Cheap shots at the Moses, the Joshua, and the Isaiah of modern Israel, as the major sections are caustically titled. It's...

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BEN-GURION: PROPHET OF FIRE

Cheap shots at the Moses, the Joshua, and the Isaiah of modern Israel, as the major sections are caustically titled. It's hard to figure out why Kurzman, dramatizer of historical flashpoints (including the first Arab-Israeli war), went to so much trouble to demolish a notoriously flawed giant like David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973): founder of the Labor Party, Zionist rival of Weizmann, post-independence prime minister--ultimately, patriarch and pariah. Great portions of the book are occupied with B-G's lifelong yen for his childhood sweetheart, who self-protectively married another; with the peccadilloes of mother/servant-wife Paula, and his callous mistreatment of her in pursuit of his ""destiny""; with his neglect of his children and his tenous ""affairs."" From youth, we see Ben-Gurion fighting and stumbling; in pre- and post-WW I Palestine, rejecting any but a leading role; subsequently, demanding absolute compliance with his wishes--or expediently compromising his principles. The little bits of history are a mishmash of distortion and misstatement. ""The Histadrut should be an end in itself, some members cried, a collection of socialist trade unions seeking fatter paychecks and greater medical benefits while preaching class struggle . . . Nonsense! replied Ben-Gurion. Histadrut was not an end but a means to an end--a Jewish state. Socialism was important, yes, but precisely as a political tool. . . The party, he demanded, must become a ""labor army"" under military discipline, a force that could gradually turn the whole Yishuv into one giant Soviet-style commune, or kibbutz, the pioneer collective settlement that had taken root in the county-side. Without Soviet terror, of course."" (To straighten that out would take a page.) Much later, more typical ascribed thoughts--re reparations: ""A great triumph! he exulted. Pragmatism, not emotionalism, should guide Israeli policy. His people were learning."" So with the religious bloc alliance (""More religion, he decided, was better than more socialism or capitalism. At least he wouldn't be shackled politically""); also, non-Zionist American support, the dismantling of Histadrut organs. . .and certain rumored dark deeds. Cartoon history, Victor-Lasky-like biography. (Michael Bar-Zohar's 1979 Ben-Gurion is reliably warts-and-all.)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983