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Ben-Gurion's Spy: The Story of the Political Scandal That Shaped Modern Israel

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Overview

Library Journal

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Editorial Reviews

A. L. A. Booklist

A magnificently documented account of the Lavon affair, the 1960 political scandal that led to the demise of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion's government three years later, and, says Teveth, the original progressive ideals of Zionism.

Jewish Book World
Incisive journalistic investigation into the Lavon Affair, the political scandal that ultimately brought down David Ben-Gurion's government and forced his retirement once and for all. Teveth, the author of a masterful multi-volume (Hebrew) biography of Ben-Gurion, has left no stone unturned in trying to uncover the mysteries of the affair. In addition to being an important contribution to Israel's political and diplomatic history, the book is an important cautionary tale about how intelligence services can run amok if they are not closely supervised by a country's political leadership.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The speeds on this tale of political cover-up in Israel are those of a dying blender: slow, slower and grinding to a halt. The work tells the story of Benjamin Givily, the head of the intelligence branch of the Israeli army during the 1940s and '50s who sentenced an innocent man to death for treason and involved a colleague in a botched spying attempt against Egypt shortly before the 1956 Sinai War. Unfortunately, Teveth, a well-regarded former political correspondent for a popular Israeli newspaper, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University and author of biographies of Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, somehow manages to make what the book jacket rather racily calls "a charade of character assassination, forgery, cover-up, and vendetta" stagnant. He also makes it funny with a cacophony of clichs. One typical example: "The stage was set for the final act. When the bell sounded and the curtain rose, Givily could again look forward to a leading role." Character sketches, too, are eye-rolling clunkers, as when one woman is described as "striking in appearance: tall, athletic in build, with chestnut hair and grey-green eyes. Born September 1, 1935, she was the only daughter of Dr. Yossef Weiser, a Jerusalem TB specialist; when she was a child, her family moved to Tel Aviv." The frequent use of quotes whose attribution is saved only for the endnotes is also distracting. Hopes that the tale will redeem the telling are, to co-opt the lingo of the author, dashed again and again like waves against a sea wall. (June)
Library Journal
Political leadership in Israel, from the state's beginning, has focused on a delicate balance of personalities, political parties, and military preparedness. The 1956 "Lavon Affair" was a scandal of momentous proportions that involved the uppermost leadership of the Israeli establishment, ended David Ben-Gurion's political career, and still reverberates today. Teveth, author of Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs (LJ 5/1/85) and Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground 1886-1984 (LJ 7/87), examines the scandal and its background with the precision of an investigative journalist with impeccable credentials and unprecedented access to secure sources. He links the intricacy of the Lavon scandal to the execution in 1948 of Meir Tubiansky, who was falsely accused of treason by politically ambitious figures who figured prominently a decade later. Absolutely essential for an understanding of Israeli political culture and the nation's early history, this is highly recommended for academic libraries and public libraries where there is an interest in Israeli politics.-Sanford R. Silverburg, Catawba Coll., Salisbury, N.C.
Booknews
Explores the 1963 Lavon affair in Israel, which toppled the government and ended the political life of the nation's founding father, based on previously classified documents and interviews with key players. Examines the political implications of the episode, demonstrating how it helped to usher in Menahem Begin's Likud. Includes capsule biographies of key people involved, a glossary, and a 20-year chronology up to 1966. For readers in history and world affairs. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Ted Leventhal
Israeli author Teveth has written a magnificently documented account of the Lavon affair, the 1960 political scandal that led to the demise of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's government three years later and, says Teveth, the original progressive ideals of Zionism. Israel was never the same, the author argues. A generational rift split the ruling Labor party, and politics was opened to unscrupulous, mendacious conservatives who, among other things, launched the war in Lebanon and deepened the rift with Palestinian Arabs. Teveth, a journalist with the Israeli paper "Ha'Aretz", gained access to many private papers and classified documents to write this history, which follows the recent publication of his multivolume biography of Ben-Gurion. At times, Teveth's account becomes lost in the details, and a casual reader may lose sight of the greater significance of the information. Still, the characters--soldiers, spies, and politicians--and the intrigue are compelling, seemingly lifted from the imagination of John le Carre. The book is a reminder that even the most ostensibly virtuous politicians are susceptible to the arrogance of power.
Kirkus Reviews
An overlong recounting of a long-past Israeli political scandal.

Teveth is a former political correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz and the biographer of the country's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion (Ben Gurion: The Burning Ground, 1987). This new book's subtitle suggests a Watergate-like event, but the Lavon Affair—covered here in exhausting detail—does not seem to have permanently sullied Ben-Gurion's reputation or the fortunes of his political heirs, including Shimon Peres, the current prime minister. This 1950s scandal originated with shady operatives picked by Ben-Gurion's defense minister, Pinhas Lavon. The heavies are unscrupulous scamps like the head of Israeli intelligence, Binyamin Givly, and playboy/double agent Avri Elad, whose rashness, incompetence, and immorality led to a bombing campaign in Egypt in 1954 that had damaging repercussions for Israel, and to the deaths of several agents spying for Israel in Egypt. While Lavon and Ben- Gurion are ultimately responsible for the controversial acts of sabotage in Egypt, they seem too far up the chain of command to be considered active conspirators in these events. Teveth thinks otherwise and also insists that "there is enough evidence to prove that without the Lavon Affair, Menahem Begin's Likud Party would not have come to power." But, as he admits, Labor's decline is widely linked to unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War. Teveth is more on target when he credits the scandal with preventing the army and intelligence services from getting too independent and powerful.

Compelling characters like Elad and the loyal army secretary who lies for generals and prime ministers (and lies down with them) offer dramatic potential, but the possibilities are not exploited by Teveth's flat writing style.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231104647
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/27/1996
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.06 (d)

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