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The Read Head: Book about Israeli Prime Ministers A Fascinating Read

By: Sharon Chisvin, August 4, 2010

When Yehuda Avner made aliyah from England in 1947 as a 17-year-old member of Bnei Akiva, he could not have imagined the career that he would enjoy, the people that he would get to know, or the role that he would play in the development of the Jewish state.  More than 60 years later, Avner has written a book about this unimagined life, and specifically about his work as a speech writer, career diplomat and witness to many of the most significant moments in Israeli history. 

The Prime Ministers of Israel: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, published by Tobey Press, is a highly readable, fascinating account of the decades Avner spent working for four of Israel’s early prime ministers –  Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. 

In separate sections, he succinctly summarizes each prime minister’s rise to power and major achievements, failings and challenges, before delving into greater detail about their personality quirks, power struggles and personal political philosophies. He writes about their strengths and weaknesses, their military prowess or ignorance, their diplomatic skills or lack of them, and their individual visions for the nation they all served.

While Avner writes even handedly and candidly about each prime minister, he reserves his greatest admiration for Menachem Begin. It was Begin, he writes, more than any other Israeli leader, who “was infused with an overwhelming sense of Jewish history.”

Serving at various times as Israel’s consul in New York, ambassador to Great Britain, speech writer for  Eshkol and Meir, and advisor to Yitzhak Rabin, Avner had numerous opportunities to witness history in the making. Referencing journal entries, correspondence, transcripts and meeting notes that he meticulously saved over the years, he writes eloquently and honestly, with a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective, about many of the critical moments that helped define the Jewish state. These included moments that led to war, to defeat, and, importantly, to the way in which the fledgling nation was assessed by world opinion and world leaders. |

His vignettes describing the last years of the British Mandate and the first years of independence, and the ideological struggles between Ben Gurion and Begin are particularly interesting. So too are his accounts of the decision making that culminated on the Raid on Entebbe, and the political maneuvering that preceded and followed each of the major wars.

Avner is clearly an unapologetic booster of his adopted home, but his enthusiasm and support for the country derive first hand from what he experienced and what he witnessed over many years. While he does not shy away from exposing mistakes that were made, the stubbornness and egoism that sometimes interfered with clear decision making, and the challenges that continually confronted the country’s leadership, he does not hesitate to extol that which he thinks is praiseworthy. 

In his view, Israel’s achievements are manifold, and chief among them is the fact that ‘despite decades of threat, war, boycott, we have retained, maintained our independence and our democratic freedoms.” That, he adds, is “unprecedented.”




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