Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin
מנחם בגין
6th Prime Minister of Israel
In office
21 June 1977 – 10 October 1983
Preceded by Yitzhak Rabin
Succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir
Personal details
Born 16 August 1913(1913-08-16)
Brest, Russian Empire
Died 9 March 1992(1992-03-09) (aged 78)
Tel Aviv, Israel
Political party Likud
Spouse(s) Aliza Arnold (1919–82)
Children Benny Begin
Hasia Begin
Leah Begin
Religion Judaism
Signature

About this sound Menachem Begin (Hebrew: מְנַחֵם בְּגִין‎‎, Polish: Mieczysław Biegun, Russian: Менахем Вольфович Бегин, 16 August 1913 – 9 March 1992) was a politician, founder of Likud and the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Before independence, he was the leader of the Zionist militant group Irgun, the Revisionist breakaway from the larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. He proclaimed a revolt, on 1 February 1944, against the British mandatory government, which was opposed by the Jewish Agency. As head of the Irgun, he targeted the British in Palestine.[1] Begin developed a deep-rooted hatred of Britain, which some claim would resurface decades later, when he supplied illegal weapons to Argentina during the Falklands War.[2]

Begin was elected to the first Knesset, as head of Herut, the party he founded, and was at first on the political fringe, embodying the opposition to the Mapai-led government and Israeli establishment. He remained in opposition in the eight consecutive elections (except for a national unity government around the Six-Day War), but became more acceptable to the political center. His 1977 electoral victory and premiership ended three decades of Labour Party political dominance. He probably served as Opposition Leader longer than anyone in the history of modern democratic politics.

Begin’s most significant achievement as prime minister was the signing of a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, for which he and Anwar Sadat shared the Nobel Prize for Peace. In the wake of the Camp David Accords, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, which was captured from Egypt in the Six-Day War. Later, Begin’s government promoted the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Begin authorized the bombing of the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to fight PLO strongholds there, igniting the 1982 Lebanon War. As Israeli military involvement in Lebanon deepened, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, carried out by Christian Phalangist militia allies of the Israelis shocked world public opinion,[3] Begin grew increasingly isolated.[4] As IDF forces remained mired in Lebanon and the economy suffered from hyperinflation, the public pressure on Begin mounted. Depressed by the death of his wife Aliza in November 1982, he gradually withdrew from public life, until his resignation in October 1983.

Contents

Early life

Begin reviews an Etzel lineup in Poland in 1939. Next to Begin is Moshe (Munya) Cohen

Begin was born to Zeev Dov and Hassia Biegun in Brest-Litovsk, (Brest), a town then part of the Russian Empire which was known for its Talmudic scholars. He was the youngest of three children.[5] On his mother's side he was descended from distinguished rabbis. His father, a timber merchant, was a community leader, a passionate Zionist, and an admirer of Theodor Herzl. The midwife who attended his birth was the grandmother of Ariel Sharon.[6]

After a year of a traditional cheder education Begin started studying at a "Tachkemoni" school, associated with the religious Zionist movement. At 12, he joined the Zionist Socialist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, but soon switched to Betar. At 14, he was sent to a Polish government school, where he received a solid grounding in classical literature, and gained a lifelong love of classical works, which he was able to read in Latin.[7]

Begin began studying law at the University of Warsaw where he learned the oratory and rhetoric skills that became his trademark as a politician, and viewed as demagogy by his critics.[8] He graduated in 1935, but never practiced law. In these same years he became a key disciple of Vladimir "Ze'ev" Jabotinsky, the founder of the militant, nationalist Revisionist Zionism movement and its Betar youth wing. His rise within Betar was rapid: in the same year he graduated, at age 22, he shared the dais with his mentor during Betar's World Congress in Krakow. The pre-war Polish regime, like several other Central European countries, actively supported Zionist youth and even paramilitary movements. This was as part of a balance in the ethnic mix [particularly against Ukrainian youth and paramilitary units being supported by Nazi Germany]. Begin's leadership qualities were quickly recognised by the Poles, and would play an important role in the next few years. In 1937 he was the active head of Betar in Czechoslovakia and became head of the largest branch, that of Poland. Returning to Warsaw from an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle almost 1500 Jews into Romania at the end of August 1939, he left three days after the German attack and 1939 invasion began, first to the south-west and then to Vilna (Wilno).

Exile to the Soviet Camp

In September 1939, after Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Along with most of Warsaw's Jewish leadership, Begin escaped to Wilno, then located in eastern Poland, in an effort to avoid the inevitable arrests that awaited them. The town was shortly to be occupied by the co-aggressor Soviet Union, but from 28 October 1939, it was the capital of the Republic of Lithuania. Wilno was a predominately Polish and Jewish town; an estimated 40 percent of the population was Jewish, with the YIVO institute was located there. On 15 June 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, ushering in mass persecution of Poles and Jews associated with Polish rule. An estimated 120,000 people were arrested by the NKVD and deported to Siberia. Thousands were executed with or without trial.

NKVD mugshots of Menachem Begin, 1940

The Soviet invasion was greeted hopefully by a large section of the Jewish population. However, this meant that a prominent Zionist could not escape NKVD attention for very long. And so,on 20 September 1940, Begin was arrested by the NKVD and detained in the Lukiškės Prison. He wrote about his experience of being tortured in a very affecting way in later years. He was accused of being an "agent of British imperialism" and sentenced to eight years in the Soviet gulag camps. On 1 June 1941 he was sent to the Pechora labor camps in the northern part of European Russia, where he stayed until May 1942. Much later in life, Begin would record and reflect upon his experiences in the interrogations and life in the camp in his memoir White Nights.

In June 1941, just after Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and following his release under the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, Begin joined the Polish Army of Anders. His leadership skills, and pre-war service were quickly recognised, and he was commissioned as an officer. He was later sent with the army to Palestine via the Persian Corridor. Upon arrival in August 1942, he received a proposal to take over a position in the Irgun, as Betar's Commissioner. Begin subsequently resigned his commission in Anders' Army, along with some 3000 other Jewish officers and soldiers. He then joined the Jewish national movement in the British Mandate of Palestine.

During the Holocaust, Begin's father was among the 5,000 Brest Jews rounded up by the Nazis at the end of June 1941. Instead of being sent to a forced labor camp, they were shot or drowned in the river. His mother and older brother Herzl also died in the Holocaust.[9]

Begin was married to Aliza Arnold. They had three children: Binyamin, Leah and Hassia.[9]

Jewish underground

Begin quickly made a name for himself, both as a fierce critic of dominant Zionist leadership for being too cooperative with British ‘colonialism’, and as a proponent of guerrilla tactics against the British, which he saw as a necessary means to achieve independence. In 1942 he joined the Irgun (Etzel), an underground Zionist group which had split from the main Jewish military organization, the Haganah, in 1931.[10] In 1944 Begin assumed the organization's leadership, determined to force the British government to remove its troops entirely from Palestine. Giving as reasons that the British had reneged on the promises given in the Balfour Declaration and that the White Paper of 1939 restricting Jewish immigration was an escalation of their pro-Arab policy, he decided to break with the Haganah. Soon after he assumed command, a formal 'Declaration of Revolt' was publicized, and armed attacks against British forces were initiated.

Begin issued a call to arms and from 1944–48 the Irgun launched an all-out armed rebellion, perpetrating many attacks against British installations and posts. Begin financed these operations by extorting money from Zionist businessmen, and running bogus robbery scams in the local diamond industry, which enabled the victims to get back their losses from insurance companies.[11]

Begin as "Rabbi Sassover", with wife Aliza and son Benyamin-Zeev, Tel Aviv, December 1946
Begin with Irgun members, 1948

For several months in 1945–46, the Irgun’s activities were coordinated within the framework of the Hebrew Resistance Movement. Begin was responsible[12] for the bombing of the British administrative and military headquarters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in 1946. The attack was conducted as part of a joint response to the British Operation Agatha, during which many Jews were arrested, weapons were seized and the Jewish Agency, from which many documents were removed, was raided. Irgun later claimed that warnings to evacuate had been sent but were ignored, though this has always been denied by the British authorities, and 91 people, British, Arab and Jewish, were killed. According to a documentary by 3BM Television, this made it known for decades as the deadliest terrorist attack of the 20th century.[13] Begin later defended the attack saying the Irgun provided advanced warning that a bomb had been planted.[14]

The fragile partnership collapsed following the bombing, partly because contrary to instructions, it was carried out during the busiest part of the day at the hotel. Under Begin’s leadership, the Irgun continued to carry out operations such as breaking into Acre Prison, and the kidnapping and hanging of two British sergeants in order to prevent, and then in retaliation to, the execution of several Irgun members by the British. Growing numbers of British soldiers and policemen were deployed to quell the Jewish uprising, yet Begin managed to elude captivity, at times disguised as a rabbi. MI5 placed a 'dead-or-alive' bounty of £10,000 on his head after Irgun threatened 'a campaign of terror against British officials', saying they would kill Sir John Shaw, Britain's Chief Secretary in Palestine.

The Jewish Agency, headed by David Ben-Gurion, opposed the Irgun’s independent agenda, which it saw as a challenge to its authority as the representative body of the Jewish community in Palestine. Ben-Gurion openly denounced the Irgun as the “enemy of the Jewish People”, accusing it of sabotaging the political campaign to create a Jewish state. In 1944, the Haganah actively pursued and handed over Irgun members to the British authorities in what became known as The Hunting Season; Begin’s instruction to his men to refrain from violent resistance prevented this from deteriorating into an armed intra-Jewish conflict. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recommending a Partition Plan for Palestine and Britain announced its plans to fully withdraw from Palestine by May 1948. Begin, once again remained in opposition to the mainstream Zionist leadership. In the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, the Irgun’s contribution to precipitating British withdrawal became a hotly contested debate as different factions vied for control over the emerging narrative of Israeli independence.[15] Begin resented his being portrayed as a belligerent dissident.[16]

Altalena and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War

Altalena on fire after being shelled near Tel-Aviv

As the 1948 Arab–Israeli War broke, Irgun fighters joined forces with the Haganah and Lehi militia in fighting the Arab forces. Notable operations in which they took part were the battles of Jaffa and the Jordanian siege on the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. One such operation was the Deir Yassin Massacre of Arab villagers in April 1948. The day after the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, Begin broadcast a speech on radio declaring that the Irgun was finally moving out of its underground status.[17] On 1 June Begin signed an agreement with the provisional government headed by David Ben Gurion, where the Irgun agreed to formally disband and to integrate its force with the newly formed Israel Defense Forces (IDF).[citation needed]

However, tensions with the IDF persisted, culminating in the confrontation over the Altalena cargo ship, which secretly delivered weapons to the Irgun in June 1948. The government demanded that all the weapons be handed over to it unconditionally, in accordance with the agreement regarding the integration of the Irgun into the IDF. However Begin refused to comply. Rather than negotiating, Ben-Gurion was determined to exercise the state’s authority over military affairs. A violent confrontation between the IDF and members of the Irgun occurred and Ben Gurion eventually ordered the IDF to take the ship by gunfire, and it burnt off the shore of Tel Aviv. Begin was on board as the ship was being shelled. In a speech later he ordered his men not to retaliate in an attempt to prevent the crisis from spiraling into a civil war. For years later Begin saw the Altalena Affair as a defining moment and viewed the government actions against the Irgun as a great injustice.[18]

Political career

Herut opposition years

Begin; August 1948

In August 1948, Begin and members of the Irgun High Command emerged from the underground and formed the right-wing political party Herut ("Freedom") party.[19] The move countered the weakening attraction for the earlier revisionist party, Hatzohar, founded by his late mentor Vladimir Jabotinsky. Revisionist 'purists' alleged nonetheless that Begin was out to steal Jabotinsky's mantle and ran against him with the old party. The Herut party can be seen as the forerunner of today's Likud.

In November 1948, Begin visited the US on a campaigning trip. During his visit, a letter signed by Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook, Hannah Arendt, and other prominent Americans and several rabbis was published which described Begin's Herut party as "closely akin in its organization, methods, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties" and accused his group (along with the smaller, militant, Stern Gang) of having "inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community".[20][21]

In the first elections in 1949, Herut, with 11.5 percent of the vote, won 14 seats, while Hatzohar failed to break the threshold and disbanded shortly thereafter. This provided Begin with legitimacy as the leader of the Revisionist stream of Zionism.

Between 1948 and 1977, under Begin, Herut and the alliances it formed (Gahal in 1965 and Likud in 1973) formed the main opposition to the dominant Mapai and later the Alignment (the forerunners of today's Labour Party) in the Knesset; Herut adopted a radical nationalistic agenda committed to the irredentist idea of Greater Israel. During those years, Begin was systematically delegitimized by the ruling party, and was often personally derided by Ben-Gurion who refused to either speak to or refer to him by name. Ben-Gurion famously coined the phrase 'without Herut and Maki' (Maki was the communist party), referring to his refusal to consider them for coalition, effectively pushing both parties and their voters beyond the margins of political consensus.

The personal animosity between Ben-Gurion and Begin, going back to the hostilities over the Altalena Affair, underpinned the political dichotomy between Mapai and Herut. Begin was a keen critic of Mapai, accusing it of coercive Bolshevism and deep-rooted institutional corruption. Drawing on his training as a lawyer in Poland, he preferred wearing a formal suit and tie and evincing the dry demeanor of a legislator to the socialist informality of Mapai, as a means of accentuating their differences.

One of the fiercest confrontations between Begin and Ben-Gurion revolved around the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany, signed in 1952. Begin vehemently opposed the agreement, claiming that it was tantamount to a pardon of Nazi crimes against the Jewish people.[22] While the agreement was debated in the Knesset in January 1952, he led a passionate demonstration in Jerusalem in which he attacked the government, calling for a violent overthrow of the elected government.[23] Incited by his speech, the crowd marched towards the Knesset (then at the Frumin Building on King George Street), throwing stones and injuring dozens of policemen and several Knesset members. Many held Begin personally responsible for the violence, and he was consequently barred from the Knesset for several months. His behavior was strongly condemned in mainstream public discourse, reinforcing his image as a provocateur. The vehemence of Revisionist opposition was deep; in March 1952, during the ongoing reparations negotiations, a parcel bomb addressed to Konrad Adenauer, the sitting West German Chancellor, was intercepted at a German post office. While being defused, the bomb exploded, killing one and injuring two others. Five Israelis, all former members of Irgun, were later arrested in Paris for their involvement in the plot. Chancellor Adenauer decided to keep secret the involvement of Israeli opposition party members in the plot, thus avoiding Israeli embarrassment and a likely backlash. The five Irgun conspirators were later extradited from both France and Germany, without charge, and sent back to Israel. Forty years after the assassination attempt, Begin was implicated as the organizer of the assassination attempt in a memoir written by one of the conspirators, Elieser Sudit.[24][25][26][27]

Begin's impassioned rhetoric, laden with pathos and evocations of the Holocaust, appealed to many, but was deemed inflammatory and demagoguery by others.

Gahal and unity government

In the following years, Begin failed to gain electoral momentum, and Herut remained far behind Labor with a total of 17 seats until 1961. In 1965, Herut and the Liberal Party united to form the Gahal party under Begin’s leadership, but failed again to win more seats in the election that year. In 1966, during Herut's party convention, he was challenged by the young Ehud Olmert, who called for his resignation. Begin announced that he would retire from party leadership, but soon reversed his decision when the crowd pleaded with him to stay. The day the Six-Day War started in June 1967, Gahal joined the national unity government under Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of the Alignment, resulting in Begin serving in the cabinet for the first time, as a Minister without Portfolio. Rafi also joined the unity government at that time, with Moshe Dayan becoming Defense Minister. Gahal's arrangement lasted until August 1970, when Begin and Gahal quit the government, then led by Golda Meir due to disagreements over the Rogers Plan and its "in place" cease-fire with Egypt along the Suez Canal,[28] Other sources, including William B. Quandt, note that the Labor party, by formally accepting UN 242 in mid-1970, had accepted "peace for withdrawal" on all fronts, and because of this Begin had left the unity government. On 5 August, Begin explained before the Knesset why he was resigning from the cabinet. He said, "As far as we are concerned, what do the words 'withdrawal from territories administered since 1967 by Israel' mean other than Judea and Samaria. Not all the territories; but by all opinion, most of them."[29]

Likud chairmanship

In 1973, Begin agreed to a plan by Ariel Sharon to form a larger bloc of opposition parties, made up from Gahal, the Free Centre, and other smaller groups. They came through with a tenuous alliance called the Likud ("Consolidation"). In the elections held later that year, two months after the Yom Kippur War, the Likud won a considerable share of the votes, though with 39 seats still remained in opposition.

Yet the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War saw ensuing public disenchantment with the Alignment. Voices of criticism about the government's misconduct of the war gave rise to growing public resentment. Personifying the antithesis to the Alignment's socialist ethos, Begin appealed to many Mizrahi Israelis, mostly first and second generation Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, who felt they were continuously being treated by the establishment as second-class citizens. His open embrace of Judaism stood in stark contrast to the Alignment's secularism, which alienated Mizrahi voters and drew many of them to support Begin, becoming his burgeoning political base. In the years 1974–77 Yitzhak Rabin's government suffered from instability due to infighting within the labor party (Rabin and Shimon Peres) and the shift to the right by the National Religious Party, as well as numerous corruption scandals. All these weakened the labor camp and finally allowed Begin to capture the center stage of Israeli politics.

Prime Minister of Israel

1977 electoral victory

Menachem Begin in 1978

On 17 May 1977 the Likud, headed by Begin, won the Knesset elections by a landslide, becoming the biggest party in the Knesset. Popularly known as the Mahapakh ("upheaval"), the election results had seismic ramifications as for the first time in Israeli history a party other than the Alignment/Mapai was in a position to form a government, effectively ending the left's hitherto unrivalled domination over Israeli politics. Likud's electoral victory signified a fundamental restructuring of Israeli society in which the founding socialist Ashkenazi elite was being replaced by a coalition representing marginalized Mizrahi and Jewish-religious communities, promoting a socially conservative and economically liberal agenda.

Begin and Moshe Dayan exit from an aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, United States

The Likud campaign leading up to the election centered on Begin's personality. Demonized by the Alignment as totalitarian and extremist, his self-portrayal as a humble and pious leader struck a chord with many who felt abandoned by the ruling party's ideology. In the predominantly Jewish Mizrahi working class urban neighborhoods and peripheral towns, the Likud won overwhelming majorities, while disillusionment with the Alignment's corruption prompted many middle and upper class voters to support the newly founded centrist Democratic Movement for Change ("Dash") headed by Yigael Yadin. Dash won 15 seats out of 120, largely at the expense of the Alignment, which was led by Shimon Peres and had shrunk from 51 to 32 seats. Well aware of his momentous achievement and employing his trademark sense for drama, when speaking that night in the Likud headquarters Begin quoted from the Gettysburg Address and the Torah, referring to his victory as a 'turning point in the history of the Jewish people'.

With 43 seats, the Likud still required the support of other parties in order to reach a parliamentary majority that would enable it to form a government under Israel's proportionate representation parliamentary system. Though able to form a narrow coalition with smaller Jewish religious and ultra-orthodox parties, Begin also sought support from centrist elements in the Knesset to provide his government with greater public legitimacy. He controversially offered the foreign affairs portfolio to Moshe Dayan, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, and a prominent Alignment politician identified with the old establishment. Begin was sworn in as Prime Minister of Israel on 20 June 1977. Dash eventually joined his government several months later, thus providing it with the broad support of almost two thirds of the Knesset.

Camp David accords

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., during which President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords, 18 September 1978.

In 1978 Begin, aided by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, negotiated the Camp David Accords, and in 1979 signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty with Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat. Under the terms of the treaty, brokered by US President, Jimmy Carter, Israel was to hand over the Sinai Peninsula in its entirety to Egypt. The peace treaty with Egypt was a watershed moment in Middle Eastern history, as it was the first time an Arab state recognized Israel’s legitimacy whereas Israel effectively accepted the land for peace principle as blueprint for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Given Egypt’s prominent position within the Arab World, especially as Israel’s biggest and most powerful enemy, the treaty had far reaching strategic and geopolitical implications.

Almost overnight, Begin’s public image of an irresponsible nationalist radical was transformed into that of a statesman of historic proportions. This image was reinforced by international recognition which culminated with him being awarded, together with Sadat, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.

Yet while establishing Begin as a leader with broad public appeal, the peace treaty with Egypt was met with fierce criticism within his own Likud party. His devout followers found it difficult to reconcile Begin’s history as a keen promoter of the Greater Israel agenda with his willingness to relinquish occupied territory. Agreeing to the removal of Israeli settlements from the Sinai was perceived by many as a clear departure from Likud’s Revisionist ideology. Several prominent Likud members, most notably Yitzhak Shamir, objected to the treaty and abstained when it was ratified with an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, achieved only thanks to support from the opposition. A small group of hardliners within Likud, associated with Gush Emunim Jewish settlement movement, eventually decided to split and form the Tehiya party in 1979. They led the Movement for Stopping the Withdrawal from Sinai, violently clashing with IDF soldiers during the forceful eviction of Yamit settlement in April 1982. Despite the traumatic scenes from Yamit, political support for the treaty did not diminish and the Sinai was handed over to Egypt in 1982.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin engages Zbigniew Brzezinski in a game of chess at Camp David, 1978

Begin was far less resolute in implementing the section of the Camp David Accord, which defined a framework for establishing autonomous Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He appointed Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon to implement a large scale expansion of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories, a policy intended to make future territorial concessions in these areas effectively impossible. Begin refocused Israeli settlement strategy from populating peripheral areas in accordance with the Allon Plan, to building Jewish settlements in areas of Biblical and historic significance. When the settlement of Elon Moreh was established on the outskirts of Nablus in 1979, following years of campaigning by Gush Emunim, Begin declared that there are "many more Elon Morehs to come". Indeed during his term as Prime Minister dozens of new settlements were built, and Jewish population in the West Bank and Gaza more than quadrupled.[30]

Bombing Iraqi nuclear reactor

Begin took Saddam Hussein's anti-Zionist threats very seriously and therefore took aim at Iraq, which was building a nuclear reactor named Osirak or Tammuz 1 with French and Italian assistance. When Begin took office, preparations were intensified. Begin authorized the construction of a full-scale model of the Iraqi reactor which Israeli pilots could practice bombing.[31] Israel attempted to negotiate with France and Italy to cut off assistance and with the United States to obtain assurances that the program would be halted. The negotiations failed. Begin considered the diplomatic option fruitless, and worried that prolonging the attack would lead to a fatal inability to act in response to the perceived threat.

The decision to attack was hotly contested within Begin's government.[32] However, in October 1980, the Mossad informed Begin that the reactor would be fueled and operational by June 1981. This assessment was aided by reconnaissance photos supplied by the United States, and the Israeli cabinet voted to approve an attack.[33] In June 1981, Begin ordered the destruction of the reactor. On 7 June 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the reactor in a successful long-range operation called Operation Opera.[34] Soon after, Begin enunciated what came to be known as the Begin doctrine: "On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against the people of Israel." Many foreign governments, including the United States, condemned the operation, and the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 487 condemning it. The Israeli left-wing opposition criticized it also at the time, but mainly for its timing relative to elections only three weeks later.

Lebanon invasion

On 6 June 1982, Begin’s government authorized the Israel Defense Forces' invasion of Lebanon, in response to the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov. Operation Peace for Galilee’s stated objective was to force the PLO out of rocket range of Israel's northern border. Begin was hoping for a short and limited Israeli involvement that would destroy the PLO’s political and military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, effectively reshaping the balance of Lebanese power in favor of the Christian Militias who were allied with Israel. Nevertheless, fighting soon escalated into war with Palestinian and Lebanese militias, as well as the Syrian military, and the IDF progressed as far as Beirut, well beyond the 40 km limit initially authorized by the government. Israeli forces were successful in driving the PLO out of Lebanon and forcing its leadership to relocate to Tunisia, but the war ultimately failed in achieving security to Israel’s northern border, as well as imposing stability in Lebanon. Israeli entanglement in Lebanon intensified throughout Begin’s term, leading to a partial unilateral withdrawal in 1985, and finally ending in 2000.

Like Begin, the Israeli public was expecting quick and decisive victory. Yet as this failed to arrive, disillusionment with the war, and concomitantly with his government, was growing. Begin continuously referred to the invasion as an inevitable act of survival, often comparing Yasser Arafat to Hitler, but its image as a war of necessity was gradually eroding. Within a matter of weeks into the war it emerged that for the first time in Israeli history there was no consensus over the IDF’s activity. Public criticism reached its peak following the Sabra and Shatila Massacre in September 1982, when hundreds of thousands gathered to protest in Tel Aviv in what was one of the biggest public demonstrations in Israeli history. The Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the events, found the government indirectly responsible for the massacre, accusing Defense Minister Ariel Sharon of gross negligence. The commission’s report, published in February 1983, severely damaged Begin’s government, forcing Sharon to resign. As the Israeli quagmire in Lebanon seemed to grow deeper, public pressure on Begin to resign increased.

Begin’s disoriented appearance on national television while visiting the Beaufort battle site raised concerns that he was being misinformed about the war’s progress. Asking Sharon whether PLO fighters had ‘machine guns’, Begin seemed out of touch with the nature and scale of the military campaign he had authorized. Almost a decade later, Haaretz reporter Uzi Benziman published a series of articles accusing Sharon of intentionally deceiving Begin about the operation’s initial objectives, and continuously misleading him as the war progressed. Sharon sued both the newspaper and Benziman for libel in 1991. The trial lasted 11 years, with one of the highlights being the deposition of Begin's son, Benny, in favor of the defendants. Sharon lost the case.[35]

Retirement from public life

Begin himself retired from politics in August 1983 and handed over the reins of the office of Prime Minister to his old friend-in-arms Yitzhak Shamir, who had been the leader of the Lehi resistance to the British. Begin had become deeply disappointed by the war in Lebanon because he had hoped to establish peace with Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated. Instead, there were mounting Israeli casualties. The death of his wife Aliza in Israel while he was away on an official visit to Washington DC, added to his own mounting depression. After his wife's death, Begin would rarely leave his apartment, and then usually to visit her grave-site to say the traditional Kaddish prayer for the departed. His seclusion was watched over by his children and his lifetime personal secretary Yechiel Kadishai, who monitored all official requests for meetings.

Death

Commemorative plaque in memory of Menachem Begin in Brest, Belarus; he was born in the city

On March 3, 1992, Begin suffered a severe heart attack in his Tel Aviv apartment, and was rushed to Ichilov Hospital, where he was put in the intensive care unit. Begin arrived unconscious and paralyzed on the left side side of his body. His condition slightly improved following treatment, and he regained consciousness after 20 hours. For the next six days, Begin remained in serious condition. Begin was too frail to overcome the effects of the heart attack, and his condition began to rapidly deteriorate on March 9 at about 3:15 AM. An emergency team of doctors and nurses attempted to resuscitate his failing heart. His children were notified of his condition and immediately rushed to his side. Begin died at 3:30 AM. His death was announced an hour and a half later. Shortly before 6:00 AM, the hospital rabbi arrived at his bedside to say the Kaddish prayer.[36][37]

Begin's funeral took place in Jerusalem that afternoon. His coffin was carried four kilometers from the Sanhedria funeral parlor to Mount of Olives in a funeral procession attended by thousands of people. In accordance with his wishes, Begin was given a simple Jewish burial ceremony and buried on the Mount of Olives. He had asked to be buried there instead of Mount Herzl, where most Israeli leaders are laid to rest, because he wanted to be buried beside his wife Aliza, Meir Feinstein of Irgun and Moshe Barazani of Lehi, who committed suicide in jail while awaiting execution by the British.[38] An estimated 75,000 mourners were present at the funeral. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, President Chaim Herzog, all cabinet ministers present in Israel, Supreme Court justices, Knesset members from most parties and a number of foreign ambassadors attended the funeral. Former members of the Irgun High Command served as pallbearers.[39]

In 2005, he was voted the 4th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.[40]

Begin in fiction and on film

A slightly fictionalized Menachem Begin appeared in the first edition of Land of Black Gold, but was removed from subsequent editions. He appears in the film Waltz with Bashir and in the novel The Fifth Horseman, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

Begin was played by David Opatoshu in the 1977 TV film Raid on Entebbe and by Barry Morse in the 1983 miniseries Sadat.

Published work

Further reading

  • Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, The Toby Press, 2010. ISBN 9781592642786
  • Ilan Peleg, Begin’s foreign policy, 1977–1983 : Israel’s move to the right, Greenwood Press, 1987
  • Eric Silver, Begin: The Haunted Prophet, Random House, 1984[6]
  • Sasson Sofer, Begin: an anatomy of leadership, Basil Blackwell, 1988
  • Avi Shilon, Begin , 1913–1992, 2007
  • Harry Hurwitz, Yisrael Medad, "Peace in the Making", Gefen Publishing House, 2010

See also

References

  1. ^ John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, at 102 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2007).
  2. ^ "'A deep-rooted hatred of the British': How Israelis 'armed junta' in Falklands conflict". Daily Mail (London). 20 April 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1379008/A-deep-rooted-hatred-British-How-Israelis-armed-junta-Falklands-conflict.html. 
  3. ^ Gwertzman, Bernard. Christian Militiamen Accused of a Massacre in Beirut Camps; U.S. Says the Toll is at Least 300. The New York Times. 19 September 1982.
  4. ^ Thompson, Ian. Primo Levi: A Life. 2004, page 436.
  5. ^ http://www.ibiblio.org/sullivan/bios/MenachemBegin-Bio.html
  6. ^ a b Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (19 November 1984). "Books Of The Times". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C07E0DC1F39F93AA25752C1A962948260. 
  7. ^ Bernard Reich, Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1990 p.71
  8. ^ Anita Shapira Begin on the Couch, Haaretz Books, in Hebrew
  9. ^ a b http://www.betar.co.uk/betaris/begin.php
  10. ^ http://www.bicom.org.uk/background/biographies/former-israeli-prime-ministers/menachem-begin
  11. ^ Yehuda Bauer, From Diplomacy to Resistance: A history of Jewish Palestine, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1970 p.325.
  12. ^ 3BM Television, The Age of Terror, 2002, Part 1, In the Name of Liberation
  13. ^ Ibid
  14. ^ Ibid
  15. ^ Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Co. 2000, p. 490
  16. ^ In his book ‘The Revolt’ (1951), Begin outlines the history of the Irgun’s fight against British rule.
  17. ^ Begin's Speech on Saturday 15 May 1948 (Hebrew)
  18. ^ Begin Speech on the Affair at the Knesset, 1959
  19. ^ Menahem Begin (1913–1992)
  20. ^ "The Gun and the Olive Branch" p 472-473, David Hirst, quotes Lilienthal, Alfred M., The Zionist Connection, What Price Peace?, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1978, pp.350–3Albert Einstein joined other distinguished citizens in chiding these `Americans of national repute' for honoring a man whose party was `closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties'. See text at Harvard.edu and image here. Verified 5 December 2007.
  21. ^ Einstein had already publicly denounced the Revisionists in 1939; at the same time Rabbi Stephen Wise denounced the movement as, "Fascism in Yiddish or Hebrew." See Rosen, Robert N., Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 2006, p. 318.
  22. ^ http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1230111698016&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter, By George
  23. ^ [See his Speech (Hebrew) http://lib.cet.ac.il/Pages/item.asp?item=7188]
  24. ^ Menachem Begin plotted assassination attempt to kill German chancellor, Luke Harding, The Guardian, 15 June 2006
  25. ^ Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Political Assassinations by Jews: A Rhetorical Device for Justice, SUNY Press, New York, 1993
  26. ^ Report Says Begin Was Behind Adenauer Letter Bomb, Deutsche Welle, 13 June 2006
  27. ^ Sudite: I sent the bomb on Begin's order, in Hebrew
  28. ^ Newsweek 30 May 1977, The Zealot,

    But he quit in 1970 when Prime Minister Golda Meir, under pressure from Washington, renewed a cease-fire with Egypt along the Suez Canal.

  29. ^ William B. Quandt, Peace Process, American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, p194, ff
  30. ^ According to data published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, and collated by Peace Now, the number of settlers in the West Bank grew from 5000 in the early seventies to more than 20000 in 1983
  31. ^ Simons, Geoff: Iraq: From Summer to Saddam. St. Martin's Press, 1996, p. 320
  32. ^ http://www.carnegieendowment.org/programs/npp/index.cfm?fa-proj&id=116
  33. ^ Striking first: Preemptive and and preventive attack in U.S. national security - Karl P. Mueller
  34. ^ Avner, Yehuda (2010). The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. The Toby Press. ISBN 9781592642786. 
  35. ^ Breaking the silence of cowards Haaretz, 23 August 2002, Accessed 26 April 2007
  36. ^ Hurwitz, pp. 238-239
  37. ^ http://www.ou.org/chagim/yomhaatzmauth/begin.html
  38. ^ http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/846330.html
  39. ^ Hurwitz p. 239
  40. ^ גיא בניוביץ' (20 June 1995). "הישראלי מספר 1: יצחק רבין – תרבות ובידור". Ynet. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3083171,00.html. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 

External links

Official sites

Miscellaneous links

Party political offices
Preceded by
new party
Leader of the Herut party
1948–73
Succeeded by
Likud party
Preceded by
new party
Leader of the Likud party
1973–82
Succeeded by
Yitzhak Shamir


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