Sunday, February 24, 2008

Letters in JPost on Begin Biography

Begin book that fails the reader

Sir, - Shimshon Arad's sarcasm - it was sarcasm, wasn't it? - in writing that Avi Shilon's new biography of Menachem Begin, Begin 1913-1992, "reveals quite a few unknown facts about the former prime minister" was right on the mark ("Dispassionate about Begin," UpFront, February 15). For in truth, there are many "facts" in the book of which even Begin himself wasn't aware.

On page 16, Shilon writes that Begin was born on a Friday, when he was born on Shabbat, August 16, 1913. On page 32, he informs us that Menachem Begin married Aliza Arnold in 1937 after a three-month courtship. Actually, they married in 1939 after a two-year courtship. On page 52, he writes that Begin heard about the split in the Irgun in 1940 while he was in Poland. Begin was really in Vilna.

On page 87, Shiloh asserts that Begin wrote in The Revolt that 1,500 Irgunists were handed over to the British during the Saison. In truth, Begin wrote that Richard Crossman noted that number, but he estimated a good few hundred only. On page 168, when the Begins leave for a month's vacation in Europe, their children, Benny and Hassia, are left with a friend, Shilon claims. What happened to their sister Leah?

Apropos being left out, Shmuel Tamir's 2002 autobiography is not mentioned - which is quite amazing. For anyone looking for dramatic tales, Tamir has them.

In my reading of Shilon's book I found an error of date, name or place, as well as false footnotes, on average, every second page. The are also numerous typos. Moreover, he leaves much out of Begin's life, incidents that other biographers such as Eric Silver, Ned Temko, Amos Perlmutter and others thought important.

For example, Shilon makes much of Begin's love-hate relationship with Amichai Paglin, but fails to note that in summer and fall 1948, Begin ordered Paglin to return from Europe, where he was engaged in underground activities. Begin had decided to end any independent existence of the Irgun and heed the laws of the state. Paglin refused until late November. The correct thing would have been to highlight Begin's democratic behavior and explain that perhaps this was the undercurrent of antagonism.

Shilon fails the reader. His omissions are as bad as many of his commissions.


Sir, - Shimshon Arad referred to Menachem Begin's being influenced by the Polish nationalist and militarist legacy, as exemplified by his standing up and saluting whenever a general entered the room. Based on personal experience, I would suggest that this was an example of his well-known gentlemanly behavior.

When Mr. Begin was a patient in Shaare Zedek Hospital for major surgery, I was the cardiologist responsible for overseeing his cardiac condition. I visited him twice daily, and on every occasion that I entered his ward, he stood up out of his chair and extended his hand to greet me.

Tel Mond