THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MENAHEM BEGIN: Rebel to Statesman by Frank Gervasi


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Both the Israeli peace proposals at Ismailia on Christmas Day, 1977-granting the West Bank civil autonomy and relinquishing Sinai settlements--and the Camp David accords were more generous than many thought possible from a man of Menaham Begin's background, writes journalist Frank Gervasi in this most recent biography of the Israeli premier. Hence the title, which depicts the evolution of Begin from rebel as head of the Irgun, to politician as leader of the Opposition, to statesman as Premier leading his country to a probable peace with Egypt (as foreseen by the author). In spite of his adherence to the militant Zionism of his mentor, Vladimir Jabotinsky, his childhood and leadership of the Polish Zionist Revisionist movement before World War II, the loss of most of his family in the Holocaust, and his imprisonment in Stalin's Gulag, Begin's leadership of the lrgun showed restraint, Gervasi contends, and he always worked towards independence and unity. Controversial events--Haganah complicity in the King David Hotel explosion, the military action at Deir Yassin--are explained from this point of view; and, correspondingly, Ben-Gurion is accused of duplicity in the Altalena affair where an Irgun arms ship was sunk and Begin almost killed by Haganah shelling in order, we are told, to ensure Labor political control over the new state. Though Gervasi draws on printed sources, interviews with Begin's aides, and his own intermittent acquaintance with the Israeli leader, he fails to document his contentions; and his sympathetic account is, finally only more up-to-date than Haber's Menachem Begin (1978). In addition to the well-known facts and glimpses into his personal life, it recounts Begin's role in the political Opposition, exemplified by his stand against German reparations to Israel (""blood money"") and his support for justice in the Kastner case (Nazi collaboration), as well as the engineering of the Herut victory in 1977. An attempt--by no means conclusive--to bring history's judgment of Begin in line with that, now, of the Israeli public.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1979
Publisher: Putnam