March 18, 2008

Menachem Begin (1913-1992)

MENACHEM BEGIN (1913-1992) led the Irgun during the Revolt against Britain's rule in Palestine and was the seventh Prime Minister of the State of Israel (1977-1983).

Prior to World War II, Begin was a leader of Polish Betar, the Jabotinskyite Zionist-youth movement.

In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Begin escaped to Lithuania, but in 1940 was captured by the Soviet Union's NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) for being a Zionist and thus an "agent of British imperialism." The Soveits sent Begin to the Kulag in Siberia and then to the Pechora Labor Camps.

In 1942, Begin was released when the Russians agreed to allow Polish prisoners to join the Polish army. Begin was sent with the army to Palestine arriving there that year.

In Palestine, he was made the head of the Irgun Zva Leumi, the Revisionist underground Jewish army, which had split from the Haganah.

In 1946, under Begin's leadership the Irgun declared it's Revolt against British rule and by 1947 forced the British out of Palestine. During the War of Independence, the Irgun merged with the Haganah.

In 1948, Begin and his co-Irgunists formed the Herut party.

After Herut merged with several other right-wing parties to form Gahal and then the Likud, Begin was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1977. The victory has been called a political "earthquake" because interrupted the Labor domination of Jewish politics in Israel which predated the establishment of the State.

Begin is known as the most Jewish Israeli Prime Minister. After his election he recited the "Shehechiyanu" blessing, which thanks God for bringing a person to a milestone in life.

As Prime Minister, Begin promoted Jewish settlement in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (often called the "West Bank"), the the heart of the Land of Israel.

In 1979, Begin concluded a peace treaty with Egyptian President Answar Sadat. According to the treaty the Sinai desert was returned to Egyptian sovereignty and the Jewish settlers of Yamit were expelled, many settling in Gaza. The treaty also recognized a Palestinian-Arab right to "autonomy."

In return for withdrawing from Sinai, Israel received aid guarantees from the United States and the right to purchase oil originating in Sinai. The treay also enabled Jordan to later sign a treaty with Israel. Begin recieved a Nobel Prize for the treaty.

Many followers of Jabotinsky felt that in signing the treaty Begin was giving in to U.S. pressure and squandering the opportunity to implement Jabotinsky's vision. Shmuel Katz, Begin's Minister of Information, resigned for this reason.

In 1980, Begin signed the Basic Law: Jerusalem Capital of Israel, which states that "Jerusalem, comoplete and united, is the capital of Israel." As a Basic Law, the law has quasi constitutional status.

In 1981, Begin ordered the attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirek and signed the Golan Hieghts Law which extending the Law, Administration, and jurisdiction of the State of Israel to the Golan Heights. In response, an angry United States suspended a Memorandum of Understanding that had recently been concluded between the U.S. and Israel.

Begin called the U.S. Ambassador to Israel into his office and lectured him on his offense at Israel being "punished" by the U.S. as if a "14 year old." Israel was not a "banana republic" and had existed for 3,000 years without a Memorandum of Understanding. Begin released a transcription of the lecture to Israel radio.

In 1982, in response to terrorist attacks on Israel perpetrated by the PLO in Southern Lebonnon, which Israeli had taken to calling Fatahland, Begin ordered the IDF to push the terrorists out of their rocket range in Operation Peace for the Gallilee.

Despite Yassir Arafat's telling Begin in a letter "Do not try to break me in Lebannon. You will not succeed," the IDF destroyed the PLO, and exiled them from Lebannon.

In September 1983, admist slander and protest against Israel's operations in Lebannon by Peace Now and the Labor party led by Shimon Peres, whom Begin had defeated to become Prime Minister in 1977, and just after the death of his wife, Begin resigned as Prime Minister. The Cabinet, Rabbis, loyalists, and settlers asked him to reconsider but he refused.

Further Reading:
The Revolt by Menachem Begin
Begin: His Life, Words and Deeds by Zvi Harry Hurwitz
White Nights by Menachem Begin
Knesset Bio
Knesset Profile
Begin versus Biden by Zvi Harry Hurwitz (Jewish Tribune, Sept. 9, 2008)
Is Israel a Banana Republic by Daniel Tauber (American Thinker, Nov. 20, 2008)
Begin Center Diary (for the Menachem Begin Heritage Center)