Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declares Israel an independent state in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948.
(photo credit: ZOLTAN KLUGER)
It’s David Ben-Gurion like you’ve never seen him before.
The first chapter of the new documentary series, The Captains, which premiered on Channel 10 this week, took a closer look at the man who arguably created, steered and shaped the State of Israel into what it is today. The show on Ben-Gurion is the first in the series that will closely examine six of the 12 people who have held the office of prime minister. It is a production of Channel 10 and its longtime investigative journalist Raviv Drucker, who worked on the series for two-and-a-half years.
According to Drucker some of the revelations about these six individuals will shock many viewers.
“Even for me, I learned many new things about Ben-Gurion,” Drucker told The Jerusalem Post in a recent phone interview. “And I think, for the average Israeli, the series will reveal a crazy amount of new things. Because, like in many countries, I assume, the public really knows very little about past leaders... and here there are very few serious books written about them.”
In Israel, Drucker said, “the country is too small, the events are too urgent and intensive and we’re always dealing with the present, not the past.” There are six chapters of The Captains that are already complete, and Drucker hopes to be able to create another six in the future.
Despite Ben-Gurion’s celebrated reputation, The Captains doesn’t discuss him in revered tones, but rather in an objective, matter of fact way.
“He was just 5 feet tall, not a graceful orator, terrible at small talk and didn’t know how to flatter people,” Drucker narrates in the series, which also details parts of his personal life, including his extramarital affairs. Yet he “was always determined, strong, initiated decisions and didn’t try to evade problems. He was a leader.”
Drucker said one of the most surprising things he learned while creating the series was “how crazy he was, how unusual he could be, how some of his decisions sometimes bordered on irrational” – such as giving a speech in ancient Greek to the British foreign minister.
The show, which is made up of archival interviews, audio recordings, photos and some current interviews – and the very limited footage of Ben-Gurion available – details some of the most fateful decisions in his life. From the dramatic moments leading up to the declaration of the State of Israel, to the War of Independence, the Suez crisis, his bitter political fights with Menachem Begin, initiating the nuclear research center in Dimona to establishing relations with Germany in the wake of the Holocaust.
Ahead of the historic Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, not all of the Zionist leaders in Israel felt it was the best course of action. But Ben-Gurion was vehement that there was no time to waste.
“I’m not completely certain,” said Golda Meir, in an archival interview, “that, if not for David Ben-Gurion, we would have dared to declare a state.”
Seventy years – and 11 prime ministers – later, Drucker said it’s clear to see how much the office and the job of prime minister has changed since the founding of the state.
During Ben-Gurion’s time, he made decisions in a very unilateral way, said Drucker, whereas today “there are different cabinets and ministers and a state comptroller; whatever bodies did exist at his time were much weaker.”
And, according to Drucker, the stakes at the time were considerably higher.
“He was gambling with the fate of the country,” Drucker said. “Today, [prime ministers’] decisions can succeed or fail, but the future of the state is not on the line.”