February 26, 1901
Aharon Zisling, one of Israel’s founding fathers, is born in the Russian Empire in Minsk, now the capital of Belarus.
He immigrates to Palestine in 1914 during the Second Aliyah and emerges in the 1920s as one of the leading labor advocates in the Yishuv. He participates in the convention that founds the Histadrut labor union in 1920, helps launch Kibbutz Ein Harod in 1921, serves on the Central Committee of Construction Workers, and is the secretary of the Jerusalem Workers Council in 1925 and 1926, among other early roles in Jewish Palestine. He also serves in the world leadership of HeHalutz, a Zionist agricultural youth movement, and edits its publication The Future from 1926 to 1928. He helps start the Youth Aliyah organization in 1933 to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany and bring them to Palestine. As part of the Haganah’s leadership, he helps found the elite Palmach fighting force in 1941.
Zisling’s Zionist and labor concerns lead him to politics. He is an early member of David Ben-Gurion’s Ahdut Ha’Avoda (Labor Unity) party, which merges with Hapoel Hatzair in 1930 to form Mapai, which dominates politics through Israel’s first two decades. He serves on the Zionist Executive and represents the Jewish Agency at the United Nations before Israel’s independence.
After the Declaration of Independence, of which Zisling is a signatory, Ben-Gurion makes him the state’s first agriculture minister as part of the provisional government during the War of Independence.
Zisling criticizes Ben-Gurion’s policies toward the Arabs during the war, however, and during a Cabinet meeting in November 1948 he famously says Israelis “have behaved like Nazis.” In the first Knesset election in 1949, Zisling wins a seat as part of Mapam, a left-wing party with Soviet sympathies that is second in size to Mapai but is not part of Ben-Gurion’s government. He also is elected to the second Knesset in 1951, then joins a faction that breaks away from Mapam to re-form Ahdut Ha’Avoda in 1954.
After failing to win a Knesset seat in the 1955 election, Zisling retires from politics. He dies Jan. 16, 1964, at Ein Harod.