By Edward Grossman for Mosaic Magazine
Here in Jerusalem there are pensioners old enough to remember how, almost a half-century ago, Israel’s first national-unity government was born. You might say its father was Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt. He’d blockaded the Straits of Tiran via which Israel got oil from Iran, booted the UN peacekeepers from Sinai, massed his army there, and declared that his objective in any resulting war would be the end of the Zionist entity. “Death to Israel!” chanted the multitudes in Tahrir Square. Meanwhile the U.S., which ten years before had promised to keep the straits open, was too busy in Vietnam to keep its word.
Things in 1967 were clear. We faced an emergency, faced it by ourselves, and faced it with a government most of us didn’t trust anymore. “The government in its present composition,” said the editors of Haaretz, referring to the coalition headed by the Mapai party (the precursor of today’s Labor) under Levi Eshkol, “cannot lead the nation in its time of danger.” A few days after this call for a change, Eshkol and the Mapai barons who’d founded, built, defended, and run the country practically by themselves for its first nineteen years did what had to be done. They brought into the cabinet not just the one-eyed Moshe Dayan of the breakaway Rafi party but the radioactive Menachem Begin, founder and chief of Herut, the successor of the pre-state Irgun and precursor of Likud.
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