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Ben-Gurion, David (Born Gruen, Gryn; 1886–1973)

BEN-GURION, DAVID (Born Gruen, Gryn; 1886–1973)

Israeli political figure, born in Plonsk, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire). In 1905, David Ben-Gurion joined the ranks of the Zionist-Socialist movement, Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion), of which he became the leader. He moved to Palestine in 1906. Deported by the Turkish authorities in 1915, he came to the United States where, as a spokesperson for Zionism, he attempted to unify the diverse socialist tendencies of the movement. Back in Palestine in 1920, he continued his work of unifying the diverse labor movements. In 1921, along with Golda Meir and Izhak Ben-Zvi, he created the Workers' Union, Histadrut, of which he became the secretary general. In 1930, he participated in the foundation of the Zionist Workers Party, MAPAI, and became its head. On 24 July 1933, Ben-Gurion became director of the political department of the Jewish Agency, the administrative link between the Jewish community and British authorities, who had a mandate over Palestine. In 1934, MAPAI won 42.3 percent of the votes in the Elected Assembly of the Yishuv (Jewish community of Palestine), thereby becoming its principal political bloc. In liaison with Chaim Weizmann, Ben-Gurion intensified his activities within the Jewish Agency.

In October 1944, confronted by the decision of the British to stop all Jewish immigration by the end of the year, Ben-Gurion decided, in his capacity as president of the Jewish Agency, to cease all collaboration with the British authorities. Although determined to fight for the Zionist cause, he was opposed to the extremist methods of certain Jewish militias. On 14 May 1948, a few hours before the expiration of the British Mandate, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the creation of the State of Israel, and he became its prime minister and defense minister. In this capacity, he supervised the defense of the State of Israel during the first Israeli-Arab War of 1948–49. After the Knesset elections of February 1949, MAPAI was confirmed as the leading political party of Israel, with 46 seats out of the 120. On 14 December 1949, Ben-Gurion announced the transfer of the Israeli capital to Jerusalem. In 1951, in spite of the disapproval of his entourage and of a majority of political figures, he decided to strengthen ties between Israel and the Germany of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, thereby obtaining financial and technical aid as indemnification for Nazi crimes.

In 1953, leaving his post to Moshe Sharett, he resigned from the government to retire to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev Desert. In February 1955, he reassumed the post of defense minister, and in November he again became prime minister. In October 1956, backed by France and Great Britain, Ben-Gurion made the decision to involve his country in the Suez-Sinai War. The failure of this expedition, for reasons having to do with the international political situation, persuaded him to strengthen the Israeli Army and to initiate secret contacts with certain Arab leaders. On 31 January 1959, the findings of the commission of inquiry on the Lavon Affair having led to his resignation from the government, Ben-Gurion was obliged also to leave his post as secretary general of Histadrut. Knesset elections held in 1961 showed a weakening of his party, but he succeeded, on 1 November 1961, in forming a new government that, in spite of the weakness of its parliamentary base, showed itself to be fairly stable. On 16 June 1963, a scission in MAPAI, caused in part by the Lavon Affair, led him to resign suddenly, after having designated Levi Eshkol as his successor. In spite of his retirement from government, Ben-Gurion remained the principal leader of his party, supported by such rising stars of MAPAI as Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan. In November 1964, he resigned from the central committee of MAPAI to create a new political organization, the RAFI Party, which led to his being expelled from MAPAI. From 1965 to 1969 he occupied a seat in the Knesset. In 1968, RAFI united with MAPAI and Ahdut ha-Avoda to form the Israeli Labor Party. In the parliamentary elections of 1969, Ben-Gurion headed a "state list" that won only four seats in the Knesset. Ben-Gurion retired from the Knesset in 1970 and moved back to his kibbutz, where he died. He is considered the founder of the State of Israel.

SEE ALSO Ahdut ha-Avoda; Dayan, Moshe; Histadrut; Israel Labor Party; Jewish Agency for Israel; Lavon Affair; MAPAI; Meir, Golda; Peres, Shimon; RAFI Party; Weizmann, Chaim; Zionism.

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