Israel’s founding father lives again in rediscovered interview

‘Ben-Gurion, Epilogue’ features previously unreleased interview footage of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Suppose archeologists in Israel come across a scroll that contains a detailed interview with King David written by his official scribe. Such a discovery would of course dwarf the Dead Sea Scrolls as the most sensational Jewish find of the century, indeed for all of Jewish history.

“Ben-Gurion, Epilogue” may be a comparable historical treasure about a modern David, the man who read out Israel’s Proclamation of Independence on May 14, 1948, and who served as the Jewish State’s founding prime minister.

Back in 1968, 20 years after Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel an independent state, the iconic Jewish pioneer with a white mane of hair and flashing eyes sat down for six hours of intensive interviews in the study of his modest home in Kibbutz Sde Boker, where he had lived since he abruptly retired from public life.

The interviews somehow were misfiled in the Israeli archives and only recently discovered in the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive in Jerusalem. The interviewer, Clinton Bailey, then a recent American immigrant, was well prepared for his task. 

At the time of the interview, Ben-Gurion was 82 and still intellectually brilliant, opinionated and unexpectedly humorous in his responses to Bailey’s wide-ranging questions. Ben-Gurion, a true visionary, reflected on Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, suggesting way ahead of his time that Israel “return all of the captured lands except for Jerusalem, Hebron, and the Golan Heights.” 

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“If I have to choose between land and peace, I will choose peace,” he said.

Ben-Gurion was a dominant figure in Zionism from his earliest days until his retirement after serving for a total of 13 years as Israel’s prime minister, a record threatened only by the combined terms of the current prime minister,  Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ben-Gurion recalls his struggles to get the fractious Zionist movement on the same page regarding Jewish settlement of Palestine, and his pivotal role in securing passage of the 1947 United Nations Partition Pan, the basis for the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.

Ben-Gurion is as much a symbol of Israel as George Washington is of the United States or Winston Churchill of Great Britain. He is shown in intensive conversations with Albert Einstein, whom he unsuccessfully tried to talk into becoming Israel’s second president, and with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, with whom he negotiated a controversial German reparations program, a deal that at first was bitterly denounced by Ben-Gurion’s political opponents as “blood money.”

After watching this riveting documentary, directed by Yariv Mozer, viewers will want to learn more about Ben-Gurion, who famously said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” 

He was so right, and Ben-Gurion played an absolutely essential role in making those miracles happen.

 

Contact Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Robert A. Cohn at 314-743-3667 or [email protected]