Ben-Guri­on: A Polit­i­cal Life

Shi­mon Peres with David Landau
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011
Over the course of many Fri­day morn­ings in 2009 and 2010, Shi­mon Peres sat down with jour­nal­ist David Lan­dau to talk about David Ben-Guri­on, and their dis­cus­sions formed the basis of this remark­able polit­i­cal biog­ra­phy from Next­book Press’s Jew­ish Encoun­ters Series. The book itself fol­lows a rough chrono­log­i­cal order, briefly review­ing Ben- Gurion’s ear­ly Pol­ish shtetl life and his deci­sion to leave for Pales­tine, before focus­ing in depth on the issues sur­round­ing Par­ti­tion, wars, and state­hood. What could have been a bewil­der­ing nar­ra­tive of Israeli pol­i­tics and per­son­al­i­ties is saved by strate­gic foot­notes and an appen­dix review­ing Israeli his­to­ry for the unini­ti­at­ed. Per­son­al anec­dotes spice the nar­ra­tive; feisty dia­logues between Peres and Lan­dau close most chap­ters, pre­vent­ing the account from veer­ing into hagiog­ra­phy. While atten­tion is paid to key debates of Ben-Gurion’s career — his approach to the Holo­caust, his posi­tion on a two-state solu­tion, his pur­suit of the Lavon affair — the focus remains on Ben-Gurion’s polit­i­cal and moral phi­los­o­phy. An omniv­o­rous read­er, Ben-Guri­on edu­cat­ed him­self in world mil­i­tary his­to­ry, Bib­li­cal stud­ies — any­thing he felt would broad­en his insight into the world his peo­ple would need to nav­i­gate. Both a prag­ma­tist and an ide­al­ist, he under­stood that com­pro­mise is nec­es­sary when no oth­er options remain. A deeply moral man, he tol­er­at­ed mis­takes, but not lies. While many read­ers may dis­agree with Peres’s assess­ments of Ben-Gurion’s posi­tions, few can argue with the polit­i­cal courage and lead­er­ship this man offered the Jew­ish peo­ple. Appen­dix sum­ma­riz­ing Israeli his­to­ry, chronol­o­gy, source notes.

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

Discussion Questions