September 25, 2019
Israel’s First Prime Minister Was Complicated. So Is This Book About His Life.Historians in the News
tags: Israel, David Ben-Gurion
On the eve of the establishment of the state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who had worked tirelessly toward this goal, suddenly sought to postpone independence. He knew neighboring Arab countries were poised to invade and he feared his underground army wasn’t prepared to fight; so, at a nighttime meeting with Lord Chancellor Sir William Jowitt, Ben-Gurion proposed that the British remain in charge of Palestine for another five to 10 years while working to increase Jewish immigration. Nothing came of this proposal and, on Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. Full-scale fighting broke out six months later.
Ben-Gurion’s 11th-hour meeting is one of the little-known facts revealed by the Israeli historian Tom Segev in his deeply researched, engrossing and, in some respects, controversial biography, “A State at Any Cost.” Segev has written several books on Israel, and he joins other noted experts who have mined newly released archival sources to re-examine the life and legacy of the country’s first prime minister. The timing makes sense: As Israel has transformed itself from a small, struggling society into a high-tech player on the global stage, its people have become increasingly interested in the ideals that first guided it and the roots of problems that still confound it. And, like America’s founding fathers, David Ben-Gurion was the embodiment of his nation’s complicated beginnings.
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