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Zionist Statesmanship: Ben-Gurion and Begin

August 3, 2014 - August 8, 2014

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Course Syllabus

Participant Bios

Can one speak meaningfully of a distinct craft of “Zionist Statesmanship”?  Of what might such a craft be constructed, and on what issues would it hinge? One way of examining this set of questions is to look at the lives of David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, bitter archrivals who – though each played a pivotal role in the creation of the State of Israel and eventually served as Prime Minister – had profoundly different views on the Jewish use of power, the place of Jewish text and tradition in the formation of Jewish policy, and the degrees to which Jewish statesmanship ought to be rooted in the past as opposed to focused on achieving a better future.


Led by prominent public intellectual Daniel Gordis of Shalem College, we will look at a variety of incidents and conflicts over which Ben-Gurion and Begin locked horns, discuss the context and unfolding of those episodes and study speeches that each made, seeking to uncover the foundational commitments of their respective worldviews.  Among issues we will examine are:

          • The Jewish underground and violent resistance to the British
          • Intra-Jewish violence and the consolidation of Jewish power in the case of the Altalena
          • The commanding role of history in the battle over Wiedergutmachung (German reparations)
          • Israeli kowtowing to superpowers in the case of the spy, Robert Soblen
          • Views of territorial expansionism in the aftermath of the Six Day War 

Different through their worldviews were and as deep as their personal antipathy ran, we will see, inter alia, that each actually absorbed much of the worldview of the other. We will thus also ask whether that, too, ought to be construed as a fundamental dimension of a distinctly Jewish and/or Zionist form of statesmanship.