A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion

Tom Segev writes in LRB:

David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the state of Israel, was brooding, explosive, often on the verge of collapse: every obstacle he faced was a ‘catastrophe’. He dabbled in mysticism, consulted fortune-tellers, claimed to see flying saucers, and lived according to his whims. At one point he went on an unannounced holiday from his duties as prime minister to take driving lessons on the French Riviera; on another occasion, he spent a week studying Buddhism in Burma, and tried to persuade his teachers that he’d stumbled on a contradiction in their doctrine no one else had unearthed. He offered the presidency to Einstein – who didn’t live in Israel or speak Hebrew – and loved surrounding himself with great minds, not least for the opportunities it gave him to put them in their place: he had an endless supply of chutzpah. The needs of other people, including his own family, weren’t quite real to him. He wrote lofty letters to his wife, Paula, extolling her sacrifices on his behalf and that of the Jewish state (he drew no distinction) but mostly neglected her. He told his longtime mistress, the journalist Rivka Katznelson, that he couldn’t distinguish her body from any other woman’s. As Paula put it, ‘he doesn’t understand people.’


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