Longtime Mayor of Jerusalem Dies at 95

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; 3:58 PM

JERUSALEM, Jan. 2 -- Teddy Kollek, 95, the irrepressible champion of this volatile city during a nearly three-decade tenure as mayor that spanned war, uprising and shifting demographics, died here Tuesday. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Kollek, long associated with the center-left Labor Party, was elected six times to lead Jerusalem starting in 1965. A kibbutz leader who took up arms against Arabs as a young man, he was perceived during his mayoralty as an avuncular and populist figure who promoted Jewish-Arab coexistence in a city physically divided until Israel annexed the eastern neighborhoods following the 1967 Middle East War.

"Some people seem to think that if we make it hard for [the Arabs], they'll leave," he once said. "Believe me, they won't."

Although his vision of a united city remains elusive in many ways, Mr. Kollek was hailed Tuesday as the driving force behind Jerusalem's evolution from a parochial hilltop town coveted by the world's leading religions and contested by the Palestinian people to a modern metropolis of arts, tourism and the numerous cultural landmarks he engineered during his decades in office.

Named for Theodor Herzl, the chief theorist of modern Zionism, Theodor Kollek was born May 27, 1911, in Nagyvaszony, near Budapest. He was raised in Vienna, where his father became a director of the Rothschild bank.

Teddy Kollek once said didn't experience much anti-Semitism as a young man, which he attributed to his blond hair. However, he was once roughed up by Austrian nationalists offended that he was associating with Jews. He became increasingly involved in a Zionist youth group.

"In those days in Europe there were youth movements much more than today, and much more than you ever had here," he told the Times of London. "Growing up you could either join the socialist youth movement, or the Austrian nationalist one which, as Jews, we couldn't very well do or a Zionist movement."

Teddy Kollek immigrated to the British mandate of Palestine in 1934 and helped found kibbutz Ein Gev on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and near the Syrian border. He defended the kibbutz against several Arab attacks during a period of Arab revolt.

In 1938, he went to London to gain support among prominent Jews and newspaper editors to arrange the release of 3,000 young Jews from concentration camps and organize their relocation in England. He met in Vienna with a bland Nazi functionary overseeing Jewish emigration from Austria, Adolf Eichmann, who later became one of the foremost planners of Jewish extermination.

"He gave the impression of being a minor clerk," Mr. Kollek later wrote of the successful encounter with Eichmann, "aggressive, not loud and not impolite. But he kept me standing throughout the interview."

Mr. Kollek spent much of World War II based in Istanbul and performing intelligence missions at the behest of David Ben-Gurion, the Zionist leader who became the first prime minister of the new state of Israel. After the war, he organized weapons shipments to the nascent Jewish state's fledgling armed forces before the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947.

He was appointed Israel's envoy to Washington following the state's founding in May 1948 and ran then-Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's office for a decade. During the 1950s, Mr. Kollek was credited with being a master organizer of practical projects, such as water desalinization at home and sending aid relief abroad. He also founded the state's tourism office, arguing correctly that opening the country to foreign currency was the best way to boost the economy.


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