Following up on a comment by one of our most veteran staffers, whereby the committee only became active and important after Levi Eshkol became Prime Minister in the mid-1960s, I called up file א-7903/5 which contains all the stenograms of the committee between late 1956 and the summer of 1958, all in one rather slim folder: a convincing demonstration on its own that not much was happening in the committee. It was chaired by Moshe Haim Shapira, the Minister of Religious Affairs and a member of the National Religious Party, another indication that it couldn't have been very important. It convened about once a month, apparently irrespective of events, and most of its time was spent on authorizing diplomatic posts: the General Consul to Yugoslavia, or the one in Montreal.
Riveting stuff. So riveting that at the meeting of July 7, 1957 the ministers interrupted themselves to kvetch - there's no better word - that theirs was a demeaning job. Not only did no-one ever tell them anything, but their lower-ranking colleagues who were mere Members of Knesset were better informed than they were.
Whether it was the compaints, or pure coincidence, the following meeting on the 11th of August 1957, was by far the most interesting in the entire file.
The first topic was presented by Golda Meir, the Foreign Minister, who prefaced her report with the swoon-inducing compliment that what she was about to report she would not repeat in the full cabinet "because I'm afraid of telling it there. I trust that none of it will leak from here." She then launched into a description of negotiations with Hungary. Apparently the Hungarians had let it be known that they were interested in a payment of $2,500,000 or $3,500,000 to facilitate the immigration of Jews to Israel, and Israel had refused to comply. Recently, however, while Jews with passports were still being allowed out of Hungary, no new passports were being issued. One of Israel's diplomats had tried to investigate, and had been told that Hungary was interested in negotiating a new trade agreement. This, Golda mused, might indeed be the way to tansfer the funds without the unfortunate appearances. "The Hungarians, in any case, said they'd not be issuing any new passports until the negotiations began" [p.4-5].
If the Hungarians were openly hinting, the Romanians were being explicit.
Regarding Romania, I invited the attache to a talk. It was rather fantastic. He's new here, and we began by talking about Zionism. So long as we spoke in generalities, about the Jewish connection to Israel and Hebrew, he understood and everything was fine. But when I got to the specific parts, regarding the unification of families and aliya in general, the conversation took a turn I've never seen before. The attache requested permission to speak, and he took out a paper. "I knew you were going to get to this, so I prepared a written response to ensure accuracy." And then he read a four-page response.
Immigration from Romania is made of two parts. The first, reunification of families, is fine. The Romanian policy is that each case must be investigated individually, but if Jews wishing to leave fall into the right catagories they'll be let out; if there are any delays they must be purely technical. Immigration in general, however, is an Israeli intervention in Romanian sovereignty. This demand is an affront to Romania.It was clear, Golda summed up, that he was acting on orders from above.