Ben-Gurion: A Political Life (Jewish Encounters Series)
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Part of the Jewish Encounter series
Israel’s current president gives us a dramatic and revelatory biography of Israel’s founding father and first prime minister.
Shimon Peres was in his early twenties when he first met David Ben-Gurion. Although the state that Ben-Gurion would lead through war and peace had not yet declared its precarious independence, the “Old Man,” as he was called even then, was already a mythic figure. Peres, who came of age in the cabinets of Ben-Gurion, is uniquely placed to evoke this figure of stirring contradictions—a prophetic visionary and a canny pragmatist who early grasped the necessity of compromise for national survival. Ben-Gurion supported the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, though it meant surrendering a two-thousand-year-old dream of Jewish settlement in the entire land of Israel. He granted the Orthodox their first exemptions from military service despite his own deep secular commitments, and he reached out to Germany in the aftermath of the Holocaust, knowing that Israel would need as many strong alliances as possible within the European community.
A protégé of Ben-Gurion and himself a legendary figure on the international political stage, Shimon Peres brings to his account of Ben-Gurion’s life and towering achievements the profound insight of a statesman who shares Ben-Gurion’s dream of a modern, democratic Jewish nation-state that lives in peace and security alongside its Arab neighbors. In Ben-Gurion, Peres sees a neglected model of leadership that Israel and the world desperately need in the twenty-first century.
it seemed to Ben-Gurion, the medium was the total message. He was greatly under the influence of Josef Pilsudski.* The Revisionists revered Pilsudski, and they were equally impressed by the uniforms and the pomp and circumstance surrounding him. They thought well of Mussolini too, going so far as to send a naval unit to be trained in Italy. Shlomo Erel, later commander of the Israeli Navy, was trained there. Still, Ben-Gurion sometimes mentioned that he thought it was a mistake that the party
regime made it hard for him to gain admittance to a reputable college. Back home, he led the fight against the Bund† in Plonsk and the surrounding region, persuading the boys and girls of his own generation to give their hearts to the Zionist cause. His own heart was totally committed, though part of it had also been given to the willowy Rachel Nelkin, stepdaughter of another prominent Zionist and scholar of the Haskalah in Plonsk, Reb Simcha Eizik. They had grown up together, but only now, upon
Czech technicians worked feverishly on assembling them and getting them airborne. A first ship carrying light arms and artillery was approaching Haifa. “That will be the beginning of the turning point,” Ben-Gurion wrote. He focused his attention on Jerusalem. “We have to hold on in the Negev,” he told the army general staff. “The battle for Jerusalem is the most important, both politically and to a large extent militarily, too.” Yadin strongly demurred. Ben-Gurion was exaggerating the
whatever is possible to facilitate the deep need of believing Jews to prevent, Heaven forfend, a split within the House of Israel. [That meant, in practice, that marriage and divorce would be administered exclusively by the Orthodox chief rabbinate for Jews, and by other statutory religious authorities for Muslims and Christians.] 4. Education. Each educational stream will have its autonomy ensured, as is the case in the Yishuv now, and there will be no infringement on the freedom of religion of
Ezer Weizman, and Menachem Begin at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in November 1967. “When Ben-Gurion attacked someone, it was over his position, not his characteristics. He didn’t hate Begin personally. Personal hatred was not a factor at all.” (Ilan Bruner/Government Press Office, State of Israel) With Southern Command General Ariel Sharon at an Israeli army installation near the Suez Canal in January 1971. “As for the Sinai Peninsula,’ Ben-Gurion said after the Six-Day War, ‘we should