Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Following in the old man's footsteps?

Sharon is often compared to Ben Gurion, Israel's founder and first prime minister, and he has been known to make the comparison himself. It is somewhat exaggerated, to be sure, but there are a number of points of similarity.

For Sharon's own thinking, see the speech he gave this morning at the annual state memorial ceremony for Ben Gurion. (Unfortunately, the translation's a bit sloppy.)

He recalls Ben Gurion's strengths - indeed greatness - while implying that he sees himself following the "old man"'s path. At the same time, if you read between the lines, you'll also find Ben Gurion's faults - which Sharon indicates he also admires and aims to emulate. Try this paragraph:
David Ben-Gurion understood that the public's trust is given to a leader in order to lead, determine clear goals and make difficult decisions. The fate of the people and the good of the State guided him, not polls, media treatment or measures of prestige. "I do not know what the people want," he once said, "I know what is good for the people." That was the secret of his power. That was his great virtue.

To paraphrase a questionable saying, I guess one man's vanity is another man's virtue.


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

And the same way Ben Gurion's split-off party was a flop, let's hope Sharon follows in his footsteps.

yitz said...

I think it's appropriate to mention Batya of Shiloh Musings' profound revelation:

"Israel is not a democracy, but rather an elected dictatorship."

Guess that started back with BG too! Isn't it interesting that Sharon's hero is now BG, and we hear nothing of Begin or Jabotinsky any more????

Zman Biur said...


The obvious big difference is that BG's breakaway came long after he was either popular or prime minister. There is no precedent - perhaps anywhere - for a sitting popular prime minister forming his own new party. Should be interesting.


With all due respect to Batya, the term "elected dictatorship" was first devised with reference to Britain, which arguably fits that description even better than Israel. In the UK there isn't even a coalition government to restrain decision making.

You may be interested to learn, though, that Israeli political scientist Yaakov Talmon wrote in the 1950s about what he termed "totalitarian democracy", which he saw as an exploitation of democratic means to impose an ideological regime never accepted by the public. It was no secret that he saw this as a critique of Ben Gurion.

Personally, I have a problem with this critique, though there is some truth in it. No government can consult the public on every decision it makes, and leaders must be authorized to make the choices they see as necessary for the country, even if they were not elected to do so. It's not as simple as we sometimes like to suggest.