Customer Reviews: The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership
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on August 16, 2010
Yehuda Avner, a retired Israel Foreign Ministry official and former native of Manchester, has written a very readable behind-the-scenes account highlighting segments of his career, during which he came into working contact with five Israeli prime ministers and countless senior players in government. The book gives glimpses into the intricate workings of bureaucracy and the people who shaped history.

The book is not an objective analysis of Israeli foreign policy, nor does it purport to be such. Rather, it provides insight into people and how they worked. Ariel Sharon had a keen military mind. Abba Eban was disliked by many and sometimes excluded from the flow of information and the decision-making process. Key documents provided by Israel "fell between the cracks" in the American less-than-amicable transition from the Carter presidency to that of Ronald Reagan. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat had a strong personal liking and trust for each other. Begin preferred to speak extemporaneously; Reagan used cue cards.

There is, of course, considerable material concerning political events. Jimmy Carter put extreme pressure on Israel to accept an international conference to "solve" the problems of the Middle East, a move strongly opposed by the Begin administration. This was a reversal of Henry Kissinger's approach of an incremental peace stressing confidence-building measures. As pressure mounted and concerns about the Soviet role and PLO representation dominated discourse, the international conference proposed for Geneva became abruptly moot. Anwar Sadat buried the issue with his historic visit to Jerusalem and direct talks with Israel. Not that there were not theoretical concerns, which seem almost bizarre in retrospect. One senior military official contemplated the scenario of an armed attack on the entire Israeli cabinet as Sadat's plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Menachem Begin dismissed the concern, stating emphatically that he trusted Sadat.

Avner makes one memorable remark concerning Begin, of whom it is eminently clear that he had the highest respect. He describes the satisfaction of this former "terrorist" wanted for murder by the British ... as he was received in 10 Downing Street. Avner also recounts how Begin lectured Carter that no one ever told the United States where its capital should be. Hence, no one will tell Israel where its capital is. Begin was straight forward to Carter, "Call it Jerusalem, D.C. --- Jerusalem, David's City."

To the uninitiated it is almost comical how nuances of diplomatic protocol, down to the menu of a meal, determine the status of a visit. One point is very clear in the book --- Begin kept kosher. So does Avner. Appropriate meals where always provided for those requiring them, be it in London or in Washington. The kosher meals were always of an appearance as close as possible to the non-kosher food to avoid possible embarrassment of discomfort. (This reviewer knew the Orthodox rabbi who was in charge of kashering part of the White House kitchen for a Begin visit.)

There are comments about other world leaders, although they are not the main thrust of the book. Avner was the Ambassador of Israel in London following the attempted assassination of Ambassador Shlomo Argov. At one point Avner sat in conversation with Margaret Thatcher, by then the former British Prime Minister. It was extremely surprising to read Thatcher's frank admission that she never really understood the death camp at Auschwitz and its atrocities until she was taken to Yad Vashem during an official visit to Israel.

This well-written book is highly recommended. It is an eye-opener to people who made news and shaped world events, authored by someone with undisputed first-hand knowledge. It is by no means just another history book on the shelf.
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This is undoubtedly one of the best non-fiction books of 2010 and arguably the very best. Reading Avner's clear eloquent language and the manner in which he presents the dramas and dialogues, we are not surprised that Prime Minister after Prime Minister of different parties and different agendas requested that he be their speech and letter writer. Avner was present with Israeli and English Prime Ministers and American Presidents at crucial historic moments, taking notes, and he now offers his readers intimate behind the scene pictures of what actually happened and what was really said in Jerusalem, Washington, London, and other places. Avner describes famous personalities at their best moments and when they were flawed. People who think they know the history of the founding of the State of Israel and its relationships with the United States though the premiership of Menachem Begin will have their eyes opened. And those who consider Begin, the hero of this chronicle, a terrorist, will come to realize, as did Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, his arch enemy, that Begin was a brilliant and compassionate thinker and leader, and that he was the consummate gentleman even when he was in opposition to the government.

We read, for example, how Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, a seemingly lackluster prime minister, was asked by several Israeli leaders to resign before the Six-Day War so that Ben-Gurion could take over and pursue and win the impending war, but he refused and readied the Israeli armed forces for the successful fight of its life. In contrast, the sympathetic Prime Minister Golda Meir, who inspired her people and who helped many African nation get on their feet by sending Israeli experts to aid them, was "totally ignorant of things military" and mishandled the onset of the Yom Kippur War.

We hear the psychiatric evaluation of Henry (originally, Heinz) Kissinger by a psychiatrist who knew him well. Kissinger was profoundly affected by how he and his family were treated during the holocaust. "Outwardly, the secretary of state presented an image of self-assurance, strong will, and arrogance, Willie (the psychiatrist) went on. Inwardly, however, because of his suppressed emotions and state of denial, he was possessed of a deeply depressive disposition, an apocalyptic view of life, a tendency to paranoia, and an excessive sense of failure when things do not go his way. Typically, such inner doubts triggered displays of petulance, tantrums, and temper."

People "like him invariably over-compensate," said the psychiatrist. Although raised as an Orthodox Jew, his neurosis causes people like him to "lean over backward in favor of the other side to prove they are being even-handed and objective." As a result, Kissinger caused Israel great harm. If President Nixon did not step in and order that the United States send Israel arms when they needed them during the Yom Kippur War, Kissinger would not have allowed them to be shipped and Israel would have been defeated. Even toward the end of the war, when Israel surrounded Egypt's Third Army and could have demanded an end to hostilities and a peace settlement as a condition for not destroying the army, Kissinger forced Israel to release these forces so that Egypt could claim that they won the war. Thus, Kissinger destroyed an opportunity for peace resulting in many future deaths.

But, Avner shows that although Nixon saved Israel, he was an anti-Semite. He called Kissinger "my Jew boy" to his face and took "perverse satisfaction in humiliating and taunting him with anti-Semitic slurs about how Jews put Israel's interests ahead of America's, and how cliquey they are, wielding far too much power because of their wealth, and too much influence because of their control of the media."

Avner reveals the inside story of what occurred before the famous and heroic Entebbe Rescue. How Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin felt that he had to surrender to the terrorists' demands to release terrorist prisoners. To do otherwise, he felt, would mean the death of dozens of people. But, when a rescue seemed feasible, Rabin changed his mind.

Avner describes many other governmental leaders. President Jimmy Carter is a very pious but profoundly uninformed man. He thought that he understood Israel, but his heavy-handed misguided manipulations in the Near East produced enormous problems. Also his current bad mouthing of Israel on every possible occasion misleads Arab nations to think that he is expressing American feelings and stifles the chance for a peace process. Prime Minister Begin irked Carter when he told him the story of how his father stood up to a Polish policeman who tried to cut off a rabbi's beard and how the police beat him for his heroism. "Mr. President, from that day forth I have forever remembered those two things about my youth: the persecution of our helpless Jews, and the courage of my father in defending their honor."

President Ronald Reagan conducted one-on-one and group sessions with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who he called Menakem, reading from a collection of cue cards. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher admitted after leaving office that she had no real understanding of the holocaust. Worse than Thatcher's ignorance was and still is the vicious anti-Semitism of the English upper class, so much so that Begin needed more protection in England than in any other friendly country.

Avner also relates many humorous episodes such as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin needing to tell the wife of President Gerald Ford that while the president danced with his wife, he could not dance with her because he could not dance. During the celebration after Entebbe, when a benediction was made and others put on a yarmulke, Rabin could only find a starched handkerchief in his pocket, which he put on his head like a sheet of hard paper. The first time that the White House served the Israeli delegation a kosher meal was when Menachem Begin was prime minister. Before that time, when only Avner requested kosher food and when the White House was told that Avner could not eat non-kosher meat, they served him a pheasant.

These are just a few examples of the large amount of revelations that Ambassador Avner offers his readers.
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on November 27, 2010
I was so taken by The Prime Ministers, that I moved heaven and earth to meet the author, Yehuda Avner,on a recent visit to Israel. Mr. Avner (please call me "Yehuda") graciously showed up at a cafe in his building and ordered an orange juice to my cafe latte. Dressed simply in a windbreaker, shirt, and slacks, Mr. Avner immediately radiates an impression of being a wonderful listener. Rather than telling me more stories, he asked first what I had thought of his book. When I responded that I thought it was actually a love story, his eyes lit up, and he confirmed my view, saying that while he admired and respected all of the Prime Ministers that he wrote about, his real love was for Menachim Begin. Part of this is because Begin, like Avner, was the first Prime Minister who was "religious." Mr. Avner told a wonderful story (not in the book) about a disagreement between himself and former Prime Minister Rabin, who could not understand Mr. Avner's unwillingness to work on Shabbat, despite an international crisis. When Avner finally showed up after the Sabbath had ended, Rabin responded scornfully, "Oh, now you are here when it is really too late." Mr.Begin, on the other hand, confined himself to synagogue and his home on the Sabbath and did not ask his staff to work.

Clearly, Mr. Avner has many more tales to tell, some of which will appear in a second installment of his book that he is presently working on. For now, I am left with the memory of a man who observed and played an important role in the formative years of the Jewish state and who relates his experiences in a warm and personal way. When I commented that I enjoyed the book because of its total absence of negative stories, Mr. Avner said, "So you noticed!" This is the beauty of being with Mr. Avner: you will never hear anything nasty or unpleasant. Only the beautiful is on display from this beautiful and wise man.
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on September 2, 2010
The Prime Ministers is a warm, engaging, compelling, very well written, and highly human memoir of an author whose portrayal of people and events is so moving as to make you want to meet him as much as the interesting, significant, and critically important people that he writes about. Avner does not relate history, he invites you into it - he reaches out and touches you with it. This is a living history of some of the most critical events of our time, presented in an incredibly readable manner. And yet, the author's humility is manifest; he never advances his cause, although it is apparent that his role in the events to which he was party was more significant than that of a mere scribe or narrator. This is a man who knows how to tell a story, make it come alive, draw you into it, yet not overwhelm you with the overwhelming events of which he speaks. I could not put this book down; it felt more like I was having a stimulating conversation with an old friend than wading through a period piece. It was as though I was an observer rather than a reader. There are few books that I have read - and I am an avid reader - that I could more comfortably and confidently recommend than The Prime Ministers. Ken Eliasberg
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on December 18, 2010
I have been looking for a book like this for several years now, but I couldn't find it. One of the books I was thinking of was Abba Eban's "My People". The problem is that it was written in the 1970's and a lot has happened since then. I then looked at Paul Johnson's "History of the Jews". Johnson is an absolute genius. At the same time, it is inconceivable to me that he could master Jewish history with the same degree of expertise that he mastered so many other things, including the history of art. So I waited and explored further and then Avner's "The Prime Ministers became available recently.

This book is what I and many others have waited for. Avner is a diplomat and was a speechwriter for four Prime Ministers of Israel. They included Rabin, Begin, Meir, and Eshkol. It has been an extraordinary career. In addition one page into the book I realized he is a GIFTED WRITER, and in the end that's what we are looking for. His written voice is pleasing, and it is obvious that he did this book in his English voice. Let me tell you what grabbed me immediately when I opened the book. It felt like, and looked like QUALITY, and then the FONT selection was excellent as well. It was just very pleasing to hold the book in your hand and peruse it, and then the first page captured me.

This doesn't happen too often with a book, but you probably know the feeling. It happened years ago on the first page of Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child," and now it has happened here. In one page, the author completely clears up the importance of the Balfour Declaration under the League of Nations, and its implications for Great Britain, and the future that would create the state of Israel. In one page, I understood what had been eluding me for years. His language was succinct, to the point, precise, insightful, and it was like that throughout the book.

As I continued to read, I was taken aback by the SMOOTHNESS of the text, the ease with which I would go from one page to the next with no desire to pause. The book simply grabbed me. It is divided into 3 major parts:

Part I - Beginites & Anti - Beginites - Chapters 1 - 6

Part II - Coalition & Oppositions - Chapters 7 - 28

A) Levi Eshkol - Chapters 7 - 16

B) Golda Meir - Chapters 17 - 21

C) Yitzhak Rabin - Chapters 22 - 28

Part III - The Last Patriarch - Menachem Begin - Chapters 29 - 58

Author Yehuda Avner knew all of the Prime Ministers personally, their foibles, and their mysteries. He also knew the inner crowd around each of the PM's, and he had access to them. He describes in the book and gives credit to all who helped him. You cannot do a book like this without describing in detail the people outside of Israel who were also instrumental in its history.

I knew immediately the author was the real thing when he described Richard Nixon accurately as an anti-Semite but at the same time gave Nixon the credit he deserved for single handedly saving Israel during the 1973 war. Nixon was unequivocal with his staff, cabinet, and Joint Chiefs. Give the Jews everything, absolutely everything they need to ensure their survival. What this tells me is that Avner is balanced, and that is a pleasure to see in reading history.

His description of Egypt's Anwar Sadat is equally moving. For Sadat, peace is a sacred calling, and as you know, Sadat made peace with Begin. When Sadat was violently murdered, Begin cried. Menachem Begin is also the PM who made the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor plant.


I simply loved this book. You do not have to be Jewish (I am not) to relish understanding the modern history of Israel, the creation of a magnificent country in a region of chaos and dictatorships. Make sure you read the story of Yitzhak Rabin and the Entebbe rescue mission. This book will provide you seat of the pants action, and for a history book, I can honestly say, I had difficulty putting it down. What else can you ask of a book, and I thank you for reading this review.

Richard C. Stoyeck
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VINE VOICEon September 6, 2010
"The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership" by Yehuda Avner. This book written by an aide to many Israeli prime ministers is filled with interesting tidbits about the personalities of these Israeli leaders - all of whom were involved in planning military counterattacks to Arab/Muslim assaults. The author provides many revealing insights into the personality of Menachem Begin; it was very informative to see how Begin's survival of a Russian Siberian political-prisoners' camp impacted his view towards Stalinism, but even more importantly, how Begin's devout, sincere belief that a Jewish God was protecting Israel fed Begin's drive to start Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- to secure Israel's historical claim to Judah and Samaria for providing greater military `defensive depth' from potential Arab assault along the `narrow neck' of Israel. The author noted that due to the extensive number of Jewish relatives who were executed in WWII German extermination camps, Begin could never `forgive' the German nation even decades following WWII - this might have even led to his resignation as prime minister: Begin simply could not bear standing in honoring the hearing of the playing of the German national anthem when a German diplomat was scheduled to visit Israel. Very rarely did the author attempt to analyze WHY the Arab-Muslims were so Jahannam-bent in abolishing the Zionist state of Israel: except for the time when the author met with two retired British diplomats in London. They discussed how the Muslim Prophet Mohammad instituted a militant religion that sought the domination of the world (p. 516-17); following their discussion they walked outside to see newspaper headlines blaring the Shia-Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Following the 1967 Six Day War, I had correspondence with Levi Eshkol, Yitzak Rabin & David Ben-Gurion - all of whom sent me autographed photographs of themselves - so it was very interesting to me to read additional details of their lives as detailed in this book. The author's job was not to debate the various political or military policies that he had the privilege of listening in on, but he at least discusses some of the background of their development. The author recounts how Begin hid from British soldiers who sought his capture before Israel declared its independence, and how Begin requested to be buried alongside two Israeli soldiers who -- sentenced to death by the British -- decided to kill themselves rather than be hung. The author undoubtedly could write a couple more tomes of his extensive knowledge of the `behind the scenes' experiences with various Israeli politicians, but then the author is more of a professional confidant and diplomat than reporter. The author recounts the 'bonding' between Egypt's Sadat and Begin. A MUST READ book, but a researcher must also read alternative viewpoints for dissenting opinions from opposing politicians. One of the most interesting, personal and informative books that I have ever read.
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on August 16, 2010
From the first word to the last the highly personal and engaging style of the author immerses the reader in the turbulance of world affairs -- big and small -- but links them together to provide a picture of the history of Israel from a most unique perspective -- the proverbial fly on the wall. From wondering who or what would emerge from the Egyptian jet that fateful day that Sadat came to Jerusalem; to the bathroom of the Lyndon Johnson Texas White House -- no interesting or gripping or amusing detail is overlooked. The result is you are there and teh effect is that its a hard book to put down.. Ultimatly The Prime Ministers is the story of the great leaders who had the courage and vision to create the State of Israel and sets the bar high for the sadly lacking leaders of today.
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on October 15, 2012
I have always been interested in Israel mostly because of my study of the Old Testament and my belief as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called Mormon) that the Jewish people are the "chosen" of the Lord as part of the children of Israel. I must confess that being raised in Wyoming and now living in Utah, I knew almost nothing of Israel or its history before reading this wonderful book and I am shocked at the anti-Semitism shown by certain individuals and cultures in its pages.

I enjoyed The Prime Ministers more than any book I have read in a long while. I am in awe of Avner for his meticulous documentation of the events of his observance and work with these men, as well as his voluminous memory and fluent writing style. After about the first third of the book, I started keeping a list of words that I wasn't sure of the meanings numbering over 60 words. So, I not only gained much knowledge of the history of Israel but I also enjoyed the literary excellence of just reading the words.

The book is not an autobiography and we are given only the "bare facts" concerning Avner's life. We know he was born in Manchester, England in 1928 (see Avner's blog) and went to Jerusalem in 1947 with a Jewish youth group where he is thrown into the beginnings of Israel's War for Independence. He returns to England, gets married in 1953, and a year later he and his wife move to a Kibbutz in Israel. Several years later, in 1959, he joins the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the beginning the author lists all of the main characters in the book. He also lists key events of each time period for all three parts of the book, and for the four prime ministers that he serves under (a clue that he is right brained and detail oriented).

Part I (1939-1952) reveals Menachem Begin's early life as head of the Irgun National Fighting Organization while the British were still occupying Palestine. He becomes a wanted man hated by many but desperate for a "Jewish homeland" for all the refugees flowing into the area after WWII.

Part II (1959-1977) chronicles the years of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (1963-1969). This time includes the six-day war in September 1967. During this war the Israel Defense Force (IDF) returns a divided Jerusalem to the Jewish people; the entire West Bank was captured from the Jordanians; the entire Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from the Egyptians; and the Golan Heights from the Syrians.

Golda Meir was prime minister from 1969 to 1974. She was an avid Socialist who sent envoys to Africa to help the new governments and people there. She was accused of not being prepared for the Yom Kippur War in October of 1973 and resigned in 1974.

Yitzhak Rabin (1974-1977). Henry Kissinger negotiated with Rabin and Egypt for Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. The most interesting event during this time is the Entebbe, Uganda rescue of the Jewish passengers held hostage on a hijacked Air France airplane from Tel Aviv to Paris. Rabin was elected Prime Minister again in 1992 and was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist.

Part III (1977-1983). Menachem Begin is the real focus and hero of this book. I love this man. He is religious--often quoting scripture. He adhered to a kosher diet; was observant of the Shabbat holy day; was a moral man often preaching to the Knesset or anyone who would listen; was a real patriot of Israel and a fierce negotiator with his friends and enemies. He met with Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem and later signed the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. He professed his belief in God and said, "How else to account for our success in accomplishing the virtually impossible"--meaning all that led up to the establishment of the State of Israel.

I can't help but contrast Begin with Obama. When Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador was shot in London in 1982 by Palestinian terrorists, PM Begin immediately took revenge. When the US ambassador to Libya and three others were killed in Bengasi this past September 11th, we were told it was because of an American video and that an investigation was continuing. Also, Begin said after he was elected prime minister: "This government has come to serve not to reap." Our president has added over 5 trillion new debt in the last four years. Obama has also suggested that Israel return all land to their pre-1967 borders which Israel's prime ministers have adamantly refused to do.

It's much more fun to read about these remarkable prime ministers whose words, thoughts and actions were remarkable in themselves, than to dwell on the present. But, the real champion is Yehuda Avner. His blog says this book will be made into two movies and another book is in the works. I can't imagine it will be any better than this, but we will have to wait and see.
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on June 28, 2012
I had just finished reading "The Prime Ministers" by Yehuda Avner. I have lived in Israel since October 1974 and remember three of the four prime ministers, Golda Meir, Yitschak Rabin and Menachem Begin.

It is obvious from this book that the author was most impressed with Menachem Begin. He dealt with his tenure in great detail. His description of Menachem as a charismatic and forceful speaker is accurate. While I am not a supporter of Begin's ideology, I must admit that his patriotism, loyalty and love for Israel and the Jewish People was unquestionable. The writer emphasizes this point repeatedly in this book.

The descriptions of the previous prime ministers of Israel before Begin was not as impressionable as his description of Begin which leaves one with no doubt as to where the writer's loyalty lies.

Begin was a great statesman and, irrespective of one's views, the writer leaves one with no doubt as to the calibre of this man. His amazing friendship with the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat despite their differences and approach towards peace between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s makes incredible reading.

I would recommend this book to all those who are interested in Israel's modern history.

I felt that nothing has really changed in the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The speeches made by all the prime minsters in the past is just as relevant today as it was then.
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on March 25, 2012
A blend of selective autobiography and selective history. Avner personally knew four Prime Ministers (Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin) through having worked for them. While he writes warmly and gives excellent portraits of the first three of these, there is no doubt that the last was his particular hero. Not only does Begin tower over the other three on the cover of the book, but 350 pages are given to the 6½ years of his premiership, while the other three, whose combined premiership ran for twice as many years, have 250 pages altogether.

The book opens with a glamorous and justificatory account of Begin's dangerous underground career as leader of the Irgun. Avner (born Haffner in Manchester) was a religious Zionist and already a supporter as a schoolboy. In November 1947, aged 19, he went to Palestine. He took part in the war of 1948, then worked to clear the land for a kibbutz. His account of these years is mainly autobiographical, but Begin again figures extensively (far more than does Prime Minister Ben Gurion), though Avner did not at that time know Begin personally. In 1959 he joined the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and in 1963, at the age of 34, he was appointed speech-writer for Premier Levi Eshkol.

So now, just over 100 pages into the 700 page book, he starts on his intimate involvement with the Prime Ministers of its title. He sees them dealing with the great events of the time, from the Six Day War in 1967 to Begin's resignation in October 1983, just three months after Avner left his personal staff to become ambassador in London.

We see Avner's own development also, from his self-confessed early clumsiness as a speech-writer (with Eshkol being remarkably forbearing to the "boychick"); and it never ceases to be an autobiography as well, recording incidents in his life that are not of any momentous importance (personally delivering a letter of gratitude from Eshkol to ex-President Truman, for example; or witnessing an interview which Golda Meir gave to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallacci); or recording in detail one of the weekly Bible study sessions in Prime Minister Begin's home) - all told with panache. Needless to say also that far more space is given to episodes where Avner was present (for example the 1968 negotiations in Texas when Eshkol was asking President Johnson for 50 Phantom jets) than to episodes where he was not.

A particularly powerful chapter records the 1975 duel between Prime Minister Rabin and Kissinger over disengagement after the 1973 war, with a vivid account of Kissinger's personality. (What the book brings home very strongly is what difficulties every Israeli Prime Minister had with the Americans - and how ready they were, mostly, to defy their mighty ally.)

When the Bible-inspired Begin followed his secular-minded predecessors as Prime Minister in 1977, Avner, an observant Jew, revealingly comments, "Here, at last, was a prime minister after my own heart - the quintessential Jew." (I found those last three words rather shocking: as if Begin's predecessors fell short in their quintessential Jewishness). And of course Avner agreed to Begin's request that he serve him in the same capacity as he had served his Mapai predecessors, as a member of his personal staff. This would of course now involve, as it would for any civil servant, drafting speeches and letters at variance with those he had supported before. (Actually he says that Begin always wrote his own speeches, even those in English, merely asking Avner to "shakespearize" them.) So Avner notes without comment Begin's assertions that Judea and Samaria were not Occupied but Liberated Territories; that he would encourage Jews to settle there; and that under no circumstances would he have any dealings with Arafat. This put him at odds with President Carter: the passionate, history-soaked and rhetorical lecture he delivered to the President on his visit to Washington in 1977 is given at unremitting length. As Secretary of State Cyrus Vance would say ruefully, Begin was not only a man of his word, but a man of many words! And we are given many such throughout the book, including an hour's tirade to the American ambassador, overriding every attempt of the ambassador's to get a word in edgeways, when the US criticized the annexation of the Golan Heights, and an elaborate commentary to the UN General Assembly on a passage in the Book of Isaiah. Sincere though he was, Begin was also a conscious actor, which that ex-thespian President Reagan recognized when he asked him how any persuasive statesman could not be an actor?

Avner tells us in his Author's Note that he has taken some liberties when recreating some speeches and dialogues, but trusts they capture the spirit of what was said. He often resorts to clichés ("he huffed", "she hissed" etc. He even tells us that Secretary of State Haig's "sharp eyes narrowed" when speaking at a meeting with Reagan at which Avner was not present). But, that apart, the book is always lively, at times riveting, at others moving. And there are many gems: among them, to name just a few, a touching meeting between crippled Israeli and Egyptian veterans; descriptions of antisemites and philosemites among the British upper class; a graphic one of what it is like to be inside a tank; and many amusing ones.

So the book is a superb read. Begin was a doughty, charismatic and remarkable man; the portrait Avner gives of him is many-sided and memorable. He clearly worshipped him, and that is his good right; but I did not take to his consistently adulatory tone about him.
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