Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book Review: Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul

Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul by Daniel Gordis

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Schocken (March 4, 2014)

Menachem Begin is one of the most polarizing figures of our time but Gordis has penned a well-written biography of the former Israeli Prime Minister.

This isn't just Begin's story but also a story of the State of Israel.  Begin was the PM who made peace with Egypt when he signed a historic peace treaty with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat when Jimmy Carter was the president of the United States.

Once referred to as a fascist by rival David Ben-Gurion, Begin became the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  This is a man that was both complex and controversial.  Even though he was not really religious, he was still very proud to be Jewish.

A Polish native, Begin admired Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and became a leader within his Betar movement.  He would later be placed in prison by the Soviets in 1940 and joining the Free Polish Army in 1942.

It was after he joined the Irgun in 1943 that he was able to achieve an instant notoriety for the organization's bombings.

Begin was a right-winger and belonged to the Herut party.  They played opppsites to the Labor governments.  It was a surprise when the party won in 1977.  Through Begin, Israel was able to outreach to the Ethiopian Jews and the Vietnamese "boat people."

It was Begin who made the decision to bomb the Iraq nuclear reactors in 1981, an act that is now seen as being a courageous foresight.

After resigning in 1983, Begin lived in seclusion until his passing in 1992.  He would not be buried beisde his fellow Israeli PMs.  Instead, he would join his Irgun comrades.

What Gordis' perceptive biography does is give us new insight into Begin's life and how his influences continues to live on.

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