Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner and The Revolt by Menachem Begin

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner (2010) and The Revolt by Menachem Begin (1950) together are a powerful, close-up rendering of modern Israeli history from the vantage point of two primary actors.

Menachem Begin was the leader of the underground movement, the Irgun, that fought for Israeli independence in the 1940s.  Begin led an extraordinary life.  He was born in 1913 in Brest-Litovsk.  He became a follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the militant, nationalist Zionist movement.  During WWII, he was exiled by the Soviets.  Begin found his way to Palestine while serving in the Polish army.  After arriving in Palestine, he became one of the leaders of the Irgun.  The Revolt is Begin's story before and during Israel's War for Independence.  Begin was an unapologetic fighter for the creation of a free, Jewish state.  Begin's Irgun battled not only with the English but also with the predecessor to the Israeli Army, the Haganah.  Once Israel declared its independence, Begin joined forces with the Haganah and avoided a power struggle and civil war.  That is where Begin's memoirs end and  Yehuda Avner's begin.

Yehuda Avner grew up in England and just before the War of Independence, he moved to Israel.  He fought in the war and, a few years later, became an advisor and writer for Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.  He continued on as an advisor to Eshkol's successors, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin through the 1960s and 1970s.  Eshkol, Meir and Rabin were members of the Labor party, as was Avner.  In 1977, after many years in government, Menachem Begin, the leader of the right-leaning Likud party, became Israel's first non-Labor Prime Minister.  Avner went to pack his belongings.  Begin called him to his office and asked him to serve as his advisor.  In a poignant moment, Avner consults his mentor, Rabin, who says that when the leader of your country asks you to serve, you serve.  Rapidly, Begin becomes Avner's spiritual guide.  Avner shares his first hand account of the background to the historic peace treaty between Isarel and Egypt, including Anwar El Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, and the crushing personal blow to Begin when his former enemy and then friend, Sadat, was assassinated.

The Prime Ministers is Avner's first hand account of serving four Israeli Prime Ministers.  It is a revealing, readable and intelligent review of his perspective of some of the most momentous moments in Israeli history. 

If you are a history, political or biography buff, I would highly recommend both of these works.  The Prime Ministers is available as a hard cover or an e-book.  To find The Revolt, you'll need to go to a used book site (e.g., www.abebooks.com)

Interview with Avner:
A piece about Begin and Sadat:

1 comment:

  1. Tom Tugend, writing in the Nov. 2 edition of The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, relates the amazing story of a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising:

    “One early revelation (to me) was that there were two main, separate Jewish organizations — and a couple of minor ones — fighting the Nazis in the (Warsaw) ghetto, based on the left- and right-wing loyalties of the Zionist youth organizations of the time. Apparently, to this day, adherents of these ideologies are loath to credit the “other” side with its contributions to the battle.”

    The day before Tugend’s words appeared, a book with the title “Stern: The Man and His Gang,” by Zev Golan came out. Tugend’s words apply just as appropriately to the history of the Hagana, Palmach, Irgun and LEHI in their fight against the British in the land of Israel.

    For decades Israel’s left-leaning academic establishment in Israel, as well as Jewish educators in the United States, have tried to minimize the impact the Irgun and LEHI had on London’s decision to end the British Mandate. The LEHI’s story is finally getting the fair treatment it was denied for far too long.

    Yair (Avraham) Stern was the founder and leader of the Stern Group (Gang), which is remembered in Israel as the LEHI (Fighters For the Freedom of Israel.) The LEHI Museum’s publishing arm released the new English book by Golan — a historian.

    Golan is well-known as the author of the 2003 book “Free Jerusalem: Heroes, Heroines and Rogues Who Created the State of Israel” (Devora Publishing), which is available in English and should not be missed by those who want to know more about the Zionist underground before Israel was a modern state.

    Golan’s “The Shofars of the Revolt,” which was published only in Hebrew, is about the men who from 1930 to 1947 bravely ignored British regulations against sounding the shofar at the Western Wall at the conclusion of Yom Kippur services. Golan also produced a Hebrew book about the first hero to sound the shofar titled “Awake O’ Israel: The Life and Thought of the Late Rabbi Moshe Segal.”

    Golan is an American-born Zionist historian and “Stern: The Man and His Gang” is full of important lessons from Zionism’s untold history. It seems like a culmination of sorts of all of his previous output.

    Some of the features that make this six-chapter softbound book so engaging are:

    • The story of Stern’s life, which is presented as it has never appeared in English, with anecdotes, translated Stern poems and a full portrait of the leader, his ideas and his motivations;

    • A full chapter of biographical sketches of over a dozen famous and not-so-famous LEHI soldiers — an exceptionally inspiring portion of the book, over 60 pages long — which is organized in a very readable way with large amounts of information that have never been available before to English readers;

    • A comprehensive timeline of LEHI’s operations, again something that was never published in English before; and

A well thought out question-and-answer section that teachers would find especially useful for classroom use.

    The book is a compelling narrative and even readers with a limited knowledge of the larger subject of Israeli/Zionist history will both enjoy it and find it accessible.

    With this addition to his prior body of work, Golan has done more to safeguard the history and ideas of the heroic soldiers who fought to create a modern, independent Jewish commonwealth than any other writer of this generation.

    Golan’s work over the last eight years has had the intensity of a man on a mission. And his readers are the true beneficiaries of the fruits of this mission.

    The soldiers of the LEHI were passionate Zionists who understood the higher ideals for which they fought. Their words and deeds of long ago are continuing to inspire many young people in Israel today. These young Israelis understand that knowledge and appreciation of LEHI’s history and philosophy are critical to the future of the Jewish State. With Golan’s book, American readers can be inspired as well.