Meticulous research elevates Ben-Gurion biography

David Ben-Gurion

By Burton Boxerman, Special to the Jewish Light

David Ben-Gurion, known as the founder of the State of Israel, has been the subject of many books. His latest biographer is Tom Segev, an Israeli historian, author and journalist who is associated with Israel’s New Historians, a group challenging many of the country’s traditional narratives.  His latest book, “A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion,”was written in Hebrew and translated into English by Haim Watzman.    

Segev leaves no doubt that Ben-Gurion deserves his reputation as a leading figure of the 20th century, pointing out that Ben-Gurion used any means to accomplish his ends, from violence to compromise to reason. He was always determined to create a Jewish State at any cost, and at an early age he took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel’s independence and piloted his country through wars to achieve greatness. 

Segev considers Ben-Gurion neither a “saint or villain, but a historical actor who belongs in the company of Lenin or Churchill.”

Ben-Gurion was certainly no saint.  Although married to the same woman for 50 years, he was a distant father to their three children and he had longstanding affairs with four women. He was a wholly secular Jew who worked on Yom Kippur, ate pork and refused to pray. To those who chastised him for his refusal to pray, his only rebuttal was: “I hope that your God will forgive me that transgression.” 

When he retired in 1963 as prime minister, he devoted the remainder of his life to writing his memoirs. He was Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister. 

Segev, who earned a doctorate in history from Boston University, meticulously researched Ben-Gurion, using an array of letters, diaries, speeches, articles and books, most of them previously unreleased. The book is well written and, despite its length, will hold the reader’s attention. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Zionism and Israel. It should also be considered the definitive biography of Ben-Gurion, whose greatest achievement was the establishment of Israel against all odds.  

In addition to learning about one of Israel’s most powerful politicians, there is an additional advantage in reading this biography. Some of the country’s most important events took place during the latter years of Ben-Gurion’s life, including Israel’s War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign and the Six-Day War. This book therefore enables readers to not learn not only about one of Israel’s most important politicians, but also to read a history of the country from the late 1940s until the late ’60s.  

Ben-Gurion played a major role in shaping the country’s history, most importantly to “build the Jewish state in Palestine at any cost,” and he succeeded.