Celebrating Menachem Begin’s Legacy on His Birthday
On this day in Jewish history, August 16, 1913, we remember the birthday of one of Israel’s most legendary leaders, Menachem Begin, whose fierce character and military prowess earned him the title of a warrior. Today, we will explore Menachem Begin’s legacy by examining the historic figures and key moments that shaped his life and career.
The Foundations of Begin’s Fierce Character
To understand Menachem Begin’s legacy, we must first delve into the political dynasty of military leaders who sought to break the shackles of antisemitism and revitalize the Jewish people’s warrior spirit. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, an early 20th-century Jewish leader, ignited the fires of Jewish warriors by forming the Jewish Legion of the British Army during World War I and later helping found both the Haganah and the Irgun.
Menachem Begin: From Religious Zionist Education to the Irgun
Menachem Begin, having already received a strong religious Zionist education as a child, joined the HaShomer HaTzair (Zionist Boy Scouts) at age 13 and Betar (Zionist Revisionist Youth Movement) at 16. Around 1935, Begin befriended Jabotinsky, whose mentorship and influence, along with that of other Jewish military leaders, shaped Begin’s mentality and fortitude.
Begin’s Resolve: Strengthened by the Holocaust and British Oppression
The Holocaust and the subsequent mistreatment of Jewish refugees by the British Empire only served to strengthen Menachem Begin’s resolve for the Jewish cause. Disillusioned with the Haganah’s diplomatic approach, Begin joined the Irgun in 1942 and quickly rose to leadership in 1944.
Menachem Begin’s Legacy as a Ruthless Military Leader
Begin’s role in controversial incidents, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel and the Deir Yassin Massacre, earned him a reputation as a ruthless military leader. Despite this, Begin’s devotion to Jewish unity ensured the survival of the newly reborn Jewish State of Israel.
Begin’s Political Triumphs and Influence on Modern Israeli Politics
Menachem Begin’s legacy as a warrior and defender of his fellow Jews endeared him to the majority of Israel’s Mizrahi and Sephardic population. In 1977, he rallied his political base and other right-wing parties under the banner of Likud, becoming Israel’s Prime Minister. His influence on modern Israeli politics is still evident, with current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharing Begin’s non-apologetic attitude of leading by strength instead of appeasement.
Menachem Begin: A Peacemaker and an Inspiration
Despite his war-torn past, it is ironic that Menachem Begin’s legacy includes being the first Israeli leader to sign a peace deal with an Arab country, Egypt in 1979. This example was later followed by Netanyahu with 2020’s historic Abraham Accords, bringing peace to a region long known for war.
Begin’s Words: A Testament to His Character and Resilience
Menachem Begin’s own words during a confrontation with then-Senator Joe Biden in 1982 reveal the kind of leader he was. When Biden threatened to cut off US aid to Israel, Begin responded, “Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history…We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.” These words continue to inspire Jews around the world today.