in the Chovevei Zion (‘Lovers of Zion’) movement. He became the Zionist leader of the South Russian ‘district’, and from Odessa ruled over a network of illegal Zionist cells. In 1897, he attended the first Zionist Congress in Basle and served as its Hebrew secretary. At the next congress he became a member of the Actions Committee of the movement.
   In the bitter dispute over HERZL’S Uganda Project, Ussishkin was active in moulding the Neinsagers (‘opponents’) into an organized faction. He set out his own views in a pamphlet called Our Programme, stressing group settlement on the land in Palestine, based on selflabour. The pamphlet had a strong influence on the direction of the movement in the years after Herzl’s death, and stimulated the pioneering movement of the Second Aliyah. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Ussishkin escaped from Russia through Constantinople, and made his way to London. He was a member of the Zionist delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and travelled extensively on fund-raising missions. In 1923, he was made chairman of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet), the Zionist instrument for acquiring and holding land in Palestine. For the next eighteen years, until his death, the JNF was his overriding concern, though he also served for some years as chairman of the Zionist General Council. Under his direction, the JNF acquired tracts of land for settlement in the Jezreel and Bet She’an Valleys, Emek Hefer in the coastal plain, and the Haifa Bay industrial area. It is fitting that Ussishkin’s memorial should be inscribed on the map of Israel. A group of border settlements in north-east Galilee, near the sources of the Jordan River, have been named Metzudot (‘The Fortresses of’) Ussishkin.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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