Professor Shlomo Aronson, Emeritus has recently published an article, "Leadership, preventive war and territorial expansion: David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol", having written previously on the subject (here; as well as in his books among them Levi Eshkol: From Pioneering Operator to Tragic Hero - a Doer and David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Renaissance among them).
He sent the article out to a list I am a member of and after reading it carefully, I sent him the following:
On the presumption that Prof. Aronson wished that his article, “Leadership, preventive war and territorial expansion: David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol”, be read and commented on, I would wish to offer the following observations:
1. There are a few inexplicable errors (perhaps typos?) as well as omissions of information or what could be seen as misinformation, among them –
a) p. 530: Begin was not the “self-declared heir” of Jabotinsky. The process of his appointment as Irgun Commander evolved over a year and included discussions, deliberations and eventually a decision made by many dozens of persons involved.
b) p. 530: Begin arrived in Mandate Palestine on April 18, 1942, not “in the summer of 1943”.
c) p. 530: the Declaration of Revolt was pasted up on walls and poles on the night of January 31-February 1, 1944.
d) P. 530: the decision to deport Hungary’s Jews was made on April 14, 1944 and so, how could Begin have connected the Revolt with ”the expansion of the Holocaust to Hungary, occupied by the Nazis in March”, again the Declaration was printed end of January? In fact, the decision to launch a Revolt was made late in 1943. Indeed, there is a Holocaust connection in the text but the Jews of Germany, Poland, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Roumania and Bulgaria are also mentioned in the document. Hungary is noted simply in the context of “being concerned over its fate”.
e) p. 530: I suggest that better than describing Ahdut Ha’Avoda as “the nationalist left wing of the Zionist Labour Movement”, it could be more exact to employ a term such a “territorial maximalist”.
f) p. 530: not only was Kasztner defined as a collaborator by his “internecine enemies (?)” but by his judge who deemed he had sold his soul to the devil.
g) p. 532: to describe the 1942 Biltmore Plan as “pre-Holocaust” is odd in that paragraph 2 of the decision adopted reads: “This Conference offers a message of hope and encouragement to their fellow Jews in the Ghettos and concentration camps of Hitler-dominated Europe and prays that their hour of liberation may not be far distant.”
h) p. 535: in distinguishing between B-G and Eshkol, Aronson writes that after the 1965 elections, “Eshkol added religious parties to his coalition”. But had not religious parties, as the Hazit Datit Leumit/Mizrachi, been coalition parties previously? Moshe Haim Shapira was a Minister already in 1949. Yosef Burg became a Minister in 1951.
2. On p. 531, Aronson correctly points out that the Irgun and the Lechi (why, though, does he use ‘Stern Group’? his translator?) engaged in anti-British violence from 1944 but then skips to spring 1947 to note that B-G knew Britain would withdraw from the Mandate and ignores the nine-month United Resistance Movement framework of B-G’s…1945-46 collaboration with the Irgun and Lechi, neither explaining it, refuting it or otherwise relating to it? Did the politics of the summer of 1945, i.e., the failure of the links between the Mapai-British Labour Movement, not affect B-G’s leadership and wisdom?
3. On p. 535, Aronson writes that in May 1967, the United States was preoccupied elsewhere during the crisis “as seems to have happened”. But there are no references to explain this.
4. On p. 537, in his discussion of the outbreak of the Six Days War, Aronson does not include the “Water War” of November 1964 until May 1967 as a factor although Fatah raids and Rabin’s regime change in Damascus are. Odd. Especially as he refers to an “escalation”.
5. On p. 539, he uses the term “mobilized nation” that was “ordered to launch” a preventive offensive. Should that not be “army”?
6. On p. 541, Mapai members who joined the Greater Israel Movement are termed “major writers and spiritual leaders”. As I do not know of any Rabbis in Mapai, except for those of the Religious Division of the Histadrut and the Moshavim Movement such as Menachem HaCohen or Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein. Perhaps cultural and intellectual icons or elites would have been better.
7. Aronson’s attitude to the Irgun Revolt is strange, for an academic. On p. 530, he writes it was “pointless and politically highly damaging” because it was Germany, not Gt. Britain, who “closed the door to Jewish immigration into Palestine from the beginning of the Final Solution in 1941”. In the first place, Gt. Britain had been severely restricting immigration for decades, not to mention the 1939 White Paper policy. In the second place, if the Final Solution began in 1941, how was the 1942 Biltmore Program “pre-Holocaust”, see above 1(g)?
Moreover, as Dr. Meir Zamir has published, England betrayed the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations decision by conspiring with Syria:
“The government of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1944 secretly proposed creating a ‘Greater Syria’ that would have shut Holocaust escapees out of Palestine and thwarted creation of a Jewish state…Writing in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz (Feb. 1, 2008), Prof. Zamir reported that in a previously-unknown British proposal to Syria’s leaders in August 1944, and in a secret British-Syrian agreement signed in June 1945, the Churchill government “assured Syria that it would limit Jewish immigration and thwart the emergence of an independent Jewish state in Palestine.”
The logical conclusion to this should be that whereas B-G, supposedly in-the-know and wise, was unaware of this arrangement and therefore continued to align Zionism to England, Begin, not in-the-know and not astute, and also unaware of this development, was promoting the more correct policy: a resistance campaign against British rule.
8. On p. 532, Aronson writes that B-G’s doubts peaked, and that the “acquisition of more territory” with Israel “the ruler of a large population of alien Arabs” would “thereby endanger its legitimacy as a Jewish state”. I am guessing that this refers to the early 1950s, given the previous matter in the article ( a1950 speech in the Knesset) although it is unclear. Nevertheless, “legitimacy” seems, perhaps, anachronistic as if there was a BDS movement at the time. Could not a term such as “security”, “assurance” or “firm demographic majority” be better applied?
9. Also on that page, he writes of a factor in B-G’s territorial policy being the “enormous sensitivity of the Holy Land in foreign eyes”. But how does that fit with the December 1949 decision to move government offices to Jerusalem and declare the city Israel’s capital after on December 9, the U.N. General Assembly voted to implement the resolution to internationalize Jerusalem, and that as soon as the results of the vote were publicized, Ben-Gurion said that "Jerusalem is an integral part of Israel and its eternal capital. No United Nations vote can change such a historical fact"?
Shlomo Aronson wrote back:
Mr. Medad has tried, unsuccessfully in my view, to refute the main points in my article, while in fact even proving them his way. My basic thesis was, that Mr. Menachem Begin's "revolt" against the British in 1944 was pointless, self defeating and politically damaging. The reason for this was the German complete prohibition of Jewish immigration from Europe (since late in 1940), and not British restrictions on immigration since the "White Paper" of May, 1939. In fact most immigration certificates issued by the British remained unused. Second, the Holocaust, including the Hungarian catastrophe which became well known and adopted by IZL and the Sternists during their 1944 "revolt," as the most important justification thereof, while making the leadership of the Yishuv "collaborators" with the "Nazo-British," in the sense that David Ben-Gurion and his peers did not force the gates of Palestine open and allowed thereby the rescue of the victims of the Holocaust and the creation of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. It should be added to this, that this blood libel was given its alleged evidence in the so called "Kasztner Trial" - a political drama whose final result was Kasztner's murder and his exoneration by most members of the Israeli Supreme Court. Yet the transformation of BG's and his peers', Kasztner included, to "collaborators" with the "Nazo-British" (and with Adolf Eichmann himself) did take roots in Israel to this day. This syndrome, with territorial claims at least to Western Palestine as a whole, remains anchored in the legacy of the "revolt" and its alleged lessons, as if the Holocaust required a similar pattern of behavior, say some "revolt" against Iran. When if thanks to BG's lessons of the Holocaust, Israel could destroy Iran or rather contain its threat quite successfully, which was not the case during the Holocaust, as far as Nazi Germany was concerned.
And I reacted:
I presume Prof. Aronson is expressing umbrage.
I was pointing to several weak elements is his narrative, several questionable "facts", possible errors and portions of his argumentation I found less than convincing. As many my specific points are not addressed, can we assume that either he is ignoring them or admitting to them?
As to his first response, on the question of The Revolt being successful or "pointless, self defeating and politically damaging", I can only note the British White paper of May 15, 1948 concluded:
His Majesty's Government had now striven for twenty-seven years without success to reconcile Jews and Arabs and to prepare the people of Palestine for self-government. The policy adopted by the United Nations had aroused the determined resistance of the Arabs, while the States supporting this policy were themselves not prepared to enforce it. 84,000 troops, who received no cooperation from the Jewish community, had proved insufficient to maintain law and order in the face of a campaign of terrorism waged by highly organized Jewish forces equipped with all the weapons of the modern infantryman. Since the war, 338 British subjects had been killed in Palestine, while the military forces there had cost the British taxpayer 100 million pounds. The renewal of Arab violence on the announcement of the United Nations decision to partition Palestine and the declared intentions of Jewish extremists showed that the loss of further British lives was inevitable. It was equally clear that, in view of His Majesty's Government's decision not to enforce the partition of Palestine against the declared wishes of the majority of it inhabitants, the continued presence there of British troops and officials could no longer be justified. (see here)
and I repeat his lack of mention of the United Resistance Movement episode when the Hagana and Palmah engaged in what the British termed "terror". I find it odd not to refute Dr. Zamir's research conclusions that I drew, if he can.
To link "success" with whether it was the Germans or the British who restricted immigration, an argument lead I find odd, may I repeat: Jews continued to leave Europe, albeit minimalistically but in the thousands, well into World War II but they found it very difficult to get into Palestine not because of the Germans but because of the British. The first Jews to be killed after WW II broke out were two - on the beach of Tel Aviv, shot by the British, after the grounding of the Tiger Hill. Any further investigation into Britain's role in halting the entrance of Jews into Mandate Palestine should start with Bernard Wasserstein's "Britain and the Jews of Europe" especially government efforts to keep Jews including children from exiting as well as refusing to permit refugees already out from proceeding to safety.
As for someone proving the charges made against him by his own words, Aronson writes, correctly, that some most immigration certificates were unused. Precisely. The British, well into 1945, more than a year after the end of the 5-year White paper period, avoided as much as possible permitting Jews entry. The Germans, it is obvious, we no factor in this decision.
As for the raison d'etre of "The Revolt", while I readily admit that the Holocaust figured prominently in the anti-British revolutionary propaganda, nevertheless, already in pre-WW II days, both the Hagana (which sank the Sinbad II, for example) and the Irgun (see Uriel Halperin's pre-White Paper 1938 "Eineinu N'su'ot La'Shilton" (see here) had targeted the British to be resisted for their local Yishuv policies, not to mention Stern whose orientation even rejected, basically, Diaspora Jewry as an immediate function in the equation.
As for the section regarding Kasztner, etc., I admit I do not grasp the logic of this line of reasoning.
And Prof. Aronson again responded:
I certainly ignored Mr. Medad's arguments related to the post WWII and post Shoah behavior in driving the British out of Palestine, because my article dealt mainly with the war, the Shoah, and Begin's "revolt" of 1944 [but didn't he mention 1947?], which was his way of "responding" to Hitler's destruction of the Jews, completely under German control, by a "rebellion" against the British, who fought the Nazis at the time. IZL/Sternist post war behavior was basically irrelevant to my arguments, and as such its contribution to the end of the mandate could be described as marginal, compared to the moral impact of the DP's longing for Zion on American public opinion, in a period of complete British dependence on the United States.
Be it what it may, my point was, that the legacy of Begin's "revolt," as if it were [sic: was] a legitimate, justified, role model for contemporary Israel in the context of the Holocaust, is a political manipulation of historical realities, aimed at the delegitimation of the Yishuv's leadership at the time all the way to the myth of the use of force by the Sternists and later IZL- against Jabotinsky's last order to fight Hitler, not the British.
Hence, the "Fighting Family's" claim for legitimacy today, which serves on top of it as a justification for current political action, is as troubling as Mr. Medad's refusal to admit the political misuse of rescue efforts undertaken by Israel Kasztner, the significance of the "Kasztner elections" in the mid 50s, and the later manipulations of the Shoah by Mr. Begin and his heirs.
I am faced with a situation of "don't bother me with facts".
Jabotinsky, for example, orderקג the "40,000 Plan" to go ahead whereby Betar and Irgun members would invade the Mandate and take over Government House.
This is academia?