Historical quotes: Ben-Gurion’s willingness to trade off dead Jewish children for the Jewish state of Israel

by Yaniv Reich on March 7, 2011

We are accustomed to hearing about how Israel as an ethnically exclusivist state was necessary to protect the Jews after the Holocaust. For most Israelis, this assertion has taken on almost axiomatic status. So it’s interesting to note that many of the early Zionist leaders, including the relentlessly mythologized David Ben-Gurion, Zionist leader and first prime minister of Israel, saw things very differently:

If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would choose the latter—because we are faced not only with the accounting of these [Jewish] children but also with the historical accounting of the Jewish People.” – Ben-Gurion (1938).

(As quoted in Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims, p. 162)

Considering the German Jewish population was something like 240,000 people, Ben-Gurion was casually suggesting a trade of (very roughly) 50,000 children’s lives (an estimated 100,000, half of which would be “saved” and go to Israel) in order to realize his and his friends’ nationalist fantasies. Or, if one considers more than the Jews of Germany alone, and looks instead at the total number of Jewish children killed by the Nazis, then he is talking about more than a million murdered children (again, half of which would be “saved”).

How can we so easily overlook such sadistic zealotry, which is willing to bargain over tens of thousands of innocent lives in order to realize the Jewish state? At the absolute minimum, we must recognize the argument for Israel as a safe haven for the Jews was (at crucial moments) rejected by the early Zionist leadership.

Of course, even if it was this purportedly safe place (I have yet to see evidence of Jews in Israel being safer than any other Jews on earth today, even Persian Jews in Iran), then this haven would still not justify the expulsion of the Palestinians from their ancestral homes in order to protect a foreign ethnic group from the small possibility of future catastrophe. It’s not right to beat children in anticipation of what they might one day do (or ever, but stick with the metaphor). It’s not right for the US to destroy Mexico just in case the country might one day be used as a launching pad for some third-party army’s attacks on the US population. And it’s not right to take over someone’s country, install a segregation-based ethnic state on the ruins thereof, and try to justify all this by citing the abstract possibility of future violence.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clif Brown March 9, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Quite a statement he made. It could be summarized as – actual lives can be sacrificed for “our” or “my” vision of the future.

Weren’t Lenin and Stalin of that opinion as well. To a lesser extent, are their plenty of capitalists who see now problem with the absolute destitution of some as long as the market functions as it should?

And George W. Bush – starting the “war of choice” in Iraq knowing that many Americans would die (let alone completely dispensable Iraqis). Over 4000 Americans did die but George got the bad guy and sleeps soundly on his ranch.

What ties all of these people together? They treated people in the abstract. If any of these leaders of men had their own children in the equation, such grandiose statements would not have been made.

Of course, nobody thinking in such a way

2 Clif Brown March 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Oops! drop that last line. My editing boo-boo

3 Adam Guntur June 7, 2011 at 7:12 am

David Ben Gurion has prooved that he was the real Israel President and he is one of my idols, thank u for this posting has blessed and ispired me so much. GBU and family always!

4 nimrod g. October 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm

what is missed in your article is the justification for the existence of a state for the jews not only for worldly anti-semitism you say does not exist, but also the ambition of jews to live in one community, with similar language, cultular charactaristics and holidays, just as any other nation in the world.

jews who live in another country find it hard to maintain their judaism for their living in a small congregation, with no option to encounter jews unintendenly and thus marry and have kids.

you say there is no justification for the existence of Israel, and if you don’t see any importance in maintaining the jewish heritage then there sure isn’t, but most others see that, and in order to do that you have to live among a congregation of jews, or live an orthodox life outside of that congregation.

I agree with what Ben-Gurion said, especially after investigating my family history.
my granmother had to flea from europe to central asia due to the nazi persecutions, in which she found shelter in central asia, in the former USSR, in which she didn’t find any jew to marry to, thus having to marry the first one to come, who she devorced a few years later. not only did she lose all her family and belongings, but she had no community to live in. these facts of life made her miserable, and that wouldnt have happened if she had her own jewish country to live in. her daughter did exactly that, and came to Israel where today I live, and im the first in generations not having to deal with these issues. this is my justification for me living in Israel, otherwise I will also object it’s existence just like you.

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