By Shimon Peres in Conversation with David Landau
Schocken. 224 pp. $25.95
With Occupy Wall Streeters under fire for alleged anti-Semitism, it’s worth remembering that Israel was founded by people not unlike them. “The Jews’ greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction!” Shimon Peres, the nation’s president, writes in an exclamation-point-littered biography of David Ben-Gurion, one of Israel’s founding fathers and its first prime minister. “We’re a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better. . . . However small a nation we may be, we are the flag-bearers of revolution.”
While there are more thoroughly researched books about Israel’s beginnings — notably, Neill Lochery’s “View from the Fence” — Peres’s take on a man he calls “a mythic figure” whom it “was my great privilege to know” is biased but invaluable. “Ben-Gurion” often abandons narrative to present exchanges between Peres and former Haaretz editor David Landau about this champion Zionist’s legacy. It’s a lazy strategy that, shockingly, proves illuminating.
“During [World War II] there was only one consideration — and that was Churchill’s directive — to win!” Peres shouts at Landau, defending Ben-Gurion’s reluctance to criticize Allied strategy that failed to stop the Holocaust. “They didn’t want to even bomb the rail line to Auschwitz. . . . The fact that I don’t accept it doesn’t change the reality!” Even readers tired of ideological food fights about Israel — of liberals calling conservatives who defend the country fascists, and of conservatives calling liberals who criticize it anti-Semites — will find something to like in this unusual primer on the birth of a nation and its most important midwife.