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Present at the Creation

by David Dalin

Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul, by Daniel Gordis (Schocken, 320 pp., $27.95)

On May 17, 1977, to the surprise of Israeli voters and pundits alike, Menachem Begin’s Likud party won Israel’s elections, ending close to 30 years of continuous rule by the socialist Labor party and other political parties of the Israeli secular Left. Begin’s election as Israel’s sixth prime minister marked a dramatic upheaval in Israeli politics: Begin, the leader of the underground paramilitary Irgun group before and during Israel’s War of Independence, had long been reviled as a terrorist by David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, and other Labor-party leaders; he had now defeated Peres to become the country’s political leader.

In this immensely thoughtful and nuanced new biography, Daniel Gordis, the senior vice president of Jerusalem’s Shalem College and one of Israel’s most important public intellectuals, reflects on Begin’s enduring contribution to the State of Israel, and on why he should be considered one of the greatest of Israel’s statesmen.

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