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August 28, 1987 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-08-28

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Assessments: Biographical And Autobiographical


Editor Emeritus

Biographical literature has always
dominated the publishing preferences.
Inevitably linked with historiography,
the roles of leadership in all spheres of
human endeavor are valuable for a
knowledge of events past and present.
Current emphasis on personalities
who remain indelible in historical
recording includes leading figures in
the history of our time. Two such per-
sonality assessments are inseparable
from the records of Israel's rebirth and
Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground
— 1886-1948 (Houghton Mifflin) has
great significance in the dedication
devoted to it by its biographer, Shabtai
Teveth. A noted author and a senior
research fellow at the Dyan Center for
Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv Univer-
sity, Teveth devoted 13 years to the
writing of this portion of the life of
David Ben-Gurion. The great task of
research for the writing of this immense
work, a volume of close to 1,000 pages,
makes it a must-reading book for an
understanding of Israel's position in the
'lb the review of the Teveth Ben-
Gurion by Martin Gilbert, in the New
York Times, was appended a note by
Thomas Friedman who pointed to the
following facts: Ben-Gurion saved every
letter he wrote. There were 750,000
items in his posthumous papers. All of
his personal diaries from 1919 until his
last days exist — 56 volumes.
With such an accumulated record,
it is no wonder that Teveth's biography
of Ben-Gurion already includes three
volumes and another will surely come
forth as a follow-up to the present one
in English.
The emphasis in the Teveth book on
all of the events in the close to 60-year
scrutiny of a major architect of Jewish
statehood makes the biography a study
of the Labor Zionist ideology, its conflict

David Ben-Gurion

Menachem Begin

with the socialism it embraced and with
whose leaders it had to battle. It is a
study in determination, which has also
been interpreted as stubbornness in the
struggle for power leadership with ma-
jor Zionist leaders in opposition parties.
It is a work that must be welcomed as
a notable addition to Jewish history.
As in the Ben-Gurion case,
numerous works have already appeared
about Menachem Begin. The newest,
the current biography, may prove to be
the most significant, also because of the
importance of the biographer. The Life
and Times of Menachem Begin (Double-
day) is a valuable compilation by Amos
Perlmutter, an expert on Israeli
political aspects and Middle East af-
fairs, now a member of the faculty of the
American University in Washington.
Perlmutter writes objectively, factually,
and where criticism may be implied, the
biography is unbiased.
There were occasinos when
Perlmutter disagreed with Begin. He
could not be considered a supporter of
the Likud. That is why the objectivity

is so impressive. That is why his Begin
biography has much significance as a
study of "the life and times" of one of
the very important Israeli leaders.
So significant are many of the
aspects in Begin's life in his acquisition
of power when he became Israel prime
minister, defeating the powerful Labor
Party that had ruled Israel for 30 years,
that the two biographies can be treated
with a relationship that marks them
jointly as a fused chapter in Israel and
Zionist history.
As the next World Zionist Congress
approaches, with sessions to be held
again in Jerusalem in December, the
biographies of these two giants in Jewry
and Zionism have much to guide the
delegates assembling from Jewish com-
munities in free countries. The conflicts
between the forces in labor ranks and
the ultra-conservatism are far from end-
ed. The echoes of the struggles will be
heard again. Ideological disputes of the
past will surely have repercussions
The manner in which Ben-Gurion

negotiated with the religious elements
should prove advisory under the new
conditions of spiritual travail. The
powerfulness of the leaders of earlier
national assemblies, Ben-Gurion and
Begin predominating, remain unforget-
ful and continue with appeals to their
ideas even in their absence.
The personalities who were the ar-
chitects of the Jewish State of Israel
function fascinatingly in the two
biographies under consideration.
Vladimir Jabotinsky, who engineered
Revisionism, out of which grew the
Irgun and the present Likud Party, was
the mentor of Menachem Begin. In-
terestingly, David Ben-Gurion had an
affection for Jabotinsky.
In the case of Chaim Weizmann, the
first President of Israel, the B-G an-
tagonism to him did not subside. The
treatment of Weizmann, the B-G party
loyalty which became a stubbornness,
are among the important aspects in
Zionist party politics that draw special
The disputes were endless. During
Weizmann's presidency of the World
Zionist Organization, B-G fought his
leadership. At one point he demanded
a showdown. There was a meeting at
the home of Stephen S. Wise when they
faced each other surrounded by friends.
Louis Lipsky and his associates strong-
ly backed Weizmann. Ben-Gurion's
friends, including the by-then-famous
historian and philosopher Chaim
Greenberg, found it difficult to defend
Ben-Gurions's animosity.
Most shocking was Ben-Gurion's
refusal to permit Weizmann to append
his signature to the Israel Declaration
of Independence and Statehood. It was
when B-G rose to his greatest height as
the prime minister of state of which he
was perhaps the chief architect as the
framer of the Declaration of In-
dependence. It is as a conclusion to his
long biography which is really the first
portion in English in which Teveth

Continued on Page 42

Papal 'Conciliatory' Needs Submission To Testing

Pope John Paul II wrote a widely-
publicized letter to Archbishop John L.
May of St. Louis, Mo., president of the
National Conference of Catholic
Bishops. It expressed his sense of hor-
ror over the bestialities of the
Holocaust. Its recipient is really the
Jewish people. It is being interpreted as
a "conciliatory gesture" in response to
the anger in many ranks over the Pope's
audience he recently gave to Austrian
President Kurt Waldheim who is charg-
ed with active collaboration in the Nazi

Since the Papal letter is judged as
"conciliatory," it must also be labeled
submissive to further discussion of the
subject that prompted the letter — the
Holocaust as well as the guilt
associated with the massive crimes in
the ranks that failed to encourage and


FRIDAY, AUG. 28, 1987

provide rescue for the victims of
The very fact that the message from
the Pope was timed on the eve of a ses-
sion with Jewish leaders prior to his ap-
proaching American visit multiplies
the importance of his communication
intended for the Jewish people, with an
eminent Catholic leader as the
A message of the type just compos-
ed by a Papal Nuncio inevitably
becomes a vital part of the Catholic ar-
chive and inerasable from Vatican
records. There can be no doubt that this
was the intention of Pope John Paul II.
Therefore the meeting that was arrang-
ed with Jewish spokespeople has
similar importance. With the assump-
tion that the Pope "submits" to
elaborative discussion of the painful
Holocaust subject and the Waldheim

matter that impelled the writing of his
letter, the entire issue may have and is
a matter of serious consideration.
Under discussion will surely be the
continuing concern over the role of
Israel in Vatican considerations and the
expectation that a new sense of justice
toward the Jewish state will emerge
from the discussions.
Will the Vatican recognize Israel as
an ally in human consideration and in
affirming religious liberties in the
cooperative tasks? Will the enmity
toward Jerusalem as the capital of the
Jewish state be abandoned?
The Pope's declaration is now and
probably for a long time destined to be
treated with great respect and serious
appreciation. It is a scholarly message
replete with treatment of the Jew as the
Catholic's Elder Brother who gave
substance to the Catholic faith. It treats

the Holocaust horrors with dignity. It
takes into account the weight of the
definitive "Shoah — as the extermina-

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Vol. XCII No. 1

Aug. 28, 1987

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