Does Ben-Gurion deserve the credit?


Over the past two weeks, three distinguished scholars have responded to my essay at Mosaic Magazine on Ben-Gurion’s struggle to gain control of the Israeli army in 1948. In order of appearance, they are:

Benny Morris: “In the end, the army that won the 1948 war was largely commanded by the original, homegrown Haganah officers, from Yigael Yadin on down. These commanders and their reorganized, retrained, and re-equipped ‘militia’ units had swiftly turned into ‘regular’ formations. And together they accomplished exactly what Ben-Gurion had long argued they could never do.” Read more.

Eliot A. Cohen: “Ben-Gurion was an outstanding war statesman—as outstanding in his way, given the size of the stage on which he operated, as Churchill on his much larger stage. An indomitable spirit, a powerful vision, and rhetorical gifts combined to help make him so. But we should not forget that he was also a shrewd judge of people and things, a realist rather than a dreamer, a calculator as much as a prophet armed.” Read more.

Efraim Inbar: “Using the bricks at his disposal, Ben-Gurion built the IDF into a highly effective military force that simultaneously became the ultimate melting pot for Jews returning to their homeland from all corners of the earth. Historians can debate the role played in the ultimate realization of that vision by a single meeting on May 12, 1948. What is beyond debate is that, at its creation, Israel was extraordinarily lucky to have David Ben-Gurion at the forefront of its leadership.” Read more.

Next week, I’ll have the last word in the discussion. In the meantime, enjoy these three informed responses. As you’ll see, I’m in agreement with some aspects, in dispute with others.

llustration: Prime Minister Ben-Gurion (right chair) and Defense Minister Ben-Gurion (left chair), in a caricature by Yoel Buchwald (1920-97). The Israeli Cartoon Museum, Holon, Israel.

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