November 25, 2009

Ben-Gurion's 'Pragmatism' (Letter)

The following letter, of Nov. 25, 2009, was in response to the Jerusalem Post's editorial Principle & Pragmatism of Nov. 24, 2009.

Sir, - Your reference to former prime minister David Ben-Gurion's "uncompromising" pragmatism ("Principle & pragmatism," November 24) is somewhat puzzling, as pragmatism in politics is the art of compromising on values and principles.

Ben-Gurion did believe in supreme loyalty to the state, but only when he ruled it. His socialism meant loyalty to a non-Zionist cause - the cause of the workers - which hurt Zionism. He led a movement that promoted class warfare between Jewish owners and workers even in the still-developing Yishuv, hindering economic development and foreign investment. His party could not accept even the concept of national arbitration to resolve strikes. As for loyalty to Zionism, until 1942 he refused to declare a Jewish state as the goal of Zionism, even denying this before the Peel Commission.

Ben-Gurion and his movement led a vicious smear campaign against Revisionists because they were perceived as enemies of the workers, despite the fact that on all major issues - the need for Jewish defense, operations against the British, the need to evacuate European Jewry, the need to openly declare the need for a Jewish state, the need for illegal Jewish immigration - Jabotinsky was right and Ben-Gurion was wrong and would later adopt Jabotinsky's positions.

You mentioned the travesty of the sinking of the Altalena, in which Jewish immigrants and fighters were killed by Jews, which Ben-Gurion had the audacity to praise. But what about the saison, during which members of the Hagana kidnapped and informed on members of the Irgun to the British? What about the Arlosoroff affair, where two obviously innocent Betarim were accused by the Labor establishment of killing Labor leader Haim Arlosoroff, even though Arabs had confessed to the killing? And Ben-Gurion's refusal to bury Jabotinsky in Israel? Was all this laudable pragmatism?

Of course, Ben-Gurion achieved much for the State of Israel, but it's time we stopped glossing over his campaign against any and all who disagreed, particularly some of the greatest Zionists like Jabotinsky and Begin, as holy pragmatism - which is, as you point out, often a justification for unbridled ambition.