Sunday, June 16, 2013

50 Years Since Ben Gurion's Resignation

David Ben Gurion resigned 50 years ago today, on June 16, 1963. While he had briefly retired to Sdeh Boker in 1954, passing the prime minster's baton to Moshe Sharett, this time he was serious about leaving, as everyone understood. He was 77 years old; he had been the leader of the Yishuv, the State-in-Waiting and the State itself, for more than 40 years. 50 years later, he is still the undisputed greatest leader the Zionist movement has ever called forth, to the extent that even a carefully non-political blog such as this has no hesitation in naming him.

On the anniversary of his departure, the ISA has published a collections of documents surrounding the event (in Hebrew). Here are three of them.

At the time, many people, politicians and ordinary folks alike, feared that his departure would be a blow to what was still a fledgling country. But not everyone. The delegation of the Herut, the largest opposition party, told President Shazar, who summoned them for consultations before deciding whom to entrust with the task of setting up the next government, that they were glad Ben Gurion was leaving, and they hoped his departure would be good for the country. Two points stand out from their discussion. First, that they addressed the president in the third person, almost as to aristocracy. Hard to imagine that in Israel's political culture now, or anytime in the recent past - but in 1963 the country was still young, leaders still cast at least a semblance of awe, or at least minimal respect. The second point is that they felt Ben Gurion's departure had something to do with the crises surrounding the German rocket scientists employed by Egypt. Some stories never die, they merely fade and then return.

The other two documents are newsreels. The first is narrated in French (no idea why) and tells of Ben Gurion's trip to the United State in 1951; the second is narrated in Arabic (???) and tells of Levy Eshkol's trip to the US in 1964. Ben Gurion's trip was unofficial Eshkol's was official, but the different tone of the two films is probably more fundamental than a matter of protocol. Ben Gurion basked in public adulation; Eshkol came to do business. It's worth watching them even if your language skills aren't sufficient.

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