Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky s Betar movement.Read more...
Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky s Betar movement. A powerful orator and mesmerizing public figure, Begin was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1940, joined the Free Polish Army in 1942, and arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier shortly thereafter. Joining the underground paramilitary Irgun in 1943, he achieved instant notoriety for the organization s bombings of British military installations and other violent acts.
Intentionally left out of the new Israeli government, Begin s right-leaning Herut political party became a fixture of the opposition to the Labor-dominated governments of Ben-Gurion and his successors, until the surprising parliamentary victory of his political coalition in 1977 made him prime minister. Welcoming Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel and cosigning a peace treaty with him on the White House lawn in 1979, Begin accomplished what his predecessors could not. His outreach to Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese boat people was universally admired, and his decision to bomb Iraq s nuclear reactor in 1981 is now regarded as an act of courageous foresight. But the disastrous invasion of Lebanon to end the PLO s shelling of Israel s northern cities, combined with his declining health and the death of his wife, led Begin to resign in 1983. He spent the next nine years in virtual seclusion, until his death in 1992. Begin was buried not alongside Israel s prime ministers, but alongside the Irgun comrades who died in the struggle to create the Jewish national home to which he had devoted his life. Daniel Gordis s perceptive biography gives us new insight into a remarkable political figure whose influence continues to be felt both within Israel and throughout the world.
"This title is part of the Jewish Encounters series.""
- ISBN-13: 9780805243123
- ISBN-10: 0805243127
- Publisher: Schocken Books Inc
- Publish Date: March 2014
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 8.74 x 6.37 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.31 pounds
Series: Jewish Encounters
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-11-25
- Reviewer: Staff
Gordis’s (Saving Israel) brief biography of the former Irgun leader and Israeli prime minister (Begin held the latter post from 1977–1982) eschews a comprehensive account of Begin’s life to focus on key events in Israeli history. Among these are the execution of two British soldiers by Zionists in 1947, in retribution for the execution of two militant Zionists by the British government; the 1948 Altalena affair; and the bitter, ongoing battle over Israel accepting West German reparations for WWII. Concerning the First Lebanon War in 1982, Gordis shows how a weary Begin allowed himself to be “outmaneuvered by Sharon,” so that Israel’s first offensive war was fought on a far broader scale than Begin had planned. Gordis writes well about Begin’s personal qualities, especially his belief in and practice of hadar (Jewish dignity) and his “appreciation for the rhythms and priorities of Jewish life and tradition, which had never yet been represented in the prime minister’s office.” Gordis also notes the ironies of Begin’s life; for instance, he was known as a terrorist for his role in the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel bombing, but Begin later signed Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Despite a few questionable assertions—Gordis claims that “Mein Kampf was required reading in Fatah training camps,” according to a secondary source—he captures both Begin’s character and his place in Israeli history. (Mar.)