The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State

By Zeev Sternhell; David Maisel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Worker as the Agent of National Resurrection

THE HERITAGE OF THE SECOND ALIYAH

On 20 January 1955 the Mapai Central Committee met in Petah Tiqwa to discuss the forthcoming party convention and the elections that were to take place that year: the elections to the Histadrut in the spring and the general elections in July. But this was not a normal gathering; the whole leadership of the party and the Histadrut were present, and among the dozens who were invited many people in the second and third echelons of the leadership were later to take their place at the top of the ladder. Although nothing on the formal agenda suggested it, this was an especially festive occasion; BenGurion, temporarily out of office, also took part, and as was usual since the early 1920s, he made the opening speech. In this speech, the first part of which was devoted to the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Aliyah, BenGurion made a historical evaluation of the labor movement and a personal evaluation of his relations with his rivals on the Left. The speech filled about fifty pages of minutes and lasted for two and a half hours. It was a classic Ben-Gurion speech: a jumble of brilliant perceptions; crystal-clear historical insights; petty settlings of accounts; and cheap, hurtful, provocative, and superficial polemics. But the importance of this fascinating document lies especially in Ben-Gurion's interpretation of the nature and achievements of the labor movement, with an account of its development from the beginning of the century until the birth of the young state. 1

As Ben-Gurion saw it, the special contribution of the Second Aliyah to Zionism was not the founding of Jewish settlements. In this area, priority went to the immigrants of the 1880s and 1890s who founded the villages of Petah Tiqwa, Rosh Pinna, Metulla, Hadera, and Rehovot. The first workers' organizations also preceded the Second Aliyah. In 1891, he said, “The first workers' organization in the country was founded,” which according to BenGurion already had “some of the basic ideas of what we call the Second Aliyah, and they were signed by Meir Dizengoff.” 2 The special contribution of the Second Aliyah, however, was the “concept of labor as the key idea of the Jewish revival.” The search for a way “to guarantee Jewish labor” led to the birth of communal settlements, and not any theory. Ben-Gurion did not forget to point out that the theorists of Hapo'el Hatza'ir and Po'alei Tzion, Yosef Aharonowitz and Borochov, had opposed this type of settlement. Even

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