Author: Yehuda Avner
Publishers: The Toby Press:
ISBN: 13: 9781592642786
Rarely am I overly excited about reading someone's 703-page memoirs. Nonetheless, Yehuda Avner's The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership proved to be the exception. Once started, I couldn't put it down and in fact I will even go so far in recommending this book as required reading for every journalist covering the Middle East, as well as the so-called “experts” and pundits that very often naively swallow Arab misrepresentations without questioning its veracity and without knowing a great deal about Mid-East history
Author: Yehuda Avner
Publishers: The Toby Press:
ISBN: 13: 9781592642786
***(Please note: The following is a review of the Advanced Review Copy)
Rarely am I overly excited about reading someone's 703-page memoirs. Nonetheless, Yehuda Avner's The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership proved to be the exception. Once started, I couldn't put it down and in fact I will even go so far in recommending this book as required reading for every journalist covering the Middle East, as well as the so-called “experts” and pundits that very often naively swallow Arab misrepresentations without questioning its veracity and without knowing a great deal about Mid-East history.
According to Avner, his book is not a conventional biography or memoir, nor is it a work of fiction. It deals with factual events and real people, most notably Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Mehachem Begin, all of whom he served in one capacity or another, junior or senior, over many years, and all of whom he has tried to bring back to life as he recalls them. Apparently, The Prime Ministers is the first and only insider account of Israeli politics from the founding of the Jewish State to the near-present day. The Jerusalem Post has described the book as "the ultimate insider's account of Israeli politics."
Describing himself as a note-taker to the four Israeli prime ministers, Avner has been fortunate in possessing some very riveting transcripts and diary notes, which he has called upon in rendering his experiences. In addition, he has also accessed official correspondence, documentation, as well as his personal contact with several individuals, who have shared with him particulars concerning various secret military operations, some high level peace negotiations, and life-and-death decisions concerning the State of Israel. The result is a book filled with some fascinating intimate minutiae concerning these four Israeli prime ministers as they grapple with a multitude of complex issues- “all ratified, so to speak, by the viewpoint of the proverbial fly on the wall.”
One of the book's strengths is the manner it candidly illustrates the different leadership styles of the four prime ministers, as well as their relationships to one another. At times these relations were stormy and filled with animosity. Eshkol best sumed it up when he stated: “Disputation is in our blood. We're a stiff-necked people. Shouting at each other keeps us together. Argument is our nationality.”
By the way, as recounted, Eshkol, who upon taking office, asked Abba Eban to explain to him as clearly as possible what exactly was involved in being prime minister. In his previous posts as Minister of Agriculture and Finance, his duties and responsibilities were clearly defined. In another instance, Eshkol asked a doorman for his opinion as to how the country is being run, and as Avner remarks-how many other prime ministers ask doormen for their opinions and actually listen to what they have to say?
David Ben- Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, demonstratively excluded Menachem Begin from every coalition government he headed. Ben-Gurion held to the belief that Begin and his Herut party was a threat to democracy. Begin was to remark later that Ben-Gurion never understood the very essence of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's teachings which was the establishment of a liberal parliamentary democracy.
Quite revealing is Avner's descriptions of the prime ministers and their positions. For example, he describes David Rabin as a “conceptualizer” with a highly structured and analytical mind. When Rabin was to meet with Dr. Henry Kissinger, at the time President Richard Nixon's National Security Adviser, the latter wanted his ideas on how to implement the famous post- Six-Day War Security Council Resolution 242 and in particular the clause: “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict, and the establishment of “secure and recognized boundaries.” Rabin's reply, was as follows: “1) The Jewish people have an inalienable historic right to the whole of the biblical homeland. 2) Since our objective is a Jewish and democratic state and not a bi-national state, the boundaries we seek are those which will give Israel a maximum area of the biblical homeland with a maximum number of Jews whom we can maximally defend. Israel in peace, aspires to be a state that is Jewish by demography, society, and values, not just borders.” Rabin believed that peace can only be achieved through a step-by-step process and is dependent on disengagement of the parties that will lead to diffusion of the conflict, leading to trust and finally to negotiation between the parties.
On a lighter note, Avner even throws in interesting tidbits concerning some of America's renowned personalities as Henry Kissinger. Not too many know that Kissinger first name is actually Heinz, who was quite shy as a youngster and a bit withdrawn. One of his classmates recounts the story that one of his high school teachers tried to rid him of his Bavarian accent, telling him: “ Henry you have a chronic English-language speech disability. You must try harder to Americanize it.” This same friend, who became a psychiatrist, believed that Kissinger was extremely complicated and believed he needed psychiatric help. He goes onto say that there were basic tensions in the man's psyche which had influenced the way he perceived the world and, consequently how he arrived at decisions.
It should be pointed out that Avner devotes much more ink to Menachem Begin than the other prime ministers. I must say, however, that what is revealed depicts this figure in a different light than is often perceived. After reading Avner's account, I would regard that of all the Israeli prime ministers, Begin was probably the most brilliant, and he probably also has the distinction of being the most controversial.
Yehuda Avner was born in 1928 in Manchester, England and first came to Palestine in 1947 before the creation of the State of Israel. In 1948 he fought the siege of Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli War, and in 1949 he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Lavi. He was Consul in New York City, and Counselor at the Washington D.C. Embassy. In 1983, he was appointed Ambassador to the UK and Non-resident Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. He returned to Israel in 1988, before serving as Ambassador to Australia between 1992 and 1995. Between overseas postings, Avner served as Speechwriter and Secretary to Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and adviser to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. In 1984, Avner authored The Young Inheritors — a Portrait of Israel's Children. In 1995 the Yehuda Avner Chair in Religion and Politics was established at Bar-Ilan University and he is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of the Ambassadorial Appointments Committee.
You can read an interview with Yehuda Avner HERE