Did you know that Jan Smuts has a kibbutz named after him because of his support in founding the state of Israel, and that this kibbutz was at the centre of the 1948 Arab Israeli War (or sometimes known as the Israeli War of Independence)?
Jan Smuts was a supporter of the Balfour Declaration, first adopted in November of 1917 and then again reaffirmed in 1922 in the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine which set forth British policy towards the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
Smuts became personal friends with Chaim Weitzman, who would go on to become the first President of Israel and Smuts and he saw to it that his government voted in the United Nations in support of the creation of the State of Israel. As a consequence of this a Kibbutz near Haifa is named after him, Ramat Yohanan.
Smuts’ relationship with the idea of a Jewish state started when South African supporters of Theodor Herzl contacted Smuts in 1916. It was in London that met and became friends with Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organization. Weizmann went on to become the first President of Israel. He was elected on 16 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952.
In 1943 Weizmann wrote to Smuts, detailing a plan to develop Britain’s African colonies to compete with the United States – essentially a United States of Southern Africa – something which appealed to Jan Smut’s ideology of “Union” of former colonies and states in Africa for the greater good of all (his philosophy of Holism at work).
When South Africa became a “union” in 1910 it was originally envisaged that Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) and Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) would also form part of the newly created South Africa.
Political manoeuvring (mainly by the British) meant it was not to be and South Africa forged ahead as a union of the British Colonies of the Cape and Natal and the two Boer Republics – the Orange Free State and Transvaal (South African Republic) only. The idea of a regional superpower union was never really lost though and only fully put to bed when the National Party came to power in 1948 effectively ending any further union ideas with commonwealth countries in Southern Africa.
During his service as Premier, Smuts also personally fundraised for multiple Zionist organisations.
Now to Ramat Yohanan (Hebrew: רָמַת יוֹחָנָן, meaning Yohanan Heights), a kibbutz in northern Israel, named after the then South African Prime Minister and wartime leader – Jan Smuts.
It was the location of the Battle of Ramat Yohanan during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. In April 1948, The Druze Regiment of the Arab Liberation Army was engaged by Jewish Haganah soldiers in a hard fought battle at the kibbutz.
The Druze attacked Ramat Yohanan and other neighbouring kibbutzim in order to try to take the roads leading to Haifa. The attack was unsuccessful and the Druze withdrew to their base in Shefa-‘Amr with a high number of casualties, this action led to a non-aggression treaty which was signed by the Haganah with the Druze. Throughout the kibbutz, there are still scattered defence towers used by the kibbutz to defend itself.
The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization operating in the then British Mandate of Palestine, which went on to become the core of the Israel Defence Force (IDF).
As an interesting fact, in 1941, Yitzhak Rabin joined the Palmach section of the Haganah during his stay at Jan Smuts’ kibbutz – Ramat Yohanan. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995.
Today, the kibbutz grows produce including mainly avocado, lychee and citrus fruits, raises both meat and dairy cattle, and is the home of a Palram plastics factory. They also produce a small quantity of olive oil and dairy products, much of which is used and sold on the kibbutz. For several years, Ramat Yochanan has run an ulpan program that serves primarily American and Russian students.
Modern day Shavout festival at Ramat Yohanan
The last official act Jan Smuts carried out before leaving office in 1948 was to recognise the independent State of Israel, fulfilling his long standing commitment to Chaim Weitzmann.
Most of Jan Smuts’ history has been downplayed significantly in the years since his death, his politics and endeavours largely glossed over by a Nationalist government and overshadowed by the implementation by the Nationalists of Apartheid in 1948.
This history lies largely forgotten to most South Africans today, but the fact remains, that other than Nelson Mandela, not too many South African leaders since Smuts have had such a presence and role in shaping world politics as we know it today,
The featured image today shows Jan Smuts and Chaim Weitzmann and early IDF soldiers using adapted South African designed and manufactured Marmon-Herrington Armoured Cars – as well the flag raising of the Israeli flag once independence was fully established.