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The First Leader of Israel - Ben-Gurion

Info: 2814 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in Politics

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The first prime minister of Israel was a man known by the name of David Ben-Gurion. He was not only afraid to speak his mind but also wanted the Jewish people to succeed in their mission of establishing their homeland. His Zionistic agenda embodied his beliefs that the Jewish people deserved their so-called promised homeland of Israel. Before the creation of Israel, Ben-Gurion had taken massive steps to ensure a structure and theme in his soon to be formed nation. He was adamant on the setting up defensive and military capabilities of Israel before it could form. The essay will evaluate how Ben-Gurion’s actions in setting up Israel’s securities were assessed by the different perspectives of various authors and publications around the world. Ben-Gurion was responsible in setting up the Israeli Defense Force and he did that by various procedures, which had brought a difference of opinion to him depending one’s point of view. The essay will compare the analysis of four main authors including Baruch Kimmerling, Benny Morris, Nathan Yanai, and Avi Shalaim. All the four authors discuses the positive contributions of Ben-Gurion except Shalaim who claims that Ben-Gurion was among the leaders who needed the ‘Iron Wall’ policy to try and conquer the Arabs and Palestinians, thus aggravating the war between the Palestinians/Arabs and the Israeli people.

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One author who highlights Ben-Gurion’s contributions and actions is Kimmerling in his book titled ‘the invention and decline of Israeliness: State, society, and the military.’ Kimmerling offers an analysis and overview of the deconstruction and construction of the hegemonic metaculture in Israel, a national identity of secular Zionist Israelis from the Zionist movement and agendas in the early years (Kimmerling 15). From its birth, the Zionist movement became Israel’s national identity and since then changes accelerated and the earlier assumptions about the cultural character, demographic composition, social and political boundaries were proven to be valid. For instance, during World War II, the conflict between the Arab and Jews reached a complete stalemate, which forced both sides to reconsider their original and basic positions. As a result, David Ben-Gurion, a Jewish community leader since the year 1933, convened a Zionist meeting to help establish the Jewish commonwealth after the war. The declaration was facilitated by Ben-Gurion to help in both political and social American Jewry mobilization, which was a main agenda of the Zionists (Kimmerling 51). Moreover, Ben-Gurion was a very reserved leader who thought about what the world would think about Israel. For instance, in the first stage of intercommunal war of 1948, several generals decided to convince Ben-Gurion to try conquering the whole of Palestine, but he refused. He claimed that other countries of the world would not allow Israel to have such a large gain in territory. His claims were later proven to be true since when the Israelis managed to take over the Peninsula of Sinai, they had to withdraw due to pressure from the United States (Kimmerling 38).

Kimmerling also explains the ideological belief of Ben-Gurion on secularized religion, which was built on selective Jewish religious adoptions together with messianic motifs and symbols. A good example was the use of the Bible. The teachers’ main aim was to teach the practices and activities that were permissible and desirable before God (Kimmerling 84). As the Israeli Prime minister, Ben-Gurion facilitated this course by organizing different publicized classes of Bible study in his premises. He invited different political and intellectual celebrities, which earned him the title ‘philosopher king’. This influenced different people all over the country to imitate him and establish different Bible seminars (Kimmerling 97).

Finally, Kimmerling explores the contribution of the transition from pre-state community to a nationalist community. The issue with the pre-state Jewish community was its specific character after its consolidation into an entity, which was autonomous and never proven to be central to the ideology and discourse of Zionism (Kimmerling 192).  The Zionist liberal wing envisaged and needed a secular meritocracy that was tolerant and enlightened. Several interests that were represented by the varied socialists were supposed to overlap with national interests. Ben-Gurion was at the center of Israeli nationalism and it proved to be his slogan as he wanted people to move from a class to a nation. The main priority of the Israeli nationalism and the movement from the pre-state Jewish community was to help build different national institutions to allocate resources all over the country (Kimmerling 195).

The other author who highlights the contributions of Ben-Gurion is Benny Morris in the scholarly review titled “Moshe Sharett: In Ben-Gurion’s Long Shadow.”. This review explains how Moshe Sharett had lived in the shadow of Ben-Gurion. Sharett is portrayed as a figure, throughout his whole political life, who had just lived in the shadow of other political leaders. Whenever his name is mentioned, Sharett is always seen as an ineffective, weak and sometimes a failure of a political figure. Morris describes Sharett together with his policies and ideologies as very weak and moderate. Especially in terms of the defense and foreign policies when compared with a more powerful, authoritative and disciplined Israeli polity that was created by Ben-Gurion. Moreover, Gabriel Sheffer, from whom Morris borrows, also claims that Sharett’s obliteration from the memory of the public did wipe the moderate and alternative ethos that was established into the mainstream Israeli national agenda in the following years (Morris 104).

The difference between the two prime ministers is also visible in how the country treated them. As for Ben-Gurion, there are several institutions and resources named after him. For example, one of the top Israeli universities is named after him and a whole center is dedicated to his heritage (Morris 110). Also, there are full-blown biographies written and published about him. On the other hand, there are only a few streets and a cancer treatment center named after Sharett. There is no airport, no university named after him or even a biography about him. The difference in how the Israeli treat the two leaders was majorly due to the policies and ideologies that they both stood for. For example, Ben-Gurion managed to achieve ascendancy and success because of his blend of ruthlessness and single-mindedness while pursuing power for his party, his new state, and himself. He also had intellectual talents: an ability that helped him during times of deception and manipulations during the wars (Morris 107). On the flip side, Sharett’s main talents were his capability to speak many languages like English, Hebrew, and Arabic. His fluency in such languages and his excellence in public speaking helped him become a Zionist civil servant (Morris 106). The main difference and divide that separates the two is their ideological-philosophical view. Whereas, Sharett has a moderate praxis and liberal approach when dealing with issues and policies, Ben Gurion had more of an activist outlook, which made him a role model for the Israeli people. For instance, Sharett was in favor of the establishment of the Palestine Arab State, which Ben-Gurion was completely opposed. He preferred an outright Israeli annexation or partitioning the land between Jordan and Israel (Morris 111).

Nathan Yanai of the Indiana University Press also talks about Ben-Gurion and his beliefs in the article titled “The citizen as a pioneer: Ben-Gurion’s concept of citizenship.”. In the article, Yanai explains Ben-Gurion’s beliefs on the concept of citizenship. This concept began in Israeli when Palestine’s Jewish Society consisting of both political center and right were around. From this ideology, other terms came into play including ‘movement’, ‘comrade’ and ‘pioneer’. These terms majorly came into play due to the difference in ideologies and social tensions that existed in the two political classes (Yanai 139). The social classes then created a movement called the labor movement that had an ideology providing a preference for the nation instead of the individual. The other camp of the political right put their preference on the nation alone; thus, claiming that the terms citizen can only be used in describing the constituent nation member. This ideology did not lie well with the labor movement, which believed in social ideology and a collective concept.

Ben-Gurion was a member of the labor movement and so led the group of those who believed that the concept of citizenship was not supposed to be at the center of politics and political philosophy. Ben-Gurion believed that the interpretation of citizenship was supposed to be linked alongside his statehood concept and the labor movement’s collective outlooks. Both of Ben-Gurion’s interpretation of the citizenship concept and that of the labor movement put the collective entity at the forefront instead of an individual (Yanai 128). Ben-Gurion’s concept of statehood starts by reviewing the history of the Jewish people. He was determined not only to establish the institutions of the new state that would replace the communal institutions, but to divorce these new institutions from the divisive political traditions that had emerged in the sovereign national institutions of (Yanai 140). With statehood in his mind, he claimed that the people of Israeli were transformed into a certain personal nation; a nation which neither has a common language nor people with a territorial base. Ben-Gurion was torn between his abhorrence of the change in common character of the Jewish public and the admiration of the Jewish people’s survival during a time of having no state (Yanai 127).

After the establishment of the state, Ben-Gurion was fully determined to help in the prevention of conflict, which emerged between the legal sovereignty definition of the state’s mission and its Zionist ideological definition. He then tried formulating a doctrine, which described the state as being sovereign and was never subject to any rule but its own (Yanai 129). Ben-Gurion went on to explain that it was only the citizens of the state who were capable of sharing the sovereignty with it. From these two concepts of Ben-Gurion, his beliefs and ideology on citizenship and sovereignty were manifested. This manifestation surpassed the legal ramification put on citizenship and sovereignty while he was involved with the Israeli elections for the American Zionist leaders (Yanai 131).

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Horowitz et al. in their book titled “Origins of the Israeli polity” also talked about Ben-Gurion. Horowitz describes Ben-Gurion as the centerpiece of the internal Jewish community politics that existed in Palestine. After the emergence of the two labor parties, Ben-Gurion became the center of the political force in Yishuv. It is at this point that both the National Council and Zionist executive took control of the self-defense underground organization which was for the Jewish community (Horowitz et al 68). The self-defense organization was referred to as the Hagana. Just like the other three authors, Horowitz explains the strategies that Ben-Gurion used as the leader of the Zionist movement to help him demand for a Jewish state. In this process, he even enlisted support for the American public opinion and the American Jewry. He even went ahead and formed parallel organizations of national trades that were heavily linked with the levels of the federation (Horowitz et al 119). This was in deep contrast to the socialist wing group within the Yishuv who called for an organization joint trade union policy for both the Jews and the Arabs. Ben-Gurion managed to beat the other formation since many people joined him in his course and beliefs. Horowitz also highlights the disagreements within the Labor movements due to the level of emphasis that was put on the future orientation the movement and what they stood for. Ben-Gurion had negative sentiments and evaluation of the Jewish who were living in diaspora, making him one of the opponents of the Yiddish. As much as he was against the Jewish being in diaspora, he applied the symbols and beliefs from the Bible that aligned with the Jewish people being sovereign and living in the Land of Israel (Horowitz et al121).

The final source is a book called The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab world by Avi Shlaim. Shlaim was among the late group of authors who came in the late 1980s to help in challenging the previous old historical recordings and they were referred to as the revisionists. The new historians that included Shlaim claimed that Israel was hugely responsible for the refugee crisis in Palestine and the Israeli-Arab wars (Shlaim 45). Shlaim suggested that the previous historians termed as ‘old’ had fully misled the people and were fully led by their political interest to become pro-Israel. Shlaim argues that Ben-Gurion was the first Israeli formative leader who hugely followed the thinking of Jabotinsky. By following Jabotinsky’s thinking, Shlaim claimed that Ben-Gurion fully preferred the military solution as compared to political solutions, especially whilst he was dealing with the Arabs (Shlaim 210).

As a result of the strategy and thinking, the relationship between the Arabs and the Zionists wrecked and even led to wars. Shlaim goes on to state that this particular truth contradicts the common notion that the Zionists just needed some accommodation with Palestine and that the Arabs were just people who crumbled in the deal. He goes on to state that major interchange existed in Israel between the people who wanted a peaceful solution to the political problem and the people who wanted to follow the policy of ‘iron wall’. Since Ben-Gurion was among the people who wanted the policy of ‘Iron wall’ and was one of the military leaders, his viewpoints easily won the political battles (Shlaim 61).

The essay has compared the analysis of five major authors who describe Ben-Gurion very differently and similarly depending on the actions he took. Kimmerling described him as a philosopher-king who hugely influenced the people of Israeli by being a nationalist. He also described Ben-Gurion as a leader who influenced people to practice a more secularized religion. Morris compares Sharett with Ben-Gurion and is majorly looking at their ideologies and policies, where it is shown that Ben-Gurion was clearly preferred over Sharett. Yanai discusses the beliefs of Ben-Gurion on citizenship and sovereignty of the state. He even looks at Ben-Gurion’s beliefs on statehood in conjunction with his ideology of citizenship. Horowitz looks at how far reaching Ben-Gurion was to gather the Jewish people into their homeland of Israel and fight for the right to have a state in the first place. Finally, Shlaim discusses Ben-Gurion’s influence on the war between Arabs, Palestinians, and the Zionists. Contrastingly among the five authors, it is only Shlaim who portrays Ben-Gurion in a negative light.

Works Cited

  • Horowitz, Dan, et al. Origins of the Israeli Polity: Palestine under the Mandate. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • Kimmerling, Baruch. The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military. University of California Press, 2005.
  • Morris, Benny. “Moshe Sharett: In Ben-Gurion’s Long Shadow.” Journal of Palestine                                       Studies, vol. 26, no. 4, 1997, pp. 104–112. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2537912.
  • Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. Penguin, 2015.
  • Yanai, Nathan. “The Citizen as Pioneer: Ben-Gurion’s Concept of Citizenship.” Israel                      Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 1996, pp. 127–143. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30245476.


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