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.
murderers. Sixty-seven Jews were killed there; the rest, 435 souls, fled the city. In all, more than 130 Jews were killed across the country before British troops were able to bring the situation under control. Again, the British reaction was to clamp down on the growth of the Yishuv. A commission of inquiry set up by the colonial secretary, Lord Passfield, recommended restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases. In October 1930 Passfield published a white paper adopting these
atrocities being perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews in occupied Europe began to appear. Sixteen women with British-Palestinian citizenship who had been trapped in Poland at the outbreak of the war now returned home, exchanged for German POWs. They told of ghettoes and mass killings, death camps and rumors of a “final solution.” In America, a small group of activists led by Peter Bergson, a Palestinian Revisionist whose real name was Hillel Kook, campaigned relentlessly for the Jewish
the existence of the State of Israel. The focus of the war was that they wanted to destroy us. In regard to the priorities that each side set for itself once the war was under way, history played a greater role than borders. Ben-Gurion and Abdullah both fought for Jerusalem as their highest priority. Because for them history took precedence over strategy. The Egyptians, by contrast, wanted to attack Tel Aviv by coming up the coast. Their goal was Tel Aviv, and that made strategic sense. But the
demanded that the official investigation be reopened. Eshkol, the new prime minister, gently but firmly refused. Ben-Gurion, the bit now between his teeth, refused to take the refusal for an answer. He collected all the material in his possession about the Lavon Affair and submitted it to the minister of justice, Dov Yosef, who sided with him and urged a new inquiry. “I feel it is my comradely duty toward you,” Ben-Gurion wrote to Eshkol, and even more so toward the Party, and above all toward
friendship with Ben-Zvi and his wife, Rachel Yannait. It was for his articles in Ha’achdut that he first took on the pen name Ben-Gurion, which quickly became the name he went by. “The Hebrew Yishuv will be built by the Hebrew worker or it won’t be built at all,” he wrote forcefully. Time and again he insisted in his articles that the pioneers in Palestine, and not the armchair Zionists back in the Diaspora, must be the ones to decide the future of Zionism. This led to tensions when he and