Ben-Gurion: The Man Who Willed A State

As a new biography shows, David Ben-Gurion could be petty, harsh, and stubborn. He also decisively shaped almost every institution that would form the state of Israel.

July 1, 2020 | Neil Rogachevsky
About the author: Neil Rogachevsky teaches at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

David Ben-Gurion on May 24, 1951. Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images.

When David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948, he did so under a portrait of Theodore Herzl, whom he hailed as “visionary of the Jewish state.” The founder of political Zionism—really the founder of modern Jewish diplomacy and politics—Herzl had died 44 years earlier, in 1904. Though Ben-Gurion had always revered Herzl, proponents of the left-wing Zionism in which Ben-Gurion had grown up had had vicious quarrels with Herzl during his lifetime. Should they accept a British territory in East Africa as a national home? Should Zionism prioritize international diplomacy, as Herzl insisted, or focus on building communities and draining swamps, as many East European Zionists argued? The fights over these questions surely contributed to the health difficulties that sent him to an early grave.

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