The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership

The Toby Press  2010


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.

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