President Chaim Weizmann

Chaim Weizmann: Israel’s First President

Chaim Weizmann was the first president of the State of Israel. He was born on November 27, 1874, in the village of Motal, located in present-day Belarus, at that time part of the Russian Empire. He was the third of fifteen children.

In hindsight, Weizmann seems to have been a natural choice for the presidency of the reborn Jewish state, becoming a Zionist youth activist at an early age and later serving as president of the World Zionist Organization. It was Weizmann who is credited with personally persuading U.S. President Harry S. Truman to recognize Israel’s independence, which Truman did thirteen minutes after the State of Israel was established in 1948.

President Chaim Weizmann

Weizmann was a biochemist educated in Germany and Switzerland. He later moved to Britain where he served for many years on the faculty of the University of Manchester.

As part of his work as a scientist, Weizmann created a method to produce acetone from corn. This helped the British war effort in the manufacture of explosives during WWI and opened doors for him in the British government. Through these connections, he advanced the publishing of the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, in which the British government stated its backing of the right of the Jewish people to establish its national home in Israel.

Weizmann founded what eventually became known as the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both are regularly ranked today among the world’s leading academic and research institutions.

Two days after the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, Weizmann succeeded David Ben-Gurion (later Israel’s first prime minister) as chairman of the Provisional State Council that held office until Israel’s first parliamentary election in February 1949.

Weizmann was elected President of Israel (largely a ceremonial office) and inaugurated into office on February 16, 1949. He served until his death on Nov. 9, 1952. He was buried in the garden of his home, which is located on the grounds of the Weizmann Institute.

Chaim Weizmann’s nephew, Ezer Weizman, the son of his brother Yechiel, a leading Israeli agronomist, became commander of the Israeli Air Force and also served as the seventh president of Israel from 1993-2000.