In Lawrence Joffee's review ("The Rise of the Israeli Right", March 31) of Colin Shindler's most recent book, we read that on June 20, 1948, Menachem Begin "defied the state of Israel's month-old provisional government by smuggling forbidden weapons aboard a requisitioned ship, the Altalena". That assertion is misleading.
The arms ship Altalena had docked near Moshav Kfar Vitkin in accordance with the agreement with Israel's Defence Ministry officials. The government was informed of the ship's existence on June 1 whereas the Hagana had been contacted about the ship while it was in France months earlier.
On June 15, Begin and members of his staff met with government representatives and reported the ship's imminent arrival. As even Wikipedia notes, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary entry for June 16: "Yisrael [Galili] and Skolnik [Levi Eshkol] met yesterday with Begin. Tomorrow or the next day their ship is due to arrive…I believe we should not endanger Tel Aviv port. They should not be sent back. They should be disembarked at an unknown shore." At a second meeting, the Mapai-dominated Kfar Vitkin moshav was selected.
At the beach, the IDF demanded a different distribution of the weapons and ammunition than that had been originally agreed upon which was 20% would go to Irgun units enlisted in the IDF. Seeking to settle that issue, Begin refused to submit to the 10-minute ultimatum handed to him and, given the lack of communication facilities, ordered the ship, which had been fired upon resulting in the deaths of both Irgun members and IDF soldiers, to sail to Tel Aviv. There, on June 22, it was fired upon and eventually shelled and abandoned.
The real question for historians is why did Ben-Gurion defy his own agreement.
It was published in this week's edition (no online link available) and so I do not know if, or how much, it was edited.
However, I had to send this letter of complaint:
I understand my letter appeared today in The JC.
I have not as yet seen it but I received this note from a friend:
Have just read your letter to the JC. Surely the subeditor's heading for the letter: "Begin's action is still begging an explanation" is completely wrong? Your final para makes clear it is Ben Gurion's actions which require explanation. (I think the sub ed got carried away with his attempted pun of Begin and begging.) You should ask for a correction!
If my correspondent is right, I do think a correction is warranted, something along the lines of:
"In a letter published last week by Yisrael Medad on the Altalena Affair, the heading gave a misleading impression that Medad considered Menachem Begin's actions as "begging an explanation" whereas, as his letter makes clear, David Ben-Gurion's actions still require an explanation."