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BEN-GURION AND THE HOLOCAUST by Shabtai Teveth

BEN-GURION AND THE HOLOCAUST

By Shabtai Teveth

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-15-100237-1
Publisher: Harcourt

 Some truth in advertising is needed here: This is a work not so much about the main founder and leader of the modern state of Israel as it is a record of the entire Jewish Agency Executive (JAE), the de facto governing body of the Jewish community in mandatory Palestine, in trying to rescue Jews for the Nazi death machine. Teveth--author of Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground (1987), the best biography of the leader to date--spends less time in setting out his subject's record than in attempting to refute the work of other Israeli journalists and historians who argue that he and the JAE were far more focused on nation-building in Palestine than on helping to relieve the terrible plight of European Jewry. In contrast, Teveth unqualifiedly asserts that Ben-Gurion was engaged in ``ceaseless efforts to save Europe's Jews.'' In arguing this hypothesis, he does an excellent job in describing the extremely constricted context in which ``B-G'' and other JAE leaders vainly tried to influence Allied policy: Palestine was a geopolitical ``backwater''; its Jewish population of less than 600,000 lacked arms and was itself gravely threatened by Rommel in North Africa. In addition, the British censored news about the Holocaust and blocked almost all immigration to Palestine. While unearthing a great deal of interesting material, Teveth does not make an entirely convincing case; in fact, he cites several quotes that seem to offer more support to Ben-Gurion's critics than to his defenders. Finally, Teveth simplifies, to the point of misrepresentation, the views of some of B-G's critics, most notably, Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev. Segev, Teveth claims wrongly, feels that ``Israel, built on the ruins of Europe's Jews and Palestine's Arabs, has no right to exist as a Jewish state.'' This tendentious paraphrasing of Segev's views exemplifies Teveth's generally no-holds-barred defense of Ben-Gurion and the entire JAE, and undermines the presentation of a historical record that is more ambiguous than Teveth would have it.