Ben-Gurion and his generals

The history of Israel’s founding, like America’s, is encrusted in myths. Over recent years, I’ve been sorting them out at Mosaic Magazine. I resurrected the forgotten story of the Soviet role in the creation of Israel. I challenged the story of the Palmah “massacre” of Arabs at Lydda in the 1948 war.

And I scrutinized the May 12, 1948 meeting of the People’s Administration, a Jewish government-in-waiting. Led by David Ben-Gurion, its worried members only narrowly voted to declare the state of Israel two days later. Or did they? The problem, as I showed, is that the famous vote never took place. But a forgotten vote on that same day crucially decided Israel’s post-war frontiers.

In a new monthly essay for Mosaic Magazine, I now revisit that May 12 meeting, but with another purpose. The usual accounts tell us that Ben-Gurion summoned his generals to brief the People’s Administration on the military situation. This backfired: by their gloom-and-doom assessments, they almost killed Israel’s chance for statehood. Only Ben-Gurion’s optimistic intervention saved the day.

Did the military men really put the birth of Israel at risk? Spoiler: no, not really, but in any event, Ben-Gurion wanted to shake up the meeting. Why would he do that? Hint: the fate of the army depended on it. Now, for the full answer, you’ll have to read the whole thing.

So go right here, for my February essay at Mosaic Magazine. (Monthly essays are followed by expert responses and my final word, so stay tuned.)

Ben-Gurion reviews Givati Brigade, 1948. On his left, Lt-Gen. Yaakov Dori; on his right, Maj-Gen. Yigael Yadin; on far left, Maj-Gen. Yigal Allon. Fred Chesnick, IDF Archive.