|6th Prime Minister of Israel|
21 June 1977 – 10 October 1983
|Preceded by||Yitzhak Rabin|
|Succeeded by||Yitzhak Shamir|
|Minister of Defense|
28 May 1980 – 5 August 1981
|Preceded by||Ezer Weizman|
|Succeeded by||Ariel Sharon|
14 February 1983 – 23 February 1983
|Preceded by||Ariel Sharon|
|Succeeded by||Moshe Arens|
16 August 1913|
Brest, Russian Empire
|Died||9 March 1992
Tel Aviv, Israel
|Spouse(s)||Aliza Arnold (1939–82)|
Menachem Begin ( listen (help·info); Hebrew: מְנַחֵם בֵּגִין; Polish: Mieczysław Biegun; Russian: Менахем Вольфович Бегин Menakhem Vol'fovich Begin; 16 August 1913 – 9 March 1992) was an Israeli politician, founder of Likud and the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Before independence, he was the leader of the Zionist militant group Irgun, the Revisionist breakaway from the larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. He proclaimed a revolt, on 1 February 1944, against the British mandatory government, which was opposed by the Jewish Agency. As head of the Irgun, he targeted the British in Palestine.
Begin was elected to the first Knesset, as head of Herut, the party he founded, and was at first on the political fringe, embodying the opposition to the Mapai-led government and Israeli establishment. He remained in opposition in the eight consecutive elections (except for a national unity government around the Six-Day War), but became more acceptable to the political center. His 1977 electoral victory and premiership ended three decades of Labour Party political dominance.
Begin’s most significant achievement as Prime Minister was the signing of a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, for which he and Anwar Sadat shared the Nobel Prize for Peace. In the wake of the Camp David Accords, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, which was captured from Egypt in the Six-Day War. Later, Begin’s government promoted the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Begin authorized the bombing of the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to fight PLO strongholds there, igniting the 1982 Lebanon War. As Israeli military involvement in Lebanon deepened, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, carried out by Christian Phalangist militia allies of the Israelis, shocked world public opinion, Begin grew increasingly isolated. As IDF forces remained mired in Lebanon and the economy suffered from hyperinflation, the public pressure on Begin mounted. Depressed by the death of his wife Aliza in November 1982, he gradually withdrew from public life, until his resignation in October 1983.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Political career
- 3 Prime Minister of Israel
- 4 Published work
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Menachem Begin was born to Zeev Dov and Hassia Biegun in Brest, a town then called Brest-Litovsk and part of the Russian Empire but today a part of Belarus, which was known for its Talmudic scholars. He was the youngest of three children. On his mother's side he was descended from distinguished rabbis. His father, a timber merchant, was a community leader, a passionate Zionist, and an admirer of Theodor Herzl. The midwife who attended his birth was the grandmother of Ariel Sharon.
After a year of a traditional cheder education Begin started studying at a "Tachkemoni" school, associated with the religious Zionist movement. At 12, he joined the Zionist Socialist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, but soon switched to Betar. At 14, he was sent to a Polish government school, where he received a solid grounding in classical literature, and gained a lifelong love of classical works, which he was able to read in Latin.
Begin began studying law at the University of Warsaw in Poland where he learned the oratory and rhetoric skills that became his trademark as a politician, and viewed as demagogy by his critics. He graduated in 1935, but never practiced law. At this time, he became a disciple of Vladimir "Ze'ev" Jabotinsky, the founder of the nationalist Revisionist Zionism movement and its Betar youth wing. His rise within Betar was rapid: At 22, he shared the dais with his mentor at the Betar World Congress in Krakow. The pre-war Polish government actively supported Zionist youth and paramilitary movements. Begin's leadership qualities were quickly recognised. In 1937 he was the active head of Betar in Czechoslovakia and became head of the largest branch, that of Poland. As head of Betar's Polish branch, Begin travelled among regional branches to encourage supporters and recruit new members. To save money, he stayed at the homes of Betar members. During one such visit, he met his future wife Aliza Arnold, who was the daughter of his host. On 29 May 1939, one month after they met, the couple married. They had three children: Binyamin, Leah and Hassia.
Living in Warsaw in Poland, Begin encouraged Betar to set up an organization to bring Polish Jews to Palestine. He unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle 1,500 Jews into Romania at the end of August 1939. Returning to Warsaw afterward, he left three days after the German 1939 invasion began, first to the southwest and then to Wilno.
In September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, Begin, in common with a large part of Warsaw's Jewish leadership, escaped to Wilno (today Vilnius), then eastern Poland, to avoid inevitable arrest. The town was soon occupied by the Soviet Union, but from 28 October 1939, it was the capital of the Republic of Lithuania. Wilno was a predominately Polish and Jewish town; an estimated 40 percent of the population was Jewish, with the YIVO institute was located there.
As a prominent pre-war Zionist and reserve status officer-cadet, on 20 September 1940, Begin was arrested by the NKVD and detained in the Lukiškės Prison. He wrote about his experience of being tortured in later years. He was accused of being an "agent of British imperialism" and sentenced to eight years in the Soviet gulag camps. On 1 June 1941 he was sent to the Pechora labor camps in the northern part of European Russia, where he stayed until May 1942. Much later in life, Begin would record and reflect upon his experiences in the interrogations and life in the camp in his memoir White Nights.
In June 1941, just after Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and following his release under the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, Begin joined the Polish Anders' Army as a corporal officer cadet. He was later sent with the army to Palestine via the Persian Corridor, where he arrived in May 1942.
Upon arriving in Palestine, Begin, like many other Polish Jewish soldiers of the Anders' Army, faced a choice between remaining with the Anders' Army to fight Nazi Germany in Europe, or staying in Palestine to fight for establishment of a Jewish state. While he initially wished to remain with the Polish army, he was eventually persuaded to change his mind by his contacts in the Irgun, as well as Polish officers sympathetic to the Zionist cause. Consequently, General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski, the second in command of the Army issued Begin with a "leave of absence without an expiration" which gave Begin official permission to stay in Palestine. In December 1942 he left Ander's Army and joined the Irgun.
During the Holocaust, Begin's father was among the 5,000 Brest Jews rounded up by the Nazis at the end of June 1941. Instead of being sent to a forced labor camp, they were shot or drowned in the river. His mother and older brother Herzl also died in the Holocaust.
Begin quickly made a name for himself as a fierce critic of the dominant Zionist leadership for being too cooperative with British ‘colonialism’ and a proponent of armed opposition to it, which he saw as a necessary means to achieve independence. In 1942 he joined the Irgun (Etzel), an underground Zionist group which had split from the main Jewish military organization, the Haganah, in 1931. In 1944 Begin assumed the organization's leadership, determined to force the British government to remove its troops entirely from Palestine. Giving as reasons that the British had reneged on the promises given in the Balfour Declaration and that the White Paper of 1939 restricting Jewish immigration was an escalation of their pro-Arab policy, he decided to break with the Haganah. Soon after he assumed command, a formal 'Declaration of Revolt' was publicized, and armed attacks against British forces were initiated.
In 1944–48 the Irgun engaged in armed opposition, attacking British installations and posts. These operations were financed by demanding money from Jewish merchants and engaging in insurance scams in the local diamond industry.
For several months in 1945–46, the Irgun’s activities were coordinated within the framework of the Hebrew Resistance Movement. Begin ordered the bombing of the British administrative and military headquarters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in 1946. The attack was conducted as part of a joint response to the British Operation Agatha, during which many Jews were arrested, weapons were seized and the Jewish Agency, from which many documents were removed, was raided. Irgun later claimed that warnings to evacuate had been sent but were ignored. 91 people, British, Arab and Jewish, were killed.
The fragile partnership collapsed following the bombing, partly because contrary to instructions, it was carried out during the busiest part of the day at the hotel. Under Begin’s leadership, the Irgun continued to carry out operations such as breaking into Acre Prison, and the kidnapping and hanging of two British sergeants in order to prevent, and then in retaliation to, the execution of several Irgun members by the British. Growing numbers of British soldiers and policemen were deployed to quell the Jewish uprising, yet Begin managed to elude captivity, at times disguised as a rabbi. MI5 placed a 'dead-or-alive' bounty of £10,000 on his head after Irgun threatened 'a campaign of terror against British officials', saying they would kill Sir John Shaw, Britain's Chief Secretary in Palestine.
The Jewish Agency, headed by David Ben-Gurion, opposed the Irgun’s independent agenda, which it saw as a challenge to its authority as the representative body of the Jewish community in Palestine. Ben-Gurion openly denounced the Irgun as the “enemy of the Jewish People”, accusing it of sabotaging the political campaign to create a Jewish state. In 1944, the Haganah actively pursued and handed over Irgun members to the British authorities in what became known as The Hunting Season; Begin’s instruction to his men to refrain from violent resistance prevented this from deteriorating into an armed intra-Jewish conflict. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recommending a Partition Plan for Palestine and Britain announced its plans to fully withdraw from Palestine by May 1948. Begin, once again remained in opposition to the mainstream Zionist leadership. In the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, the Irgun’s contribution to precipitating British withdrawal became a hotly contested debate as different factions vied for control over the emerging narrative of Israeli independence. Begin resented his being portrayed as a belligerent dissident.
Altalena and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War
During the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine, Irgun fighters fought alongside the Haganah and Lehi militia in fighting the Arab forces. Notable operations in which they took part were the battles of Jaffa and the Jordanian siege on the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. One such operation was the Deir Yassin Massacre of Arab villagers in April 1948. After the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 and the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Irgun continued to fight alongside Haganah and Lehi. On 15 May 1948, Begin broadcast a speech on radio declaring that the Irgun was finally moving out of its underground status. On 1 June Begin signed an agreement with the provisional government headed by David Ben Gurion, where the Irgun agreed to formally disband and to integrate its force with the newly formed, but was not truthful of the armaments aboard the Altalena as it was scheduled to arrive during the cease fire ordered by the United Nations and therefore would have put the State of Israel in peril as Britain was adamant the partition of Jewish and Arab Palestine would not occur. This delivery was the smoking gun Britain would need to urge the UN to end the partition action. Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Intense negotiations between representatives of the provisional government (headed by Ben-Gurion) and the Irgun (headed by Begin) followed the departure of Altalena from France. Among the issues discussed were logistics of the ship's landing and distribution of the cargo between the military organizations. Whilst there was agreement on the anchoring place of the Altalena, there were differences of opinion about the allocation of the cargo. Ben-Gurion agreed to Begin's initial request that 20% of the weapons be dispatched to the Irgun's Jerusalem Battalion, which was still fighting independently. His second request, however, that the remainder be transferred to the IDF to equip the newly incorporated Irgun battalions, was rejected by the Government representatives, who interpreted the request as a demand to reinforce an "army within an army."
The Altalena reached Kfar Vitkin in the late afternoon of Sunday, June 20. Among the Irgun members waiting on the shore was Menachem Begin, who greeted the arrivals with great emotion. After the passengers had disembarked, members of the fishing village of Mikhmoret helped unload the cargo of military equipment. Concomitantly with the events at Kfar Vitkin, the government had convened in Tel Aviv for its weekly meeting. Ben-Gurion reported on the meetings which had preceded the arrival of the Altalena, and was adamant in his demand that Begin surrender and hand over all of the weapons:
We must decide whether to hand over power to Begin or to order him to cease his separate activities. If he does not do so, we will open fire! Otherwise, we must decide to disperse our own army.
The debate ended in a resolution to empower the army to use force if necessary to overcome the Irgun and to confiscate the ship and its cargo. Implementation of this decision was assigned to the Alexandroni Brigade, commanded by Dan Even (Epstein), which the following day surrounded the Kfar Vitkin area. Dan Even issued the following ultimatum:
To: M. Begin
By special order from the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, I am empowered to confiscate the weapons and military materials which have arrived on the Israeli coast in the area of my jurisdiction in the name of the Israel Government. I have been authorized to demand that you hand over the weapons to me for safekeeping and to inform you that you should establish contact with the supreme command. You are required to carry out this order immediately. If you do not agree to carry out this order, I shall use all the means at my disposal in order to implement the order and to requisition the weapons which have reached shore and transfer them from private possession into the possession of the Israel government. I wish to inform you that the entire area is surrounded by fully armed military units and armored cars, and all roads are blocked. I hold you fully responsible for any consequences in the event of your refusal to carry out this order. The immigrants - unarmed - will be permitted to travel to the camps in accordance with your arrangements. You have ten minutes to give me your answer.
D.E., Brigade Commander
The ultimatum was made, according to Even, "in order not to give the Irgun commander time for lengthy considerations and to gain the advantage of surprise." Begin refused to respond to the ultimatum, and all attempts at mediation failed. Begin's failure to respond was a blow to Even's prestige, and a clash was now inevitable. Fighting ensued and there were a number of casualties. In order to prevent further bloodshed, the Kfar Vitkin settlers initiated negotiations between Yaakov Meridor (Begin's deputy) and Dan Even, which ended in a general ceasefire and the transfer of the weapons on shore to the local IDF commander.
Begin had meanwhile boarded the Altalena, which was headed for Tel Aviv where the Irgun had more supporters. Many Irgun members, who joined the IDF earlier that month, left their bases and concentrated on the Tel Aviv beach. A confrontation between them and the IDF units started. In response, Ben-Gurion ordered Yigael Yadin (acting Chief of Staff) to concentrate large forces on the Tel Aviv beach and to take the ship by force. Heavy guns were transferred to the area and at four in the afternoon, Ben-Gurion ordered the shelling of the Altalena. One of the shells hit the ship, which began to burn. Yigal Allon, commander of the troops on the shore, later claimed only five or six shells were fired, as warning shots, and the ship was hit by accident.
There was danger that the fire would spread to the holds which contained explosives, and Captain Monroe Fein ordered all aboard to abandon ship. People jumped into the water, whilst their comrades on shore set out to meet them on rafts. Although Captain Fein flew the white flag of surrender, automatic fire continued to be directed at the unarmed survivors swimming in the water. Begin, who was on deck, agreed to leave the ship only after the last of the wounded had been evacuated. Sixteen Irgun fighters were killed in the confrontation with the army (all but three were veteran members and not newcomers in the ship); six were killed in the Kfar Vitkin area and ten on Tel Aviv beach. Three IDF soldiers were killed: two at Kfar Vitkin and one in Tel Aviv.
After the shelling of the Altalena, more than 200 Irgun fighters were arrested. Most of them were released several weeks later, with the exception of five senior commanders (Moshe Hason, Eliyahu Lankin, Yaakov Meridor, Bezalel Amitzur, and Hillel Kook), who were detained for more than two months, until August 27, 1948. Begin agreed the Irgun soldiers woould be fully integrated with the IDF and not kept in separate units.
About a year later, Altalena was refloated, towed 15 miles out to sea and sunk.
Herut opposition years
|Date of birth||16 August 1913|
|Place of birth||Brest, Russian Empire|
|Year of aliyah||1942|
|Date of death||9 March 1992(aged 78)|
|Place of death||Tel Aviv, Israel|
|Knessets||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
In August 1948, Begin and members of the Irgun High Command emerged from the underground and formed the right-wing political party Herut ("Freedom") party. The move countered the weakening attraction for the earlier revisionist party, Hatzohar, founded by his late mentor Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Revisionist 'purists' alleged nonetheless that Begin was out to steal Jabotinsky's mantle and ran against him with the old party. The Herut party can be seen as the forerunner of today's Likud.
In November 1948, Begin visited the US on a campaigning trip. During his visit, a letter signed by Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook, Hannah Arendt, and other prominent Americans and several rabbis was published which described Begin's Herut party as "closely akin in its organization, methods, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties" and accused his group (along with the smaller, militant, Stern Gang) of preaching "racial superiority" and having "inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community".
In the first elections in 1949, Herut, with 11.5 percent of the vote, won 14 seats, while Hatzohar failed to break the threshold and disbanded shortly thereafter. This provided Begin with legitimacy as the leader of the Revisionist stream of Zionism.
Between 1948 and 1977, under Begin, Herut and the alliances it formed (Gahal in 1965 and Likud in 1973) formed the main opposition to the dominant Mapai and later the Alignment (the forerunners of today's Labour Party) in the Knesset; Herut adopted a radical nationalistic agenda committed to the irredentist idea of Greater Israel. During those years, Begin was systematically delegitimized by the ruling party, and was often personally derided by Ben-Gurion who refused to either speak to or refer to him by name. Ben-Gurion famously coined the phrase 'without Herut and Maki' (Maki was the communist party), referring to his refusal to consider them for coalition, effectively pushing both parties and their voters beyond the margins of political consensus.
The personal animosity between Ben-Gurion and Begin, going back to the hostilities over the Altalena Affair, underpinned the political dichotomy between Mapai and Herut. Begin was a keen critic of Mapai, accusing it of coercive Bolshevism and deep-rooted institutional corruption. Drawing on his training as a lawyer in Poland, he preferred wearing a formal suit and tie and evincing the dry demeanor of a legislator to the socialist informality of Mapai, as a means of accentuating their differences.
One of the fiercest confrontations between Begin and Ben-Gurion revolved around the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany, signed in 1952. Begin vehemently opposed the agreement, claiming that it was tantamount to a pardon of Nazi crimes against the Jewish people. While the agreement was debated in the Knesset in January 1952, he led a demonstration in Jerusalem attended by some 15,000 people, and gave a passionate and dramatic speech in which he attacked the government and called for its violent overthrow. Referring to the Altalena Affair, Begin stated that "when you fired at me with cannon, I gave the order; 'Don't [return fire]!' Today I will give the order, 'Do!'" Incited by his speech, the crowd marched towards the Knesset (then at the Frumin Building on King George Street) and threw stones at the windows, and at police as they intervened. After five hours of rioting, police managed to suppress the riots using water cannons and tear gas. Hundreds were arrested, while some 200 rioters, 140 police officers, and several Knesset members were injured. Many held Begin personally responsible for the violence, and he was consequently barred from the Knesset for several months. His behavior was strongly condemned in mainstream public discourse, reinforcing his image as a provocateur. The vehemence of Revisionist opposition was deep; in March 1952, during the ongoing reparations negotiations, a parcel bomb addressed to Konrad Adenauer, the sitting West German Chancellor, was intercepted at a German post office. While being defused, the bomb exploded, killing one sapper and injuring two others. Five Israelis, all former members of Irgun, were later arrested in Paris for their involvement in the plot. Chancellor Adenauer decided to keep secret the involvement of Israeli opposition party members in the plot, thus avoiding Israeli embarrassment and a likely backlash. The five Irgun conspirators were later extradited from both France and Germany, without charge, and sent back to Israel. Forty years after the assassination attempt, Begin was implicated as the organizer of the assassination attempt in a memoir written by one of the conspirators, Elieser Sudit.
Begin's impassioned rhetoric, laden with pathos and evocations of the Holocaust, appealed to many, but was deemed inflammatory and demagoguery by others.
Gahal and unity government
In the following years, Begin failed to gain electoral momentum, and Herut remained far behind Labor with a total of 17 seats until 1961. In 1965, Herut and the Liberal Party united to form the Gahal party under Begin’s leadership, but failed again to win more seats in the election that year. In 1966, during Herut's party convention, he was challenged by the young Ehud Olmert, who called for his resignation. Begin announced that he would retire from party leadership, but soon reversed his decision when the crowd pleaded with him to stay. The day the Six-Day War started in June 1967, Gahal joined the national unity government under Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of the Alignment, resulting in Begin serving in the cabinet for the first time, as a Minister without Portfolio. Rafi also joined the unity government at that time, with Moshe Dayan becoming Defense Minister. Gahal's arrangement lasted until August 1970, when Begin and Gahal quit the government, then led by Golda Meir due to disagreements over the Rogers Plan and its "in place" cease-fire with Egypt along the Suez Canal, Other sources, including William B. Quandt, note that the Labor party, by formally accepting UN 242 in mid-1970, had accepted "peace for withdrawal" on all fronts, and because of this Begin had left the unity government. On 5 August, Begin explained before the Knesset why he was resigning from the cabinet. He said, "As far as we are concerned, what do the words 'withdrawal from territories administered since 1967 by Israel' mean other than Judea and Samaria. Not all the territories; but by all opinion, most of them."
In 1973, Begin agreed to a plan by Ariel Sharon to form a larger bloc of opposition parties, made up from Gahal, the Free Centre, and other smaller groups. They came through with a tenuous alliance called the Likud ("Consolidation"). In the elections held later that year, two months after the Yom Kippur War, the Likud won a considerable share of the votes, though with 39 seats still remained in opposition.
Yet the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War saw ensuing public disenchantment with the Alignment. Voices of criticism about the government's misconduct of the war gave rise to growing public resentment. Personifying the antithesis to the Alignment's socialist ethos, Begin appealed to many Mizrahi Israelis, mostly first and second generation Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who felt they were continuously being treated by the establishment as second-class citizens. His open embrace of Judaism stood in stark contrast to the Alignment's secularism, which alienated Mizrahi voters and drew many of them to support Begin, becoming his burgeoning political base. In the years 1974–77 Yitzhak Rabin's government suffered from instability due to infighting within the labor party (Rabin and Shimon Peres) and the shift to the right by the National Religious Party, as well as numerous corruption scandals. All these weakened the labor camp and finally allowed Begin to capture the center stage of Israeli politics.
Prime Minister of Israel
1977 electoral victory
On 17 May 1977 the Likud, headed by Begin, won the Knesset elections by a landslide, becoming the biggest party in the Knesset. Popularly known as the Mahapakh ("upheaval"), the election results had seismic ramifications as for the first time in Israeli history a party other than the Alignment/Mapai was in a position to form a government, effectively ending the left's hitherto unrivalled domination over Israeli politics. Likud's electoral victory signified a fundamental restructuring of Israeli society in which the founding socialist Ashkenazi elite was being replaced by a coalition representing marginalized Mizrahi and Jewish-religious communities, promoting a socially conservative and economically liberal agenda.
The Likud campaign leading up to the election centered on Begin's personality. Demonized by the Alignment as totalitarian and extremist, his self-portrayal as a humble and pious leader struck a chord with many who felt abandoned by the ruling party's ideology. In the predominantly Jewish Mizrahi working class urban neighborhoods and peripheral towns, the Likud won overwhelming majorities, while disillusionment with the Alignment's corruption prompted many middle and upper class voters to support the newly founded centrist Democratic Movement for Change ("Dash") headed by Yigael Yadin. Dash won 15 seats out of 120, largely at the expense of the Alignment, which was led by Shimon Peres and had shrunk from 51 to 32 seats. Well aware of his momentous achievement and employing his trademark sense for drama, when speaking that night in the Likud headquarters Begin quoted from the Gettysburg Address and the Torah, referring to his victory as a 'turning point in the history of the Jewish people'.
With 43 seats, the Likud still required the support of other parties in order to reach a parliamentary majority that would enable it to form a government under Israel's proportionate representation parliamentary system. Though able to form a narrow coalition with smaller Jewish religious and ultra-orthodox parties, Begin also sought support from centrist elements in the Knesset to provide his government with greater public legitimacy. He controversially offered the foreign affairs portfolio to Moshe Dayan, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, and a prominent Alignment politician identified with the old establishment. Begin was sworn in as Prime Minister of Israel on 20 June 1977. Dash eventually joined his government several months later, thus providing it with the broad support of almost two thirds of the Knesset. While Prime Minister, Yehuda Avner served as Begin's speech writer.
Camp David accords
In 1978 Begin, aided by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, came to Washington and Camp David to negotiate the Camp David Accords, leading to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty with Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat. Before going to Washington to meet President Carter, Begin visited Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson for his advice. Under the terms of the treaty, brokered by US President, Jimmy Carter, Israel was to hand over the Sinai Peninsula in its entirety to Egypt. The peace treaty with Egypt was a watershed moment in Middle Eastern history, as it was the first time an Arab state recognized Israel’s legitimacy whereas Israel effectively accepted the land for peace principle as blueprint for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Given Egypt’s prominent position within the Arab World, especially as Israel’s biggest and most powerful enemy, the treaty had far reaching strategic and geopolitical implications.
Almost overnight, Begin’s public image of an irresponsible nationalist radical was transformed into that of a statesman of historic proportions. This image was reinforced by international recognition which culminated with him being awarded, together with Sadat, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
Yet while establishing Begin as a leader with broad public appeal, the peace treaty with Egypt was met with fierce criticism within his own Likud party. His devout followers found it difficult to reconcile Begin’s history as a keen promoter of the Greater Israel agenda with his willingness to relinquish occupied territory. Agreeing to the removal of Israeli settlements from the Sinai was perceived by many as a clear departure from Likud’s Revisionist ideology. Several prominent Likud members, most notably Yitzhak Shamir, objected to the treaty and abstained when it was ratified with an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, achieved only thanks to support from the opposition. A small group of hardliners within Likud, associated with Gush Emunim Jewish settlement movement, eventually decided to split and form the Tehiya party in 1979. They led the Movement for Stopping the Withdrawal from Sinai, violently clashing with IDF soldiers during the forceful eviction of Yamit settlement in April 1982. Despite the traumatic scenes from Yamit, political support for the treaty did not diminish and the Sinai was handed over to Egypt in 1982.
Begin was less resolute in implementing the section of the Camp David Accord calling for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He appointed Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon to implement a large scale expansion of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories, a policy intended to make future territorial concessions in these areas effectively impossible. Begin refocused Israeli settlement strategy from populating peripheral areas in accordance with the Allon Plan, to building Jewish settlements in areas of Biblical and historic significance. When the settlement of Elon Moreh was established on the outskirts of Nablus in 1979, following years of campaigning by Gush Emunim, Begin declared that there are "many more Elon Morehs to come." During his term dozens of new settlements were built, and Jewish population in the West Bank and Gaza more than quadrupled.
Bombing Iraqi nuclear reactor
Begin took Saddam Hussein's anti-Zionist threats seriously and therefore took aim at Iraq, which was building a nuclear reactor named Osirak or Tammuz 1 with French and Italian assistance. When Begin took office, preparations were intensified. Begin authorized the construction of a full-scale model of the Iraqi reactor which Israeli pilots could practice bombing. Israel attempted to negotiate with France and Italy to cut off assistance and with the United States to obtain assurances that the program would be halted. The negotiations failed. Begin considered the diplomatic option fruitless, and worried that prolonging the attack would lead to a fatal inability to act in response to the perceived threat.
The decision to attack was hotly contested within Begin's government. However, in October 1980, the Mossad informed Begin that the reactor would be fueled and operational by June 1981. This assessment was aided by reconnaissance photos supplied by the United States, and the Israeli cabinet voted to approve an attack. In June 1981, Begin ordered the destruction of the reactor. On 7 June 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the reactor in a successful long-range operation called Operation Opera. Soon after, Begin enunciated what came to be known as the Begin doctrine: "On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against the people of Israel." Many foreign governments, including the United States, condemned the operation, and the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 487 condemning it. The Israeli left-wing opposition criticized it also at the time, but mainly for its timing relative to elections only three weeks later.
On 6 June 1982, Begin’s government authorized the Israel Defense Forces invasion of Lebanon, in response to the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov. The objective of Operation Peace for Galilee was to force the PLO out of rocket range of Israel's northern border. Begin was hoping for a short and limited Israeli involvement that would destroy the PLO’s political and military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, effectively reshaping the balance of Lebanese power in favor of the Christian Militias who were allied with Israel. Nevertheless, fighting soon escalated into war with Palestinian and Lebanese militias, as well as the Syrian military, and the IDF progressed as far as Beirut, well beyond the 40 km limit initially authorized by the government. Israeli forces were successful in driving the PLO out of Lebanon and forcing its leadership to relocate to Tunisia, but the war ultimately failed to achieve its political goals of bringing security to Israel’s northern border and creating stability in Lebanon. Begin referred to the invasion as an inevitable act of survival, often comparing Yasser Arafat to Hitler. However, public dissatisfaction reached a peak in September 1982, after the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv in what was one of the biggest public demonstrations in Israeli history. The Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the events, found the government indirectly responsible for the massacre and accused Defense Minister Ariel Sharon of gross negligence. Sharon was forced to resign, and public pressure on Begin to resign increased.
Begin’s disoriented appearance on national television while visiting the Beaufort battle site raised concerns that he was being misinformed about the war’s progress. Asking Sharon whether PLO fighters had ‘machine guns’, Begin seemed out of touch with the nature and scale of the military campaign he had authorized. Almost a decade later, Haaretz reporter Uzi Benziman published a series of articles accusing Sharon of intentionally deceiving Begin about the operation’s initial objectives, and continuously misleading him as the war progressed. Sharon sued both the newspaper and Benziman for libel in 1991. The trial lasted 11 years, with one of the highlights being the deposition of Begin's son, Benny, in favor of the defendants. Sharon lost the case.
Argentine journalist Hernan Dobry has alleged that during this time Begin also ordered an airlift of weapons to Argentina during the Falklands War, because he still hated the British decades after fighting them in the 1940s, and wanted to avenge the hanging of his friend Dov Gruner.
Retirement from public life
Begin himself retired from politics in August 1983 and handed over the reins of the office of Prime Minister to his old friend-in-arms Yitzhak Shamir, who had been the leader of the Lehi resistance to the British. Begin had become deeply disappointed by the war in Lebanon because he had hoped to establish peace with Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated. Instead, there were mounting Israeli casualties. The death of his wife Aliza in Israel while he was away on an official visit to Washington DC, added to his own mounting depression. After his wife's death, Begin would rarely leave his apartment, and then usually to visit her grave-site to say the traditional Kaddish prayer for the departed. His seclusion was watched over by his children and his lifetime personal secretary Yechiel Kadishai, who monitored all official requests for meetings.
On 3 March 1992, Begin suffered a severe heart attack in his Tel Aviv apartment, and was rushed to Ichilov Hospital, where he was put in the intensive care unit. Begin arrived there unconscious and paralyzed on the left side of his body. His condition slightly improved following treatment, and he regained consciousness after 20 hours. For the next six days, Begin remained in serious condition. Begin was too frail to overcome the effects of the heart attack, and his condition began to rapidly deteriorate on 9 March at about 3:15 AM. An emergency team of doctors and nurses attempted to resuscitate his failing heart. His children were notified of his condition and immediately rushed to his side. Begin died at 3:30 AM. His death was announced an hour and a half later. Shortly before 6:00 AM, the hospital rabbi arrived at his bedside to say the Kaddish prayer.
Begin's funeral took place in Jerusalem that afternoon. His coffin was carried four kilometers from the Sanhedria Funeral Parlor to Mount of Olives in a funeral procession attended by thousands of people. In accordance with his wishes, Begin was given a simple Jewish burial ceremony and buried on the Mount of Olives in the Jewish Cemetery there. He had asked to be buried there instead of Mount Herzl, where most Israeli leaders are laid to rest, because he wanted to be buried beside his wife Aliza, as well as Meir Feinstein of Irgun and Moshe Barazani of Lehi, who committed suicide in jail while awaiting execution by the British. An estimated 75,000 mourners were present at the funeral. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, President Chaim Herzog, all cabinet ministers present in Israel, Supreme Court justices, Knesset members from most parties and a number of foreign ambassadors attended the funeral. Former members of the Irgun High Command served as pallbearers.
Begin in fiction and on film
A slightly fictionalized Menachem Begin appeared in the first edition of Land of Black Gold, but was removed from subsequent editions. He appears in the film Waltz with Bashir and in the novel The Fifth Horseman, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.
In The Last Temptation of Homer, Bart Simpson is prescribed square, black-rimmed eyeglasses for his lazy eye, and the doctor tries to comfort him by saying that "Menachem Begin wore a pair just like them."
A stage play, "Mr. Begin", written by Gabriel Emanuel and starring actor Dani Shteg, opened at the Menahem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem in July, 2013.
- The Revolt (ISBN 0-8402-1370-0)
- White Nights: The story of a prisoner in Russia (ISBN 0-06-010289-6)
- John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, at 102 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2007).
- Gwertzman, Bernard. Christian Militiamen Accused of a Massacre in Beirut Camps; U.S. Says the Toll is at Least 300. The New York Times. 19 September 1982.
- Thompson, Ian. Primo Levi: A Life. 2004, page 436.
- Menachem Begin Biography
- Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (19 November 1984). "Books Of The Times". The New York Times.
- Bernard Reich, Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1990 p.71
- Anita Shapira Begin on the Couch, Haaretz Books, in Hebrew
- Haber, Eitan (1978). Menahem Begin: The Legend and the Man. New York: Delacorte.
- menachem begin
- Lehr Wagner, Heather: Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin: negotiating peace in the Middle East
- Haber, Eitan (1978). Menachem Begin: The Legend and the Man. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-440-05553-9.
- Sources differ on how Begin left Anders' Army. Many indicate that he was discharged, e.g.:
- Eitan Haber (1979). Menachem Begin: The Legend and the Man. Dell Publishing Company. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-440-16107-3. "A while later Anders's Chief of Staff, General Ukolitzky, did agree to the release of six Jewish soldiers to go to the United States on a campaign to get the Jewish community to help the remnants of European Jewry. The Chief of Staff, who was well acquainted with Dr. Kahan, invited him to his office for a drink. There were a number of senior officers present, and Kahan realized that this was a farewell party for Ukolitzky. 'I'm leaving here on a mission, and my colleagues are throwing a party but the last document I signed was an approval of release for Menahem Begin.'"
- Bernard Reich (1990) Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-26213-5. p. 72. "In 1942 he arrived in Palestine as a soldier in General Anders's (Polish) army. Begin was discharged from the army in December 1943."
- Harry Hurwitz (2004). Begin: His Life, Words and Deeds. Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-324-4. p. 9. "His friends urged him to desert the Anders Army, but he refused to do any such dishonourable thing and waited until, as a result of negotiations, he was discharged and permitted to enter Eretz Israel, then under British mandatory rule".
- "Biography - White Nights". Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Retrieved 16 January 2012. "Many of the new recruits deserted the army upon their arrival, but Begin decidedly refused to follow suit. 'I swore allegiance to the Polish army – I will not desert,' he resolutely told his friends when he was reunited with them on Jewish soil. Begin served in the Polish army for about a year and a half with the rank of corporal... At the initiative of Aryeh Ben-Eliezer and with the help of Mark Kahan, negotiations began with the Polish army regarding the release of five Jewish soldiers from the army, including Begin, in return for which the members of the IZL delegation would lobby in Washington for the Polish forces. The negotiations lasted many weeks until they finally met with success: The Polish commander announced the release of four of the soldiers. Fortunately, Begin was among them."
- Amos Perlmutter (1987). The Life and Times of Menachem Begin Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-18926-2. p. 134. "In the Ben Eliezer-Mark Kahan version, Begin received a complete, honorable release from the Anders Army. The truth is that he only received a one-year leave of absence, a kind of extended furlough, in order to enable him to join an Anders Army Jewish delegation which would go to the United States seeking help for the Polish government-in-exile. The delegation never materialized, mainly due to British opposition. Begin, however, never received an order to return to the ranks of the Army."
- Stefan Korboński (2000). "ROZDZIAŁ IV: ŻYDZI W CZASIE OKUPACJI". "Kapral Menachem Begin podejmując decyzję, czy zostać czy walczyć z faszystami, stwierdził: "Armia, której mundur noszę i której składałem przysięgę wojskową, walczy ze śmiertelnym wrogiem narodu żydowskiego, faszystowskimi Niemcami. Nie można opuścić takiej armii, nawet po to, aby walczyć o wolność we własnym kraju... Na prośbę Irgunu Drymmer zwrócił się do Generała Tokarzewskiego z sugestią, aby zwolnił Menachema Begina za aktywną służbę, ponieważ jest on potrzebny organizacjom żydowskim. Jako były przywódca Podziemia w pełni rozumiał on co się dzieje, a ponieważ sprzyjał celom, do których osiągnięcia dążyło żydowska konspiracja, generał dał Beginowi urlop na czas nieokreślony."
- Yehuda Bauer, From Diplomacy to Resistance: A history of Jewish Palestine, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1970 p.325.
- Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Co. 2000, p. 490
- In his book ‘The Revolt’ (1951), Begin outlines the history of the Irgun’s fight against British rule.
- Begin's Speech on Saturday 15 May 1948
- Silver, Eric (1984) "Begin. A Biography". Weidenfeld and Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-78399-8. Page 107.
- Morris, 1948, p272: "Altogether eighteen men died in the clashes, most of them IZL". Katz, Days of Fire (an Irgun memoir), p247: 16 Irgun, 2 Hagana. Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, p27: 16 Irgun and 2 Hagana.
- Koestler, Arthur (First published 1949) Promise and Fulfilment - Palestine 1917-1949 ISBN 0-333-35152-5. Page 249 : "About forty people had been killed in the fighting on the beaches, on board the ship, or while trying to swim ashore."
- Netanyahu, Benjamin (1993) A Place among the Nations - Israel and the World. British Library catalogue number 0593 034465. Page 444. "eighty-two members of the Irgun were killed."
- Aryeh Kaplan, This is the Way it Was at Palyam site
- Menahem Begin (1913–1992)
- "The Gun and the Olive Branch" p 472-473, David Hirst, quotes Lilienthal, Alfred M., The Zionist Connection, What Price Peace?, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1978, pp.350–3 – Albert Einstein joined other distinguished citizens in chiding these `Americans of national repute' for honoring a man whose party was `closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties'. See text at Harvard.edu and image here . Verified 5 December 2007.
- Einstein had already publicly denounced the Revisionists in 1939; at the same time Rabbi Stephen Wise denounced the movement as, "Fascism in Yiddish or Hebrew." See Rosen, Robert N., Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 2006, p. 318.
- By George[dead link]
- [See his Speech (Hebrew) http://lib.cet.ac.il/Pages/item.asp?item=7188]
- Menachem Begin plotted assassination attempt to kill German chancellor, Luke Harding, The Guardian, 15 June 2006
- Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Political Assassinations by Jews: A Rhetorical Device for Justice, SUNY Press, New York, 1993
- Report Says Begin Was Behind Adenauer Letter Bomb, Deutsche Welle, 13 June 2006
- Sudite: I sent the bomb on Begin's order, in Hebrew
- Newsweek 30 May 1977, The Zealot,
But he quit in 1970 when Prime Minister Golda Meir, under pressure from Washington, renewed a cease-fire with Egypt along the Suez Canal.
- William B. Quandt, Peace Process, American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, p194, ff
- Begin Visits New York Before Camp David
- According to data published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, and collated by [[Peace Now][dead link]]], the number of settlers in the West Bank grew from 5000 in the early seventies to more than 20000 in 1983
- Simons, Geoff: Iraq: From Summer to Saddam. St. Martin's Press, 1996, p. 320
- Striking first: Preemptive and and preventive attack in U.S. national security - Karl P. Mueller
- Avner, Yehuda (2010). The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. The Toby Press. ISBN 978-1-59264-278-6. Unknown parameter
- Breaking the silence of cowards Haaretz, 23 August 2002. Retrieved 26 April 2007
- "'A deep-rooted hatred of the British': How Israelis 'armed junta' in Falklands conflict". Daily Mail (London). 20 April 2011.
- Hurwitz, pp. 238-239
- Menachem Begin
- Sedan, Gil (10 March 1992). "Menachem Begin is Laid to Rest in Simple Mount of Olives Ceremony". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 7 October 2012. (subscription required)
- The good jailer - Israel News|Haaretz Daily Newspaper
- Hurwitz p. 239
- גיא בניוביץ' (20 June 1995). "הישראלי מספר 1: יצחק רבין – תרבות ובידור". Ynet. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
- Foege, Alec. "The X-Men Files". New York Magazine. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
- Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, The Toby Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59264-278-6
- Ilan Peleg, Begin’s foreign policy, 1977–1983 : Israel’s move to the right, Greenwood Press, 1987
- Eric Silver, Begin: The Haunted Prophet, Random House, 1984
- Sasson Sofer, Begin: an anatomy of leadership, Basil Blackwell, 1988
- Avi Shilon, Begin , 1913–1992, 2007
- Frank Gervasi, The life and times of Menahem Begin : rebel to statesman, Putnam, 1979
- Harry Hurwitz, Yisrael Medad, "Peace in the Making", Gefen Publishing House, 2010
- Prime Minister Menachem Begin on justice and the rule of law: selected documents on the 20th anniversary of his death on Israel State Archives website:
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- The Menachem Begin Heritage Center[dead link]
- PM Sharon's Address at the Opening Ceremony for the Begin Heritage Centre Building 16 June 2004
- Menachem Begin – The Sixth Prime Minister Official Site of the Prime Minister's Office Menachem Begin on the Knesset website
- Menachem Begin's biography Knesset website (English)
- The Camp David Accords
- The Bombing of the King David Hotel
- Irgun Web Page
- 1948 Letter of some Eminent Jews to New York Times
- The Begin Biography, Nobel Foundation
- Bodies of murdered Clifford Martin and Marvyn Paice[dead link]
- Menachem Begin Noble Peace Prize Speech – JInsider History Moment
- Menachem Begin Memorial Dedication in Brest, Belarus
- an article in Russian in the local paper Vecherniy Brest about the future Begin’s Monument which is supposed to appear in Brest, Belarus
- an article in Russian in the local paper Vecherniy Brest about the unveiling of Begin’s Monument in Brest, Belarus on October 31, 2013
- Prime Minister Menachem Begin on justice and the rule of law: selected documents on the 20th anniversary of his death:
- "Menachem Begin: A New Israel", Video Lecture by Dr. Henry Abramson
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