Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Menachem Begin: A Life

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Menachem Begin: A Life

Article excerpt

Menachem Begin: A Life BY AVI SHILON TRANSLATED BY DANIELLE ZILBERBERG AND YORAM SHARETT YALE, 584 PAGES, $40

The early decades of Israeli politics were dominated by Labor Zionists, mainly secular Ashkenazis (Jews from central and eastern Europe) whose goal was to create a New Jew based upon a pioneering socialist ethos and rooted in the Bible and the love of the homeland. Menachem Begin (1913-92), a military and political leader who became prime minister of Israel, was in many ways the Labor Zionists' polar opposite.

As the leader of the small Revisionist underground Etzel, he led a revolt against British forces in the 1940s. An excellent strategist, he played a vital role in driving out the British, though you would not guess this from Avi Shilon's biography. The author seems to adhere to a centerleft Zionism, though he does try to be fair to Begin and recognizes many of his strengths.

While not ignoring Begin's strategic skills, Shilon, an Israeli journalist, does not, I think, give them as much credit as they deserve in this book, an English translation of a Hebrew biography published in 2007. He argues that Begin, while a principled, truthful, and moral politician, was governed almost totally by emotion and intuition, shortchanging his analytical abilities. …

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