This week in Israeli history

January 27: Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami (left) and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei shake hands Jan. 21, 2001, during peace talks in Taba, Egypt.

Center for Israel Education

Jan. 24, 1964: Syrian police arrest Eli Cohen

Syrian police arrest businessman Kamel Amin Tha’abet at his Damascus home and charge him with espionage. Tha’abet is actually Mossad agent Eli Cohen, who speaks Arabic with an authentic Syrian accent after being raised by Syrian Jewish parents in Egypt. Cohen establishes friendships with senior government and military leaders and provides intelligence that proves crucial in Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. He never sees that success, however: He is publicly hanged May 18, 1965.

Jan. 25, 1904: Theodor Herzl meets Pope Pius X

Theodor Herzl takes time during a two-week trip to Italy to meet with Pope Pius X in an effort to win his support for the Zionist cause. Despite getting a warm reception from King Victor Emanuel III two days earlier, Herzl fails to sway the pope. “We cannot give approval to this movement,” Pius says. “We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we could never sanction it.” The pope says he cannot recognize the Jews because they have not recognized Jesus.

Jan. 26, 1919: Weizmann warns of catastrophe

Chaim Weizmann writes a letter to anti-Zionist Gen. Arthur Money, who heads the British military administration in Palestine, to make the Zionist case. Sent as a follow-up to a meeting a week earlier, the letter warns that “unless they secure a place which they may call their home in a real sense of the word, they will be faced with a terrible catastrophe” that “would shatter not only the whole fabric of Jewish existence, but would endanger the peace and society as a whole.” 

Jan. 27, 2001: Summit ends

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the Egyptian resort town of Taba conclude after a week of progress toward an agreement based on the Clinton Parameters, issued early in the month. “We leave Taba in a spirit of hope and mutual achievement,” a joint statement says. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak loses a landslide election 10 days later to Ariel Sharon, who says he is not bound by anything discussed at Taba or at Camp David in 2000, and the peace initiative dies amid the Second Intifada.

Jan. 28, 1790: France grants citizenship to Sephardi Jews

The National Assembly of revolutionary France decides to give citizenship to Sephardi Jews after a debate on Jewish emancipation the previous month. The Sephardim, whose families came to France in the 16th century, are well assimilated but represent the Jewish minority in France. The majority Ashkenazim are not emancipated until September 1791.

Jan. 29, 2005: Kishon dies

Israeli writer, playwright and filmmaker Ephraim Kishon dies at age 80 in Switzerland. Known for satire, his works often focus on the daily struggles of regular Israelis and the state bureaucracy. His films include “Sallah Shabati” (1964) and “The Policeman” (1971), both of which won the Golden Globe for foreign film, and his books sell more than 40 million copies. A native of Budapest, Hungary, he escaped from a Sobibor-bound train during the war and reached Israel in 1949.

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