The Prime Min­is­ters: An Inti­mate Nar­ra­tive of Israeli Leadership

Yehu­da Avn­er; Mar­tin Gilbert, intro.
  • Review
By – October 3, 2011

As Israeli his­to­ry this mis-titled vol­ume is pure gold. The sub­ject is part­ly the pre­miers, that is, some ear­ly ones, but the real focus here is on the author, Yehu­da Avn­er. It’s a mem­oir, not about per­son­al fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences, but about Israeli events in which he was a par­tic­i­pant. Avn­er was not always at the top him­self, but close enough to get a good look. 

The book begins in 1947, when Avn­er entered Israel, still under the British Man­date, as a young set­tler, a British cit­i­zen. He cov­ers Inde­pen­dence Day, the fol­low­ing year, with a charm­ing sto­ry. A friend, wild­ly excit­ed to hear that state­hood has been declared, ran to tell him and oth­ers. But What’s its name?” He hadn’t thought to ask. Prob­a­bly Zion, they guessed; no, Yehu­da (Judea); or maybe Israel. What­ev­er, they drank to it. 

Thanks to his love­ly Eng­lish, writ­ing abil­i­ty, and genial per­son­al­i­ty, Avn­er earned For­eign Min­istry posts and ambas­sador­ships under Levi Eshkol, Gol­da Meir, Yizhak Rabin, Shi­mon Peres, and Men­achem Begin. As part of a diplo­mat­ic team he had access to high­lev­el deci­sion-mak­ing. And as a speech­writer he saw his cau­tious pre­pared text often thrown aside in favor of an emo­tion­al outburst. 

To a nor­mal­ly well-informed Amer­i­can this book has to be a rev­e­la­tion as it describes the U.S.-Israeli tie dur­ing this peri­od — how big a role Amer­i­ca played, and how inter­twined their pol­i­tics were. One mem­o­rable pas­sage describes the pan­ic-strick­en search by Israeli gov­ern­ment lead­ers after the Yom Kip­pur attack for a Strong Man to inspire con­fi­dence (Moshe Dayan).

The author has report­ed speech­es full-length, per­haps for the record, pro­duc­ing a some­what for­mi­da­ble (two-inch high) stack. Be not deterred. For those who rel­ish live­ly insid­er anec­dotes, Avn­er makes a lik­able companion.

Future his­to­ri­ans will be grate­ful to this diarist for inim­itable source mate­r­i­al. About the author, acknowl­edg­ments, after­word, author’s note, bib­li­og­ra­phy, end­notes, for­ward, prin­ci­pal characters.

Jane Waller­stein worked in pub­lic rela­tions for many years. She is the author of Voic­es from the Pater­son Silk Mills and co-author of a nation­al crim­i­nal jus­tice study of parole for Rut­gers University.

Discussion Questions