In 1946, as efforts to establish a Jewish state moved into high gear, David Ben-Gurion was convinced the Arab states would join the Arabs of Palestine in seeking to prevent a Jewish state from coming into being, and he asked for and received the Defense Portfolio of the Jewish Agency in addition to serving as the Agency’s overall leader. In that role, he sought to impress upon his colleagues that the war they would be fighting would require weapons and strategy well beyond anything for which they were prepared. After the UN voted on partition in November 1947, Ben-Gurion was the consensus candidate to serve as leader of the Jewish state and in his dual role as de facto prime minister and defense minister he sought to persuade his colleagues to put all available resources into the war effort, initially against the Arabs of Palestine and subsequently against the Arab states he was certain would attack. It was with this goal in mind that he addressed his colleagues in the Central Committee of the Labor Party on January 16, 1948, in a speech that is widely viewed as having a major impact on how the war was seen and fought on the Jewish side.
“There is a historical philosophy that sees in war the highest destiny of mankind, the glory of man, the glory of power and the right that power accords, and this philosophy supports war as a free choice and as the supreme end. This is the Nazi philosophy in its various and sundry manifestations in human history, from the time of Cain and through Hitler and his students and followers among the different nations. That philosophy is anathema to Judaism, as we understand it, as it was understood, so it seems to me, by the prophets and wise men of Israel; we resort to war when there is no choice – because it is forced upon us. After it has been forced upon us, it is our duty to carry it out in a supreme total effort, marshaling all of our physical, moral, economic and technical capacity, with no limitations, with an effort of will that is greater than that of the Nazis and those who resemble them.”
Dr. Daniel Polisar
Daniel Polisar is co-founder and Executive Vice President of Shalem College in Jerusalem, Israel’s first liberal arts college. He previously served as President of the Shalem Center from 2002-2013 and also as its Director of Research, Academic Director, and Editor-in-Chief of its journal, Azure. From 2006 to 2009, he served as the founding chairman, within the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister, of the National Council for the Commemoration of the Legacy of Theodor Herzl. Dr. Polisar received his BA in politics from Princeton University and his PhD in government from Harvard University, where he was the recipient of Truman and Fulbright scholarships, as well as of a Mellon Fellowship. His research interests include Zionist history and thought, Israeli constitutional development, and the history and philosophy of higher education.