Prof. Dr. Ya'akov Arnon (1913-1995), born Jaap van Amerongen in Amsterdam, was head of the Dutch Zionist Federation and, later, director-general of the Israeli Finance Ministry.
He was one of the founders of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, who, after his death, published this obituary:
He was born in Amsterdam as the son of a much-respected family. Jaap van Amerongen was his name, a name too strange, too difficult for Israelis. As a young economy student he soon became a Socialist and an opponent of Zionism, expecting that Socialism would also solve what was then called "The Jewish Question." That was his view until 1932 when he participated in a long and serious debate with the Zionist Student Movement, where he let himself be convinced that the problem of being a minority would not be solved unless the Jews could have their own state. He had an analytical mind, and was a man who committed himself. To those who knew him it was as if his becoming a Zionist was out of a logical necessity. Forty years later he would be driven by the same kind of logic to the conclusion that what is true for Jews is also true for Palestinians: that they should have a state.
Jaap and Lous survived the Nazi occupation hiding with false papers in the south of Holland. After the war both were active in taking care of hidden Jewish children whose parents did not survive. For a short time, Jaap was chairman of the Dutch Zionist Federation, but he and Lous went to Palestine in 1948, a month before the Declaration of Independence proclaimed the foundation of the State of Israel.
Of all the thousands of Dutch Israelis, Ya'akov Arnon -- the new name which he chose -- had the most successful public service career. As Director General of the Finance Ministry in the first decades of the state, he actually has laid the foundations for the economic system of the country. At the memorial for his death in Jerusalem, November 7, a former colleague from the ministry said: "If Arnon would not have been so damned Dutch, if he would at least have known Yiddish, he would have become a minister for sure." Others remarked at this occasion that it was his Dutch background which made him such an outstanding person in Israel: a man of no big words, with a great sense of humour, a near Calvinist sense of justice -- and a passion for football. Asked once what had made a man like him into a pioneer of dialogue with the PLO (in 1983 Arnon went with Matti Peled and Uri Avnery to Tunis -- the first public visit of Israelis to the PLO headquarters) he answered in a matter of fact tone: It was time to sit together and talk.
Lous emphasized that Ya'akov, who was a devoted family man, had been very much influenced in his political thinking by the stories which his sons brought home after the '67 Six Day War. While Ya'akov was involved in coordinating the financial management of the Occupied Territories ("he thought of it as a temporary arrangement; the territories were to be traded for peace") his son Aryeh, a soldier at that time, told about what happened on the ground, about the hatred which he saw in the faces.
At that time, the euphoria of the Six Day War gave birth to the "Greater Israel" movement; while the first Jewish settlements were being set up in Palestinian land, Ya'akov Arnon decided in 1970, at the age of 57, to quit his job at the Finance Ministry as an early pensioner.
From this time he served the Israeli society in numerous respectable, often voluntary jobs. On the one hand, he was chair of the board of the Israeli Electricity Company; on the other hand he took care, as treasurer, of the Yesh Gvul Fund for the families of reserve soldiers imprisoned for refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories. As a born arbiter he solved many a business dispute; in his book "Economy in Turmoil," (1981) he attacked the Likud's "consumerist policy, for the benefit of the haves only."
During all these years, in which he was involved in an innumerable lot of social institutions and companies, he also fulfilled the role of ICIPP treasurer. Although his involvement in breaking the taboo of talking to the PLO exposed him to a lot of criticism from his establishment friends, he was nevertheless honoured in November 1991, by the Jerusalem municipality with the title of Yakir Yerushalaim ('Treasured Jerusalemite').
The great secret of Ya'akov Arnon, which made it difficult for people to dislike him -- even when he became a radical -- was that though he took radical steps, he never acquired a radical tongue.
The handshake between Rabin and Arafat, which he had done so much to make possible, was a ray of hope in his difficult last years.