Ben-Gurion against the Knesset
by Giora Goldberg
London: Frank Cass, 2003. 338 pp. $64.50.
Reviewed by Rory Miller
King's College London
Middle East Quarterly
Goldberg begins with a theoretical discussion on the status of legislatures and on the role of quasi-parliamentary institutions in the early Zionist movement. But he quickly turns to the main subject of the work: the unrelenting attempt by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, to limit the power and effectiveness of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in its first decade of existence. By drawing on a wide variety of primary sources, the author highlights Ben-Gurion's "utter contempt," "very low opinion," and "disparaging attitude" towards the Knesset.
Ben-Gurion thought the Knesset should be an assembly of notables, representing a cross-section of ethnic groups and interests within Israeli society, which would approve government decisions but not challenge them. He favored legislation that would prevent the Knesset from criticizing or overseeing the government, and he believed that the executive should have the right to dissolve the Knesset and call elections. He opposed immunity for Knesset members and the power of parliamentary committees to investigate government actions or decisions. Moreover, where possible, he denied the Knesset its symbolic status as a sovereign body superior to the government. (For example, he prevented the speaker of the Knesset from taking any official role in Independence Day celebrations.)
However, Ben-Gurion's deep antagonism towards the Knesset was not evidence of anti-democratic tendencies. Rather, he was motivated by his belief that since statehood, the Knesset had become a partisan talking shop guilty of "criminal sabotage" against the Jewish state and people. Worse, it legitimized the fascistic (as he saw it) tendencies of the revisionist Herut party and strengthened a local communist party that was loyal to Soviet Russia. This was unacceptable at a time when Israel's continued existence was still uncertain. His influence on the early development of parliamentary life may, as the author argues, have been "destructive." But given the challenges facing Israel at the time, it was understandable, perhaps inevitable, that the father of the democratic Jewish state would use his moral stature and political power to stem any threat to the state he had helped create.
Related Topics: Israel & Zionism | Rory Miller | Winter 2004 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.