Oct. 7, 2019
- David Ben-Gurion’s stature as Israel’s founding father would seem to be eminently secure, given his crucial, perhaps indispensable, role in salvaging the Jewish people from political oblivion and reinstating it in its ancestral homeland. Tom Segev’s A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion is an effort to tarnish his reputation and reinterpret Israel’s founding period.
- On May 14, 1948, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, becoming its first prime minister and defense minister, posts he held until 1963 (with a brief retirement from office in 1953-55). Segev casts Israel’s founding father as the destroyer of Palestinian Arab society – deeply implicated in what Segev and his fellow revisionists see as the “original sin” of Israel’s creation: the supposedly deliberate and aggressive dispossession of the native Arab population.
- The truth is that, far from seeking to dispossess the Palestinian Arabs as claimed by Segev, the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence of a substantial Arab minority in the prospective Jewish state.
- No less than Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the faction that was the forebear of today’s Likud Party, voiced his readiness (in a famous 1923 essay) “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.” And if this was the position of the more “militant” faction of the Jewish national movement, small wonder that mainstream Zionism took for granted the full equality of the Arab minority in the prospective Jewish state.
- In December 1947, shortly after Palestinian Arabs had unleashed wholesale violence to subvert the newly passed UN partition resolution, Ben-Gurion told his Labor Party that “in our state there will be non-Jews as well” and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well.”
- The Haganah’s operational plan – adopted in March 1948 to reverse then-current Palestinian Arab aggression and rebuff the anticipated invasion by the Arab states – was predicated, in the explicit instructions of the Haganah’s commander in chief, on the “acknowledgment of the full rights, needs, and freedom of the Arabs in the Hebrew state without any discrimination, and a desire for coexistence on the basis of mutual freedom and dignity.”
The writer is emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, London, and director of the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University.