Israeli politicians, business leaders, students and residents of the Negev Desert paid tribute Tuesday to David Ben-Gurion, the country’s founding prime minister, on the 43rd anniversary of his death.
If Ben-Gurion’s life was marked by a visceral loathing for his political opponents – as the leader of Labor Zionism before Israel’s independence, he instructed the Zionist establishment to collaborate with British authorities in Palestine against the Irgun, which the British considered a terror group. Later, as prime minister, during the War of Independence, Ben-Gurion ordered IDF forces to sink the Altalena, an Irgun-owned ship that was carrying weapons for the nascent Israeli military, off the coast of Tel Aviv. As prime minister, Ben-Gurion famously refused even to mention the name of MK Menachem Begin (Herut), former commander of the Irgun and a ferocious critic of Ben-Gurion’s policies.
Forty-three years after his death, however, it was the political heirs of Begin’s political camp that led the official memorial ceremony for Israel’s founding father, at Ben-Gurion’s gravesite in Sde Boker, most prominentntly President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, both scions of Begin’s Revisionist movement.
Rivlin praised the late prime minister as a man of vision, who drank in the thought of Zionist writers including Binyamin Zeev Herzl, Leon Pinsker and others.
“Ben-Gurion, the builder of the State of Israel, was the greatest ‘doer’ of the first generation of the Zionist movement….he was an accomplished translator of the language of vision and dreams into reality,” the president said.
Netanyahu focused on Ben-Gurion’s security accomplishments, and compared today’s IDF power to the punchy group of vastly outnumbered irregulars who outfought five Arab armies in 1948 to secure the country’s independence.
“Our military power must be strong enough to repel any enemy. We must be able to bring any fight to the enemy’s territory, like they did in the (1956) Sinai Campaign and during other wars as well. We must be strong enough to eradicate any threat that seeks to eradicate us.
“That’s why we continue to develop, more than ever, our military and intelligence capabilities, in a certain way to the point that would have been unrecognizable during Ben-Gurion’s day.
“There is a direct connection [between our current build-up] and the build-up that Ben-Gurion started,” Netanyahu said.