Friday, May 26th | 1 Sivan 5777

Close

Be in the know!

Get our exclusive daily news briefing.

Subscribe
November 5, 2014 12:33 pm

Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

avatar by Jack Riemer / JNS.org

Email a copy of "Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History" to a friend

David Ben-Gurion (Left) signing the Israeli Declaration of Independence, held by Moshe Sharet with Eliezer Kaplan looking on, at the Tel Aviv museum on Rothschild Blvd. on May 14, 1948. Photo: GPO.

JNS.orgThere is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of.

On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned from Washington and reported that the State Department warned him that, if the Jews declared a state, the U.S. would not support it. Golda Meir reported that her mission to persuade King Abdullah of Jordan not to enter a war had failed. Yigal Yadin, the head of the Haganah paramilitary organization, said the chances that the nascent state would survive were 50-50 at best. And then, Ben-Gurion called for a vote. It was 6-4 in favor, and by that narrow margin—the best he could cajole from a cautious Zionist Executive—Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel.

Related coverage

September 6, 2016 5:30 am
1

Herman Wouk Looks Back After a Century (BOOK REVIEW)

Over the course of his life, Herman Wouk wrote a number of successful novels and other books. The Caine Mutiny,...

There are few times in history when one person through one action affects the course of human events, as Ben-Gurion did that day. To take that action after attaining such a narrow margin, with full awareness that a war against six Arab armies was about to begin, required extraordinary courage and decisiveness. For this act alone, Ben-Gurion deserves a place of honor in Jewish history. Without him, there might not have been a Jewish state.

Shapira’s biography, which will be released Nov. 25, is based on previously unopened archives. Unlike some other biographies of Ben-Gurion that are either worshipful or hypercritical, hers is fair and balanced. She describes him with all his warts: a fierce temper, a tendency toward hyperbole, and an ego that forgot no slight. She records his loneliness and isolation, which few people were aware of. She shows that he had many admirers and many enemies, but very few peers and true friends.

The new biography describes Ben-Gurion as a man who somehow balanced moments of incredible boldness with moments of great caution and realism. He was more concerned with bringing Jews into the country than with acquiring more territory. When his generals told him that it might be possible to capture the West Bank in 1948, he asked them what would they do with it and with the people who lived on it. He then forbade them from seizing it during the war.

Ben-Gurion stood up to America over Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, but yielded to America by giving up the Sinai after the Suez War. He understood that Israel could not survive without at least one ally among the great powers, and he chose to cast his country’s lot with the Western democracies, rather than with the Soviet Union. He created a government for people who had never run one before, and he fought uncompromisingly against those who he believed challenged the authority of the state.

This book shows that, like Vladimir Lenin, who more than any other person created the Soviet Union, and like Winston Churchill, who saved England in its darkest hour by his sheer will and determination, Ben-Gurion created the State of Israel and set it on its path. Shapira adeptly records how he did it and chronicles the rest of his storm-tossed life, so that future generations may appreciate both his achievement and his faults.

“Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel,” by Anita Shapira, Yale University Press (November 2014), 288 pages, $25.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • steven L

    The decision of BG after the 6-4 vote is a very well known fact!
    All heroes are human first and foremost!

  • You need to get a new keyboard.

  • yaakov norris

    Did anyone watch documentary called Ring worm children of Israel? Seems like a strange way to deal with mitzrahi and yemenite children only…intense dose of radiation to scalp and head later causing cancer???? Bengurion and Pickering xray machine corp in Ohio? This cant be true….shande. It is said he was against Torah yidden….Israel to be secular haskalah state.Shalom

    • Dov – Forest Hills

      That was the accepted medical treatment for ringworm at the time.

      The X-ray machine used was purchased by the UN.

      This was done all over the world at the time.

  • Pinchos Woolstone

    Divine Providence created the State, we must infuse it with an ever increasing amount of Holiness as the Messianic Era approach when the entire Nation will be occupied with Torah and Mitzvos and the world at large will serve the Creator.

  • Shlomo

    Everyone, do yourself a favor, and find a copy of the book Perfidy and read it 3 times. Then speak. I saw a bumper sticker that read: Try being informed instead of opinionated.

    • You are a very wise man. Ben Hecht is the kind of Jew that towers over the traitor Ben Gurion, who turned in my relative from the Irgun to the British.

      • Retired

        Martin, you are right on the money!
        Ben Gurion was Bolshevik lite.The Holocaust during WW2 was in reality an all European war against the Jews.The European powers saw Ben Gurion & his Labor zionist’s as agents of Moscow.Therefore they believed that all of the Jews were Communists & all of the Communists were Jews. If Hitler had gone only east the the European elites would have been more then happy to watch the Jews perish Ben Gurion & his followers wanted to be Israelis,left wing European types who had the misfortune to be born to Jewish parents rather then European parents.They were essentially Israelis,Jews without Judaism,Europeans in exile in the middle east & forced to live with traditional Jews.Jews who were treated as second class citizens.They took all power in the new state into their own hands for themselves & the observant Jews were shunted off to the side.This went on for many years & it’s only been the last 20 years that Israel became a modern economic power,freeing itself from Ben Gurions left wing Atheists.
        As far as declaring independence with no help from the west,which couldn’t wait to see the Final Chapter of the Final Solution,the situation was not that simple.It is my belief that Ben Gurion,through his contacts in the east,had some sort of understanding with Moscow.Moscow,wanting to stick it to the British,would give Israel Material aid, by way of Czechoslovakia,with which they could defend themselves.Without this understanding the Zionists might not have declared for independence.
        Where I do give Ben Gurion’s left wing Zionists credit was in the early days after WW2.They were fighters with a cause & I don’t think that the broken down & beaten up Shtetl Jews would have been strong enough for the early struggles for independence,they just had very little fight left in them!

    • Jonah Lissner

      Ya’asher koach

  • Billy Bumps

    Old sins cast long shadows…..best forgive and only
    slightly remember any offense…..best to consider
    the best in each of us…..today IS today…not
    Yesterday…..nothing can change what has already
    happened….one of the things I find that causes much
    anxt is worrying about things that have already
    happened that you can do nothing about because
    they have already happened..one other thing also…
    is to hear another persons name mentioned too
    often….

  • PERHAPS HIS WORST AND STILL VERY PRESENT CRIME WAS THE FORCEFUL ENGINEERING OF “NEW jEWS” OF THE MASSES OF JEWISH IMMIGRANTS FROM THE MUSLIM LANDS. THESE DREAMY EYED, IDEALISTIC, TRUSTING PEOPLE WERE AT THE MERCY OF AN ESTABLISHMENT THAT SAW THEIR JEWISH DEVOTION AS A THREAT TO THEIR VISION OF AN ISRAEL WITHOUT GOD.THE RESULT WE LIVE WITH TODAY ARE JUST TOO PLAIN AND HORRIBLE TO EXAGGERATE.
    HOW MANY YEMENITES WERE SENT TO JAIL FOR MURDER IN YEMEN IN THE 3000 YEAR EXILE THERE? HOW MANY MOROCCANS IMPRISONED FOR RAPE THERE? HOW MANY IRAQIS FOR DRUNKEN BRAWLS. HOW MANY OF THESE JEWS EVEN DREAMED THAT THOUSANDS OF THEIR DAUGHTERS WOULD MARRY MUSLIMS AND CONVERT?
    ISRAEL TODAY DEARLY LACKS STRONG IDENTITY AND DIRECTION DUE TO THE SOCIAL ENGINEERING AND DICTATORIAL WAYS OF BEN GURION AND HIS GODLESS,ARROGANT FRIENDS.

    • richard

      Life is complicated and the paths we take is often impossible to predict. On this Thanksgiving day we need to count our blessing and pray and act for a better tomorrow.While Ben Gurion was not perfect, his role in the re dedication of the Jewish homeland was very important and should be appreciated as such. It is up to us to try and improve upon the imperfections.

    • Isaac Gamiel

      Ben Gurion’s hands had much more dirt on them since he came on the political scene. But it was his strength and perseverance together with the Hands of Hashem that gave us what we have today. Bless Hashem for the result

    • Your caps-lock key is stuck

  • Jonah Lissner

    Ben Gurion was the Statesman, Begin the Warrior.

    • And Israel needed both of them. Never forget that it was Begin’s Irgun that was instrumental in finally having the British decide that the ‘Mandate for Palestine’ had gotten too costly for them, and they decided to leave. But despite of his love for the brethren of the Irgun, when Ben Gurion asked him to fold his men into the Haganh to form a united IDF (Israel Defense Forces), Begin did as Ben Gurion asked. That was an enormous sacrifice from the man who had created the Irgun, and loved every one of its fighters like a brother; but he did it for unity of Israel.
      I wish today’s leaders had the same sense of humility and responsibility, to sacrifice their egos and private preferences to the unity of the State.

  • zwolinski

    it seems that support of Soviet Union was forgotten.
    In 1948 the ONU deciding vote for the recognition of State of Isreal, was cast by first Soviet Union delegate.
    The second supporting voice for Israel was cast by Ksawery Pruszynski, representing Poland….

  • Beneath the bickering over who was the greater contributor to the establishment Of Isral, there is degree of confusiing realpolitics and ideology. Maybe both were needed to get the job done–both Begin and Ben-Gurion. The concern now should be how best to fit tactics for an enduring future for all people in the Nuclear Era. I would suggest that all peoples begin by welcoming the most precious of all commodities, actual truth. Hint-if religions brought truth, they wouldn’t be called, faiths.

  • Robert Weintraub

    Actually there were two wars involved in the struggle for Jewish independence. The first was the battle against the British who were determined to create a pro British Arab state in what was then Palestine. The second led by Ben-Gurion could have been successful if the first had not succeeded. Ben-Gurion was opposed to fighting the British. Worse Ben-Gurion lent vital support to the British attempt to undermine the Irgun led by Menachem Begin.

    Bob Weintraub

    • Yes; I guess it was the application of that dangerous saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”; that way you can wind up with a lot of friends you later wish you hadn’t made!!

  • Edna Anzarut-Turner

    Ben Gurion behaved no better than an internecine assassin the minute he gave the fatal order for the Altalena to be sunk.

    Menahem Begin was the bravest most honourable man at the time, and the arms the Altalena carried would have saved Jerusalem, and Bibi would not ever be forced to agree to a status quo!! In order to appease the King of Jordan.

    • Mordecai Ben Natan

      Whatever BG did, he will still go down in history as a mass murderer of Jews trying to get to the PROMICED LAND, and depriving Israel of saving Jerusalem.
      Edna, you are 100% correct about that man.
      About 60 years ago, I was flying to Rhodesia, and sitting next to a gentleman in the plane,
      I said “YOU HAVE A DOUBLE”
      “OH, WHO IS THAT”
      “THE PAST PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL, MOSHE SHARRET”
      “I AM MOSHE SHARRET”

      He then told me that BG stabbed him in the back, and took the Premiership away from him.
      He did not like BG

      I am very happy and honoured to have him sign my autograph book.

      I also had the privilege of meeting Menachem Begin, in Cape Town, He too, signed my autograph book.
      “with grateful thanks for your friendship”

      I also have Abba Eban.

      those are just some of the great men I met.
      I gave my treasured autograph book to my grandson in Jerusalem when he had his Barmitzvah last year at the Kotel.
      Begin has always been my hero.

      • Max

        Anyone knowledgeable in the art of nationbuilding should realize that you do not win wars with divided factional armies, but with united forces receiving orders from a central command i. e. their national government. Ben Gurion did what he did in the Altalena incident in order to unify the people of Israel and field a unified IDF. The result is clear before our eyes. We can all be proud of our Zva Hagana
        le Yisrael and the victories they brought us over the years in the defense of our beloved Israel. And one of the chief architects of all this is Ben Gurion-how can anyone familiar with history deny that fact?

    • Both you and Mordecai Ben Nathan are surely and unfortunately WRONG!! Not only by insulting our forfathers but being also ignorants of the facts and life in Israel at that time, my time (1952 and on ). He was the leading force of the fight to establish the State of Israel, to procure the friendship and the resources for the infant Israel, the organizer of the National Institutions for the absorption of the massive immigration from Europe and from the arab countries, the support for the Kibbutzim, cornerstones of the early agricultural work and the defense of our borders by the Frontier Settlement Movements ( Nahal batalions and the Unification of the forces ( ,The Haganah, then Zahal) fighting the British and the Arab Countries.
      As for Sharett, I, being a soldier during the Sinai Campaign-Mizvat Kadesh had the chance to be lifted to his official Military Lmousine from Beer Sheva’s Intersection up to Tel Aviv( 1956) during which we chatted about the then initial realities, difficulties and future of our Moledet.
      Stop being an Right wing extremist!
      Oscarpapa

      • My comment is directed to Edna Azarut-Turner and Mordecai Ben Nathan

  • Y. Ben-David

    Odd that she would compare BG to Lenin. Yes, BG admired Lenin for his coldness, his harshness, his willingness to sacrifice millions in order to create his idea of utopia but Lenin’s creation collapsed and disappared after a few decades, and I would like to think the good side BG had and which Lenin so lamentablty lacked also had contributed to making Zionist Israel something that will prove to be more permanent.

    • Are you all so blind that you give credit to a mortal man for the re-establishment of your very existance as a Nation. Much less a people’s that miraculously where scattered amongst the nations of the world for centuries, yet kept their identity as a people/nation thru their Rock solid faith in Yahweh. Time to lift the Veil and Except your Savior Jesus Christ!! Repent Repent Repent

      • Barry Appleby

        Mike Graham

        Christians and Moslems cannot stop trying to convert people. I see no reason why I should give up the faith and beliefs in which I was raised in favor of Chritianity, a hodge-podge of diverse elements taken from Gnosticism and many other sources, which throught the past two millenia has striven to cause us to renounce a faith that beleives in a single universal spirit, that declares evil to be a result of human weakness, that denies the existence of an external, supernatural source of such evil, that proclaims our lives in this world to be of value as something to be cherished and protected along with the planet on which we all live. Yehoshua was not a divine being but a Jew who was kileld by the Romans because they feared that he would claim to be a descendant of the House of David, and thus the Messian, a mortal man who would end the Roman occupation and established an era of everlasting peace here on Earth. It is the Christians who should repent in view of their manifold cruelties towards us and towards all their fellows whom they persecuted and massacred because they took a different view on certain points of doctrine. The establishment of the Catholic Church, a worldly body concerned with power and wealth was the continuation of the Roman Empire by different means.

        I find it deeply insulting to be appraoched by CHristians of various sects who ask me if I am aware of what the Bible says. Since I can read it in the original Hebrew, I tell them that it is they who are not able to understand it, since they cannot intepret it, as they lack any idea of Jewish traditions as to its interpretation. The phrase “eye for eye” cannot be taken literally since Judaism expressly forbids mutilation. Nor can a thief be hanged for his crimes, since theft was not considered a capital offence, unlike the situation in Christian countries, whose history bears witness to harsh, cruel and inhumane punishments of many different kinds. Stop hijacking Jewish sites devoted to matters which are no concern of yours. Hindus, Buddist, Sikhs and Jains are people whom I can respect since they have no desire to convert others, but allow would-be converts to approach them, as is the case with Jews. God created a diversity of everything in this world, and the diversity of human beings and their belief systems is meant to teach us to recognise what we all have in common.

  • “No Jew is entitled to give up the right of establishing [i.e. settling] the Jewish Nation in all of the Land of Israel. No Jewish body has such power. Not even all the Jews alive today [i.e. the entire Jewish People] have the power to cede any part of the country or homeland whatsoever. This is a right vouchsafed or reserved for the Jewish Nation throughout all generations. This right cannot be lost or expropriated under any condition or circumstance. Even if at some particular time, there are those who declare that they are relinquishing this right, they have no power nor competence to deprive coming generations of this right. The Jewish nation is neither bound nor governed by such a waiver or renunciation. Our right to the whole of this country is valid, in force and endures forever. And until the Final Redemption has come, we will not budge from this historic right.”
    BEN-GURION’S DECLARATION ON THE EXCLUSIVE AND
    INALIENABLE JEWISH RIGHT TO THE WHOLE OF
    THE LAND OF ISRAEL:
    at the Basle Session of the 20th Zionist Congress at Zurich (1937)

    • JonathanInTelAviv

      The Jewish people’s claim to the Land of Israel has been a constant for thousands of years. What hasn’t been a constant are the borders of the Land of Israel; they expanded and contracted depending on the circumstances. Even the theoretically maximal borders have several descriptions, none of them exact, all of them conflicting. There never was, and there should not be now, an imperative to occupy the entire land, even if we could decide what it looks like.

  • Israel’s War of Independence and the Six Day War, defeating numerous larger nations, were events of Biblical proportions. Saddam’s 39 Scud missiles in 1991, destroying about 1,500 Israeli homes, but killing very few Jews, was another revelation of Divine Providence.

    • Janet Clare

      Joseph, with the IDF standing down and people “only” being defended by God, Saddam’s 39 scud missiles killed exactly 0 Jews. I remember a picture of a standing man, pinned up to his neck by rubble from an exploded building, who was rescued without a scratch. 1 Jew, a”h, was killed, however, by a fragment of a Patriot anti-missile missile. Sadly, a few people died of fright a”h, such as from asphyxiation in their gas masks with unopened breathing devices, or from a heart attack.

      Yet, there were so many overt miracles that we were awe struck.

    • Mordecai Ben Natan

      JOSEPH FELD.

      I CANOT REMEMBER ANY COUNTRY OR MEDIA EVER CONDEMNING SADDAM FOR HIS BRUTAL ATTACK ON THE JEWISH STATE, AND THE LOSS OF LIFE AS A RESULT OF SADDAM’S ATACK.NOR ANY POLITICIAN NOR THE UN CALLING SADDAM A KILLER OF INNOCENT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, NOR OF THE “DISPROPOTIONAL” ATTACK ON ISREAL.
      NOR HAS THERE EVER BEEN A BDS CAMPAIGN AROUND THE WORLD.
      AND WHO STARTS THOSE BDS ETC? THE WORLD MUSLIM COMMUNITY WITH THEIR NATURAL LIES (LIES BEING THE NORM WITH THOSE PEOPLE)
      THE ATTACKS ON JEWS IN VARIOUS COUNTRIES HAS NEVER BEEN CONDEMNED.
      IT IS ALWAYS ISRAEL WHO IS THE BADDY

  • Donald Krausz

    I lived in Israel during the Sinai Campaign. An Egyptian warship was captured and brought to Haifa. The whole cinema cheered when they saw Ben Gurion, a little, white-haired old man, literally running up the gangplank of that Egyptian ship.

  • Herb Grossman

    Did Shapira also point out how Ben Gurion sacrificed east Jerusalem by ordering the sinking of the Altalena (and killing 19 Irgunists on board) which was carrying weapons to the outgunned Irgunists defending Jerusalem because he hated Begin and wanted to strip his rival of military power?

    • Paul

      Distortions should not be left to appear as truth.
      The Altalena was sunk when Begin reneged on his agreement with Ben Gurion to include the Irgun in the Hagana. Instead, the Irgun under Begin tried to keep the weapons for themselves – to form a private army within the army. Ben Gurion did not break his word, Begin did – resulting in Jews fighting Jews. Ben Gurion was the elected national leader, and bore responsibility for running the country – not Begin, for whom Democracy appeared to have no value.
      Your use of the word sacrifice, and your assumed personal knowledge of what prompted Ben Gurion to make his decisions, is a distortion and a Hutzpah.

      • jack

        You nailed it. Begin did not believe in democracy. Like many radicals he felt his devotion to the cause superceded the need to follow rules. There was a previous agreement to unite all Jewish forces under one command.

      • Ra’anan

        Paul, can you send me a link to a SOURCE that says that Begin was to blame as you’ve claimed? Do you think it was right for Ben Gurion to order the DEATH of the 19 Jews that those leftist forces murdered on the Altalena & swimming for their lives in the sea? If democracy was really so important to Ben Gurion & other leftist leaders, then why didn’t they ARREST those 19 men & put them on trial instead of murdereing them? Does Ben Gurion have any Jewish descendants or have they all intermarried like so many other leftist leaders?

        • By admiting defeat after Altalena,and chosing not to confront with Ben Gurion for the sake of unity, Begin rises to the stature of a hero.

      • Haile Stressor

        Paul,

        Begin spoke with Ben Gurion about those arms. Ben Gurion offered to buy them from Begin, but Begin told him they were a gift to him for the defense of Israel. Begin said he would retain 10% for the Irgun’s use, the rest were at Ben Gurion’s disposal. Ben Gurion then treacherously directed Begin to land further North on the coast, where the ship could be unloaded at a strongpoint commanded by Rabin, and then gave Rabin orders to sink the ship and shoot any survivors attempting to reach the shore, in the hope that these measures would succeed in killing
        Begin.

      • Haile Stressor

        Initially Ben Gurion offered to pay for all the weapons on the Altalena. Begin replied that they were his gift for the defense of Israel, except for one-tenth that he needed for the Irgun’s own military operations. Ben Gurion then instructed Begin to unload the Altalena at a beach far from U.N. observers, where Rabin commanded a military force that had an artillery piece. Assuming that Begin was on the ship and hoping to kill him, Ben Gurion ordered Rabin to sink the ship and machine gun any survivors swimming for shore. All of which Rabin did.

    • Paul

      BTW – Hagana fighter also died in this gunfight – thanks to Begin

  • esther noodelman

    BEN GURION WAS A MAN WITH A VISION AND WASN’T AFRAID TO STAND UP TO AMERICA WHEN NEEDED .

Algemeiner.com