Israel Support of Shoghi Effendi and the Baha’i Community

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Abstract

Due to the differences between Bahaullah and his brother Sobh Azal, the Ottoman government exiled him to the port of Acre in the north of Palestine and he was buried there. At the same time, his family members and other few followers immigrated to Palestine and settled there, but in order not to face the opposition of the Palestinian Muslim people, he pretended to be a Muslim and even ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Baha’u’llah’s son and successor) sometimes became the Imam of the Muslim congregations. During the First World War, he helped British soldiers against the Ottoman Muslim government. He was accused of espionage for the benefit of England and was subject to the death penalty, but he was saved by the intervention of the British government. In addition, he gave a lot of help to the Jews to buy Palestinian lands. At that time, he did not oppose Lord Balford’s declaration to form a Jewish state in Palestine. Later, Maxwell, Shoghi Effendi’s wife, stated: “The fate of us Baha’is and Israelis is linked like the links of a chain.” In this article, we report this supports in detailed.

 

1-Baha’i expressions of support for the Jewish state

After `Abdu’l-Bahá, a new aspect of the Bahá’í Faith was presented. In fact, the organizational structure of the Bahá’í Faith was established with the help of the associates of Shoghi Effendi, especially his aunt Bahiyyih Khánum (daughter of Bahá’u’lláh) and his wife Rúhíyyih Maxwell, replacing the religious layer of the Bahá’í Faith. These supports and the relationships between the State of Israel and the Bahá’í leadership, and sometimes the Bahá’í community were in circulation to establish an administrative and organizational order named the ‘Most Great Order’ by Shoghi Effendi. The stages of this organizational process are as follows:

Please note that the term ‘Most Great Order’ is a translation of ‘Názm-i-Badi’, which refers to the administrative order of the Bahá’í Faith. If you have any more texts to translate or any other questions, feel free to ask!

1-1-Baha’i Support for Israel

  • Shoghi Rabbani’s Assertion

In December 1948,the third Baha’i leader Shoghi Rabbani stated that Baha’i scriptures had predicted the reestablishment of the Jewish state of Israel.

  • Public Support

The Baha’i community publicly supported the establishment and growth of Israel and promised to refraine from proselytizing within the country.

  • International Proselytizing

Despite their restraint in Israel, Baha’is activity via their media have been developed and gained virtual followers. This multiplier made more easier than the Baha’i propagunda.

1-2-Pilgrimage and Settlement

  • Pilgrimage Restrictions

Shoghi Rabbani limited Baha’i pilgrimages to settle in Israel to only nine days, which was seen as insufficient by some Israeli officials who wanted to showcase the country’s progress.

For example, one government official wrote in May 1952:

Nine days are sufficient… to visit the Baha’i shrines in Haifa and Acre and it is probably also too expensive for the Guardian to extend hospitality to Baha’i pilgrims for more than 9 days…We, on the other hand, are interested that Baha’i pilgrims should not only see the Baha’i shrines but the whole country and it might be worthwhile to discuss matters with the Guardian.” [1]

But the Baha’i leader not only rejected the request but also insisted on this short period for pilgrimage and this law continues untill now.

  • Settlement Discouragement

The Baha’i leadership discouraged followers, particularly American Baha’is, from moving to Israel.

1-3-Baha’i and Israeli Relations

  • Cautious Approach

Shoghi Rabbani was careful not to upset the Israeli government or the Jewish public, especially during the sensitive period after the 1948 War.

  • Official Correspondence

High-ranking Baha’i officials communicated their support for Israel to the state authorities, emphasizing the religious significance of Israel to the Baha’i Faith.

for example, Baha’i International Council member Lawrence Hautz wrote to state officials:

“…the Baha’is have a peculiar interest in the establishment of the Jewish state and the welfare of the Jewish people, due to prophecies and promises in their Scriptures. As his Eminence Shoghi Effendi wrote to President Weismann [Chaim Weizmann]: Our good will to the people of Israel is very deep-seated, and our Scriptures state “the Jews will become the envy and admiration of both their friends and their enemies;” “outwardly and spiritually they will attain to such a glory that their 2000 years abasement will be forgotten.” As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote, 50 years ago: “all Palestine will become their home.” [2]

How does a person who considers himself the second leader of a religion that claims to fight oppression and promote the unity of the human world allow himself to predict and issue the path of deportation of the Palestinian people and throw the red carpet under the feet of the occupying Jews?

This immense support of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for the non-Palestinian Jews and preparing the ground for their occupation is quite clear for the intellectuals and speaks of his hidden connection with the Zionist movements before the establishment of the state of Israel.

1-4-Promotion of Israel’s Image

  • Strategic Pilgrimage

Israel viewed Baha’i pilgrimages as a means to promote its image of tolerance, democracy, and modernization.

  • Contributions to Israel’s Prestige

Baha’i leaders expressed pride in contributing to Israel’s rising prestige and influence worldwide.

In fact, the relationship between the Baha’i community and the state of Israel during the post-independence period, highlighting the Baha’i Faith’s support for Israel and the strategic considerations involved in their interactions.

 

2- Israeli officials express support for the Baha’is

The Israeli government’s response to the Baha’i support has been complex. While there isn’t a direct statement from the government regarding the Baha’i support mentioned in the historical context you provided, recent developments suggest a legal battle over the classification of Baha’i gardens in Acre:

2-1-Tax Exemption Case

The Baha’i World Center is involved in a legal dispute with the city of Acre over the classification of the Bahji Gardens as a holy site. The local authorities had formerly granted the gardens a waiver from property taxation, acknowledging their spiritual significance, but subsequently rescinded this waiver, resulting in a substantial yearly tax obligation for the Baha’i fellowship.

2-2-Public Access to Gardens

Following the tax dispute, the Baha’i World Center has opted to restrict the gardens’ entry, confining admittance exclusively to pilgrims.

2-3-Definition of Worship Space

The municipality’s stance is that full tax exemption can only be given to a “house of worship,” which traditionally requires a building. Given that the Baha’i belief system does not utilize edifices for worship, the local government contends that the privilege of tax immunity ought to be rescinded.

This situation indicates that while the Baha’i community has historically supported the state of Israel, there are contemporary challenges related to the recognition and treatment of Baha’i holy sites within the country.

 

3- Baha’i land and building projects

3-1-Land Acquisition and Development in Bahji

Baha’i leadership took advantage of Arab flight during the 1948 War to purchase land around the shrine and mansion of Baha’u’llah in Bahji. The Baha’is owned very little land in that location, hindering development. In 1950, Shoghi Rabbani expressed interest in purchasing absentee-owned property in Bahji for beautification efforts.

3-2-Israeli Government’s Support

After negotiations, Israel transferred about 40 acres of Arab absentee-owned land around Baha’u’llah’s tomb and shrine to the Baha’is.

The transaction justified by considering the acquired lands as belonging to Arab supporters of excommunicated Baha’is.

This acquisition nearly equaled the total land acquired by the Baha’is in Haifa over the previous 60 years.

3-3-Restoration and Construction

The Baha’is restored Baha’u’llah’s home in Acre and planned to build a religious hospice.

The iconic Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel, with stained-glass windows and a golden-domed superstructure, was completed in 1953.

Israeli officials supported the project, providing tax-free building materials and even donating cement.

3-4-Baha’i Archives and Terraced Gardens

The Baha’i Archives, modeled after the Parthenon, was completed between 1955 and 1957. The designer of the grand edifice, the Canadian Baha’i, William Sutherland Maxwell, stood as Shoghi Rabbani’s father-in-law.

The Baha’is acquired new lands on Mount Carmel, allowing them to create gardened terraces leading down the slope.

3-5-Funding and Government Backing

Most funding for local projects came from the United States.

The Baha’is received support from the Israeli government in disputes over religious sites.

 

4- Expressions of support from high-ranking state leaders

The Baha’i community in Israel held a unique position, receiving favorable treatment from state leaders. Here’s why:

4-1-Baha’i Community Valued

State leaders recognized the Baha’i presence and appreciated their support.

the Baha’is feinted that according their teaching they had no political or religious ambitions to control the state, so with this trick, they were able to instill the public perception that their presence in this land is non-threatening.

The Baha’i movement has been shown as a soothing influence the regional tensions prevalent in the 1950s.

The Baha’i holy places in Haifa were built in such a way that attracted pilgrims from around the world, contributing to tourism and the country’s image.

4-2-Government  Officials’ Support

4-2-1-Minister Tzvi Warhaftig explicitly acknowledged the Baha’i community’s influence

In a declaration to the Knesset in March 1954, Minister of Religions Tzvi Warhaftig highlighted that although the Baha’i population in Israel was limited to roughly 200 individuals at the time, he underscored the fact that the Baha’i Faith boasts a considerable following and numerous advocates in the United States, estimated at around two million, as well as significant numbers in Canada, Australia, and Persia. The spiritual epicenter of this community is located in Israel, drawing pilgrims from across the globe. This global connection is one of the primary reasons for the heightened attention given to this group. Furthermore, they have contributed substantial financial resources to enhance the aesthetic appeal of their sacred sites and monuments in and around Haifa.” [3]

4-2-2-Teddy Kollek, a prominent figure, expressed personal support for Baha’i activities

In a correspondence dated 1954 to the International Baha’i Council in Haifa, Teddy Kollek, who would later become Jerusalem’s mayor and served as the Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office during the 1950s, personally conveyed his endorsement and commendation for the Baha’i community’s endeavors in Israel. In confidential state discussions, Kollek declared that Prime Minister Ben-Gurion consistently backed the Baha’i Council’s initiatives to enhance their sacred sites and provided aid to this devoted group whose efforts adorned the nation. [4]

4-2-3-President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi facilitated visits for Baha’i relatives from enemy countries, emphasizing their loyalty and humanist principles

Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, serving as Israel’s President from 1952 to 1963 and a scholar with a keen interest in, and a notable advocate for, non-Muslim minorities in Israel and adjacent countries, facilitated family visits for Baha’is from adversarial nations to their senior kin in Israel. He posited that their faith was rooted in humanistic ideals and that they had consistently expressed positive regard for the Jewish people and demonstrated unwavering fidelity to the State of Israel.[5]

4-2-4- The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin

During his visit to the Baha’i Gardens on the slopes of Mount Carmel in October 2019, and participation in the bicentennial celebration of the birth of the Bab, the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, explicitly stated:

Israel state and Baha'i Faith
The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin visited the Baha’i Gardens in October 2019

 “The State of Israel is honored and pleased to host the followers of the Baha’i Faith and the Baha’i World Centre, which promotes the values of peace and unity among different religions.”

In this visit, David Ratstein, Ms. Einat Kalisch-Rotem, the Mayor of Haifa, and Ms. Carmel Irandoust, the Secretary-General of the Baha’i International Community, were also present. [6]

Therefore, this mutual bond and connection continue to resonate among Israel state and Baha’i organization today.

The Baha’is’ significant support base in the United States and other countries further influenced the government’s positive stance.

Moreover, like other Israeli political figures, he maintained that the Baha’is garnered considerable backing and wielded substantial influence in the United States, notably with a significant Baha’i hub in the prominent city of Chicago.

Therefore, the aggregate of these supports from the superpowers and governments led to the consolidation of the Baha’i presence in this land and the establishment of Baha’i organization in Haifa.

4-3-Shoghi Rabbani’s Privacy

Shoghi Rabbani, the Baha’i leader, maintained a private profile. He rarely engaged with Israeli officials, preferring to delegate interactions to his American and Canadian assistants.

Despite this, the Baha’i community’s impact on Israel’s development remained substantial.

In spite of receiving official recognition, the notably reclusive Baha’i figurehead, Shoghi Rabbani, made minimal efforts to broadcast his endeavors both within and beyond Israel’s borders. He refrained from traveling to engage with Baha’i assemblies, seldom consented to media interviews, and was infrequently captured in photographs. It seems he scarcely, if ever, conducted classes or delivered lectures on the Baha’i teachings, neither in Israel nor abroad, and abstained from public appearances. His interactions with Israeli officials were infrequent; he even declined formal invitations to convene with Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion following the state’s establishment, delegating his father-in-law William Sutherland Maxwell and an American aide, Ben Weeden, in his stead. His rationale was a concern for becoming ‘lost in a crowd’.

Rabbani did have a brief encounter with Ben-Gurion in Haifa in January 1949, yet the brief 15-minute meeting left little impact on either party. Rabbani typically assigned such social obligations in Israel to his North American aides, especially Leroy Ioas, Lawrence Hautz, and Benjamin and Gladys Weeden. Alongside his spouse Mary Maxwell, these individuals became Rabbani’s trusted confidants and prominent Baha’i leaders.

The consistent rapport between government figures and the American and Canadian Baha’is, hailing from western nations amicable towards the state’s inception and progress, and symbolizing a potential wellspring of support from their native communities, influenced the government’s favorable perception of the Baha’is and significantly contributed to the government’s congenial and supportive stance on most Baha’i petitions.

Therefor, the Baha’i community’s unique characteristics, government support, and Shoghi Rabbani’s discreet leadership contributed to their positive standing in Israel during its early years.

 

5- Conclusion

In the early of Israel’s statehood, both the Jewish people and the Baha’i community experienced significant transitions. For Jews, it was a historic opportunity toward autonomy.

Meanwhile, the Baha’is adapted to new leadership under Shoghi Effendi, who broke with tradition by not designating a successor. His passing marked a pivotal moment, and the Baha’i leadership (UHJ) increasingly included Westerners, particularly Americans.

This systematic and organized leadership of the Baha’is proved two points to the world:

1-the Baha’is join an organization not a faith

2-the Baha’i leadership links closely with the gain of Israel and Jew

So, Baha’ism, centered in Israel, maintained a cooperative relationship with state. While the Arab world boycotted Israel, the Baha’is attracted significant capital from the government under the guise of beautifying Holy places and displayed it as an artificial showcase of religious diversity. They also gained legitimacy for their presence in Haifa by promoting the so-called non-interference in politics as part of Baha’i teachings, so they could advertise themselves in the media as a symbol of a humanitarian minority. In this propaganda of feigned victimhood of Baha’is, by showing Israel as a safe haven for all Baha’is, they emphasize their support for the current government and their shared destiny.

The thoughts of the Baha’i religion as a way of opposing the revolutionary Islam against the illegal occupation of the Palestinian land, to create division in the Arab Muslim communities of the region, are the satisfaction and desire of Israel.

 

Notes:

  1. Pollack, to Asian Division, ‘Baha’is’, 6 May 1952? (page covered), ISA 5808/16/G.
  2. Lawrence A. Hautz, International Baha’i Council, Haifa, Israel, addressee not defined but almost certainly the Ministry of Religions, undated but certainly early 1950s, ISA 5808/G.
  3. Tzvi Warhaftig statement in the Knesset, March 1954, quoted by P. Colbi, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Jerusalem, to Mr Leroy Ioas, Secretary General, International Baha’i Council, 29 March 1954, ISA 5808/G.
  4. Theodore Kollek, to Leroy Ioas, Secretary General, International Baha’i Council, Haifa, 3 December 1954 ISA 5593/12/G.
  5. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi to the Minister of Interior, 19 June 1953, ISA 5808/16/G.

6.news.bahai.org/fa (BWNS)

 

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Israel Support of Shoghi Effendi and the Baha’i Community

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