The cornerstone of the Knesset building was laid on 14 October, 1958, in the presence of the President of the State, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, and the widow of James de Rothschild, who donated six million Israeli Pounds towards the construction of the building. The stone may be seen in a small room under the speakers' podium in the plenum.
In the entrance hall to the Speaker's bureau, there are pictures of the well known philanthropist Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934), and of his son, James de Rothschild (1878-1957), as well as the letter that James sent to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in 1957 in which he announced his decision (text follows).
My dear Prime Minister,
My father began his colonization work in Israel 75 years ago. The work which was then begun has been continued to this day. When in 1924 my father set up the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association - P.I.C.A.- he assigned to it the task of colonizing all his landholdings. It fell to me to preside over P.I.C.A. ever since its inception.
In the years that followed, the marshes were drained, the rocky hills and barren wastes were turned into fertile soil. All these lands were then colonized by P.I.C.A. Today there is no cultivable land left to P.I.C.A. for further colonization. The task set to P.I.C.A. has been fulfilled.
As I cast my eyes back over our work, I think that I may fairly say that we have adhered to two principles which well bear restating: The first, that we did our work without regard to political considerations and the second, that we endeavoured to give to Israel and her people all that we could, without seeking anything in return - neither profits, nor gratitude, nor anything else.
The colonizing task of P.I.C.A. having been fulfilled, the question that lay before me was to decide on the future of P.I.C.A. The State of Israel has since been created and the national institutions have emerged to take over the major colonization effort in Israel.
Weighing all the elements, I have reached the conclusion that, with the completion of its task, the right course would be to terminate the activities of P.I.C.A. instead of duplicating the work which is done now, on a far larger scale, by the national institutions.
P.I.C.A. is a private association but all its efforts have been directed to the benefit of the public. For this reason I thought it right to inform you of my decision first. For the same reason, I also propose to transfer now all the remaining P.I.C.A. lands (leased and not leased) to national institutions.
I look upon the termination of P.I.C.A.'s work as a mark of fulfilment, not as a withdrawal. I would like to underline this by a special act of identification with the aspirations of Israel and her people. We intend to provide the sum of IL6 million for the construction of the new Knesseth building in Jerusalem which, I understand, it is proposed to set up. Let the new Knesseth building become a symbol, in the eyes of all men, of the permanence of the State of Israel.
With this done, P.I.C.A. will withdraw from the scene of Israel in the knowledge that the work which was begun 75 years ago is being carried on by the State and the people, supported by world Jewry.
With this letter I meant to inform you of my decision. I do not intend, with this letter, to take leave of you or of Israel. My interest in the development of Israel is abiding, even if P.I.C.A. must cease to operate, I shall remain as close to you all as I have always been, your cares will be my cares and your happiness will be my happiness.
Indeed, I shall want to examine whether I shall be able to make some modest contribution, in the future, towards the advancement of science, art and culture in Israel - all matters which, I know, are near to your heart. However, these are but thoughts for the future. I am not yet fully decided on them but may revert to them as soon as these thoughts become crystallized in my own mind.
The foundations of the State have been well and truly laid. I am confident that, by the grace of the Almighty, the new chapter in the history of our people, which began with the creation of the State, will be glorious and enduring.
James de Rothschild