In Defense of Ben-Gurion's Legacy
by Gad Nahshon
In the last decade the new Israeli historians or the post-Zionist ones have attempted to dismantle David Ben-Gurion's legacy and heritage. According to them Israel was born in sin and Ben-Gurion, the founding father, was the great sinner.
The revisionist historians managed to integrate their post-Zionist subjective agenda into the Israeli classrooms. A new struggle for the minds of Israel's young generations has erupted. It is not an ivory tower scholarly topic but an educational-moral issue. It is an attack on the Zionist values, an attack on the motivations and the national collective norms of Israeli society.
Dr. Joseph Heller, one of Israel's most distinguished historians, a true professional expert of Zionism, expert of the Israeli history and a professor at the Hebrew Univer�sity in Jerusalem, decided three years ago to fight back, to defend the great legacy of David Ben-Gurion, to reveal today the greatness of this statesman who established the State of Israel, May 14, 1948. He found the specific timing of creating a new Jewish state when many Jewish and Israeli leaders, when all of his foreign friends, all of them, told him not to act, to wait and see. He became a super-leader and an international star. But people tend to forget. Ben-Gurion died in 1973 after the Yom Kippur war.
Dr. Joseph Heller has never forgotten the legacy of Ben-Gurion. One can see it in the level of dedication and even admiration of this leader when reading, and it is a must for lovers of Israel in America, his new analytical illuminating scholarly work: The Birth of Israel, 1945-1949 - Ben-Gurion and His Critics (University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2000). Dr. Heller discussed the legacy in five parts, conclusions and appendixes about the 'New Historians.'
In his preface, Dr. Heller stressed the fact that: "This is the first comprehensive book on the internal decision-making process of the Zionist leadership in Jerusalem in the crucial period of 1945-49. I analyze the policies and methods pursued by the Yishuv leadership in order to achieve a Zionist solution in Palestine. The book covers the period from the end of the Second World War to the armistice agreements that followed Israel's War of Independence. I am not concerned with non-Zionist parties, such as the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel and the PKP (Palestine Communist Party), or with Zionist parties in the Diaspora. My basic assumption is that Zionist decision making took place in the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem; in other words, the Yishuv - the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine - was the center of policy formulation. Rarely did members of the Executive based in Britain and America question decisions made in Jerusalem.
The alleged failure of world Jewry to rescue European Jewry during the Holocaust gave a psychological and political boost to the Yishuv leadership's claim to represent Jews everywhere as it strove for the establishment of a Jewish state. Yet in this sense the Holocaust was only a catalyst. The thrust for a Jewish state preceded the Holocaust. The Jewish state came into being as a result of the Yishuv's accumulation of power and its exploitation of diplomatic windows of opportunity between 1945 and 1949."
The uniqueness of this book stems from the fact that this is not one more book about Zionist diplomacy but rather a discussion of a new dimension ".from the perspective of the domestic, political, ideological debate conducted by the Zionist parties in the Yishuv over means and ends." Dr. Heller shifts the focus from external to the internal and he certainly illuminates the ideas, the options, and the reality. One can also view this book about the birth of Israel as a pioneer grass roots discussion of the process of decision making inside the 'womb' which created the new state: the executive of the Jewish agency in Jerusalem, rather than the world Zionist movement, whose president was the legendary Chaim Weizmann. Dr. Heller wrote that this leader was like a prophet without arms. He did not have a party. He did not have the trade unions (Histadruth) or the Kibbutzim.
Dr. Heller exposed the ability of David Ben-Gurion to present the right decision in the proper timing. He also discussed, in detail, the relationship of Ben-Gurion with his party and with the political powers which challenged him at that period from the left to the right. Of course Ben-Gurion made mistakes but he managed to fight for his solutions.
Dr. Heller noted: "I have shown in this book that the key to success from Ben-Gurion's point of view lay in his ability to bring about an internal consensus by persuading a decisive majority of the Zionist parties to accept a compromise involving the establishment of a Jewish state in part of Palestine.
Characteristically, he used the euphemism viable because the term partition was anathema to many of his political associates."
As to the reality in which Ben-Gurion functioned, one must understand the following: "In the war's aftermath, the question was how to transform the state-in-the-making into an independent state. It now seemed possible that the 1939 White Paper, which has proposed the establishment of a Palestinian state where the Jews would constitute a one-third minority, might become permanent British policy. Concurrently, the Arab side gained strength through a series of developments: the creation of the Arab League, the Arab states' involvement in the founding of the United Nations, and mounting pressures in Britain and France for decolonization. Whether the new world order would take into account the aspirations of Zionism was a moot point.
In the immediate postwar era, Zionist realpolitik dictated three moves involving high risk. The first was the mobilization of American Jewry in the struggle for a Jewish state, taking advantage of the new presidency to open a new chapter in relations with Washington. The second was to make the Holocaust survivors in Europe an active political factor. The third was the Yishuv's resistance to British government policy. Intensive Zionist propaganda activity persuaded Truman and his representatives on the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to accept the slogan urging the immigration of 100,000 Jews to Palestine as a realistic political idea. At the same time, members of the Jewish Agency Executive sought to persuade the traditionally anti-Zionist State Department that the Arab's sheer negativism was contrary to American interests.
The executive's decision to dispatch Goldmann to meet with Acheson, taken at its 1946 meeting in Paris, was a watershed in the history of Zionism. Still, it had taken traumatic events such as the Black Sabbath and the bombing of the King David Hotel to show the Zionist leadership that violence of the sort pursued by the United Resistance Movement was no longer viable and that it was urgent to forge a link between the United States and the Holocaust survivors in the struggle for a Jewish state.
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