BEGIN: The Haunted Prophet by Eric Silver
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BEGIN: The Haunted Prophet

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The full-length, factual biography of Begin the political leader that's been lacking (eliminating Eitan Haber's 1978 paean)--cognizant of his capabilities and achievements, though not admiring of the man or his works. Silver, a British journalist--Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian and The Observer--has based his book on published sources, augmented with numerous interviews. His portrait of Begin is sharp and coherent, if not newly revelatory: the Polish Jew (b. 1913), born into organized Zionism and son of a pugnaciously proud Jew, who found his mentor and model in charismatic revisionist Jabotinsky--only to become ""more Jabotinskyite than Jabotinsky."" (In 1935, he opposed a rapprochement with Haganah leader Ben-Gurion; in 1938, he opposed accommodation with the British in Palestine.) On the German invasion of Poland, he and other Revisionist leaders fled to Lithuania--the likely source of his guilty-survivor ""Holocaust complex"" (misdirected against the Arabs). Russian occupation made him a political prisoner--too ""stubborn, pedantic, and proud"" to break under interrogation--and, briefly but ineradicably, a denizen of the Gulag. Released ""to fight the Germans,"" he got to Palestine to ""start a revolution against the British."" The Irgun, Revisionism's counterpart of the left/Labour Haganah, was in disarray; it was time for a politician, not a military commander; ""he was single-minded, determined, and supremely self-confident."" What remained to shape the Begin of oppositionist Likud and ""cloak-and-dagger government"" was his two years as a fugitive within Palestine, hunted by Haganah authorities, after the King David Hotel bombing. Silver scrupulously examines that and other disputed incidents. He provides a brisk, edged account of Begin's accession to political respectability, and to power. ""But he never liked having to explain away a disaster. He was bored by the prosaic. It went against his romantic grain."" Moving into the present: ""The second [Sephardic] generation identified as Israelis. They owed Labour no greenhorn's debts, and they knew how to assert themselves. Begin taught them that they had nothing to be ashamed of. But while restoring their dignity, he also legitimized their hatred of the Western Ashkenazim and all they represented, the positive as well as the negative, the creative energy as well as the cultural insensitivity. . . ."" The book has other ironies, poignancies--the failure of Israeli-Egyptian reconciliation, the ""slow decline of body and spirit"" that culminated, at the conclusion of Silver's narrative, in Begin's not voting in this last election. Incisive, without malice--and both readable and reference-worthy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House