The Israeli Consulate in Istanbul organized a series of events honoring Israel’s first Prime Minister and commemorating his student days in Istanbul.
In 1911, at the age of 26, David Ben-Gurion – later to become Israel’s first Prime Minister – reached the conclusion that in order for him to be able to promote the matters of the Yishuv (Jewish settlement) in what was then Ottoman Palestine, he would have to get elected to the Ottoman parliament. The best means of doing so, he surmised, was by studying the Ottoman legal system and obtaining a law degree from the University of Istanbul. That same year he journeyed to Istanbul, where, together with his friend and colleague Itzhak Ben-Zvi (who later become Israel’s second President), he studied at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Law until 1914.
David Ben-Gurion (l) and Itzhak Ben-Zvi in Istanbul, c. 1914
Recent research carried out at Istanbul University into Ben-Gurion’s life in Turkey during that period enabled the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul to locate the actual building in the Beyoğlu district where he had lived from 1912-1914. The study described Ben-Gurion as having excelled in his studies, becoming fluent in Turkish within three weeks. Launching the celebrations of Israel’s 60th independence day in May 2008, the consulate decided to commemorate his life in Istanbul, and arranged a series of events in Ben-Gurion’s honor, organized in cooperation with the Beyoğlu municipality.
The modest building in which Ben-Gurion had lived 95 years ago was painted and renovated, and all four stories were decorated for the occasion with a huge poster, pictures of Ben-Gurion and Turkish and Israeli flags. The dreary alleyway was scrubbed as well, and sealed off by the municipality for the occasion.
Events organized by the consulate included a plaque-hanging ceremony and the opening of an exhibition depicting the life of David Ben-Gurion at the nearby Schneider Temple. The ceremony, held on Thursday, 25 October, was attended by the Mayor of Beyoğlu, the Israeli Consul-General, the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul, other Turkish and Israeli dignitaries, members of the Istanbul Jewish community, members of the press and many more.
David Ben-Gurion’s student card, Istanbul University
The following day, 26 October, a seminar on the subject of "The Influence of Ottoman Law on the Laws of the State of Israel" was held at Istanbul University, with lectures by Israeli professors. The Consul-General announced a grant to be awarded for research on Israel-Turkish relations.