Protest & Rejoinder
To the Editor:
I naturally do not intend to discuss Alfred Sherman’s review of Marie Syrkin’s book, Woman with a Cause [July]. But it was a shock to me, as it must be to all who know me in Israel and in the United States, to read a vicious passage about me that has not one iota of truth in it:
By 1962, she had joined forces with Levi Eshkol, now Premier, and Zalman Aranne to restore Mapai’s badly shaken morale, cut the “Young Turks” (like Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan) down to size without going so far as to start a new faction-fight, and finally, last summer, eased Ben Gurion painlessly out of office.
In a party as large as Mapai there are naturally differences of opinion and temperament. About this we argue, sometimes even vehemently, but nobody cuts anybody “down to size.”
The comment about my joining forces with my friends Levi Eshkol and Zalman Aranne to finally “ease Ben Gurion out of office” is not only vicious and untrue but also proves Mr. Sherman’s total ignorance of the nature of these three people and our relationship to Mr. Ben Gurion. It is common knowledge in Israel that my friends and I who have “joined forces” have been for several decades and are now among the greatest admirers of Mr. Ben Gurion, even though we may not agree with him on all subjects. We were among the Mapai leadership who for weeks pleaded with Mr. Ben Gurion not to leave government.
I am sincerely sorry that a most serious magazine like COMMENTARY was used as a vehicle for spreading this slander.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Mr. Sherman writes:
First the facts: from 1961 onward, disagreements between Ben Gurion and the “old guard” of Mapai—Eshkol, Golda Meir, Aranne, Sapir, Namir—became increasingly intractable. The matters at issue included the “Lavon Affair,” jurisdictional disputes between the defense and diplomatic establishments (the one headed by Ben Gurion and his protégé Peres, the other by Golda Meir), relationships between Mapai and Achdut Avodah (the next party to the Left), the activities of West German scientists working for the Arab war machine, and the power of the “Young Turks” in the party apparatus, which controls far more than the machinery of government.
These disagreements amounted to much more than mere “differences of opinion and temperament”; at times they touched on the question of what kind of society was to evolve in Israel. Moshe Sharett, former Foreign Minister and Premier, who joined with the majority of the “old guard” in opposing the ouster of Lavon from his place in the party hierarchy and in the Histadrut, complained publicly that party life inside Mapai had come to be decided by “fear and expediency” instead of “honor and justice.”
In the course of this struggle between Ben Gurion and his Young Turks, on the one hand, and the “old guard” in which Mrs. Meir played a leading part, on the other, there were resignations, threats of resignation, and refusals to serve—on both sides. Ben Gurion resigned during the Lavon Affair in order to force the party leadership to accept his terms. He succeeded by a three-to-two majority in the party executive—the “old guard” making no secret of their opposition and regret. This struggle and its aftermath brought the morale of the party to a low ebb, with resignations, lapsings, and the formation of anti-Ben Gurion groups. The old guard drew the conclusions.
It is quite true, as Mrs. Meir writes, that she and her colleagues “pleaded with Mr. Ben Gurion not to leave government.” But the logic of their confrontation was what counted. It became increasingly clear to all concerned that if the “old guard” stood firm in opposing B.G. on vital matters of policy and personnel, his own terms of reference would leave him no alternative but to resign. True, Mrs. Meir and several of her colleagues were genuinely distressed at finding themselves in this predicament, but they stood firm, and the final stages last year were relatively painless. Ben Gurion and his supporters à l’outrance blame Mrs. Meir and her colleagues for his resignation, since by holding out against him they left him no alternative. In fact neither side had any alternative, given their terms of reference and personalities. In my review, I drew attention to the political skills displayed by Mrs. Meir in this predicament.
As far as Mrs. Meir’s tussles with the Young Turks are concerned: unlike Lavon, who set out to destroy them politically, Mrs. Meir was reconciled to having them in the government and party leadership but was determined to prevent their exercising anything like the power predicated by Ben Gurion and naturally sought by forceful personalities like Dayan and Peres. The “old guard” finally succeeded in limiting the Young Turks’ scope and powers (e.g., Peres’s incursions into what Mrs. Meir regarded as her field of foreign relations) while keeping them inside the government and party hierarchy. “Cutting them down to size” seems an adequate description for this.
Now what I said in the particular part of my review here under discussion should have been well known to anyone who follows the Israeli press. It is surprising to have Mrs. Meir react to it with words like “vicious,” “slander,” “ignorance,” and “not one iota of truth,” the more so since my review set out to appreciate her achievements as a politician. Her present reactions illustrate the tensions and ambivalence which still characterize the old guard’s relationships with Ben Gurion. It would be difficult to do these tensions justice in a short rejoinder.