David Ben-Gurion

The first prime minister of the Jewish state.

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Ben-Gurion's response, inspired by his sensitivity to the growth of fascism in Europe and his affinity for the Bolsheviks' use of violence to overcome opposition, was uncompromising. He argued for the use of controlled, disciplined, violence against right-wing strike-breakers and demonstrators, and proposed denying immigration certificates to members of the Revisionist movement. By the mid-1930s, however, Ben-Gurion had softened his position. He began to oppose the use of violence, and, in negotiations with Jabotinsky, went so far as to propose an agreement on labor relations between Histadrut and Revisionist workers.

Conflict with Arabs

Like most Israeli politicians, Ben-Gurion dealt intimately with the conflict between the Zionists and the Arab national movement in Palestine. Ben-Gurion first became aware of the potential for conflict with the Arabs during the 1920s. Initially he assumed that as the Arabs began to benefit from the economic growth stimulated by Jewish settlement activity, they would realize that cooperation with Zionism was in their interest. On this basis, Ben-Gurion tried--and failed--to reach peace agreements with various Arab leaders. 

In 1930 Ben-Gurion oversaw the creation of Mapai, the Land of Israel Workers' Party, a coalition of the main labor Zionist movements. In 1933 Mapai took control of the Zionist Organization (ZO), the Jewish national movement's worldwide organizational structure. Two years later Ben-Gurion became Chairman of the Zionist Actions Committee, the ZO’s main decision making body, and of the Jewish Agency, the de facto government of the Jewish community in Palestine. From 1936-1939 he mobilized the Jewish community's economic and military response to the Arab Revolt, the armed uprising against the Jews and the British that aimed to break the will of the Yishuv and force the British to withdraw from Palestine.

Proposed Partition

The clash with the Revisionists was renewed in 1937. In the wake of the Arab revolt, the British Peel Commission proposed the partition of Palestine between Jews and Arabs. The Jews were to receive the northern coastal plain and the Galilee and Britain would retain control of the Jerusalem enclave and a corridor to the coast. The Arabs would get the rest.

israeli history quizFor all the plan's shortcomings, Ben-Gurion and the majority of his Mapai party believed that the opportunity to create a Jewish state should not be passed up, particularly in view of the desperate situation of the Jews in Nazi Germany. This position was opposed by the Revisionists, who feared partition would set a dangerous precedent for compromising Jewish national rights, and by the Zionist Left, who believed the plan endangered the future of Jewish settlement activity and threatened their ultimate vision of Jewish-Arab coexistence. Ben- Gurion pushed through support for the plan, only to see it dropped by the British in response to implacable Arab opposition.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.