Interviewing the Interviewer: An Interview with Dr. Clinton Bailey, Ben Gurion's interviewer in the film Ben Gurion, Epilogue

 I was taken by surprise when I heard the familiar voice of Dr. Clinton Bailey in the film "Ben Gurion, Epilogue" screened on Independence Day at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.  I had wanted to see the film for quite some time and was happy that this time around we managed to get us four tickets for my daughters and myself. Ben Gurion, we figured, was a fitting character to end the Independence Day celebrations with.

I was eager to connect to the spirit that built Israel 69 years ago and for them to be exposed to its source.

And the minute I heard Clinton Bailey's voice and read on screen his name, I immediately turned to my daughters Maya (15), Noa (12) and Eden (10) to reveal to them that I knew Clinton personally through his wife Maya, who had studied Greek with me some fifteen years ago, before even our Maya was born.

The film made by director Yariv Mozer and editor and producer Yael Perlov, mainly consists of the edited interview that Dr. Clinton Bailey took of Ben Gurion in Sde Boker, back in 1968 when the latter was 82 years old, and had left the political arena in favor of the small scale community life. In the interview Clinton asks Ben Gurion about his choices, his ideology, and his take on Israel at the time of the interview.

YNM: Clinton, thank you for the interview that you took back then. You did an excellent job in bringing to the spotlight Ben Gurion, his values and personality. What brought you to interview Ben Gurion then and, how does the interview connect to the rest of your work?

Clinton Bailey: Here is the story. When I was looking for a job back in January 1967, I accidentally met Paula Ben Gurion near their house in Sde Boker. Paula invited me in, and introduced me to Ben Gurion. That is how I got to meet them, by accident.

YNM: It sounds like your meeting Ben Gurion was orchestrated by Paula. Paula sounds like a strong character. What was your impression of Paula?

CB: Paula was a natural and dedicated woman. This accounts for her coming here from America in her husband’s footsteps after World War One, raising their children on meager resources during the Mandate, and then following him to Sde Boker in the Negev, where she had to live under very simple conditions.

YNM: How did the interview come about?

CB: Movie makers in London asked me to arrange to get materials for a documentary film on Ben Gurion. The interview never came out.  At some point I left the project altogether.  The movie makers went in the direction of a feature film that never got off the ground.

YNM: Had the movie makers given you a script on which you had based your questions?

CB: No, the questions were personal. Nobody told me what to ask.

YNM: How was your life touched from meeting Ben Gurion, did the encounter with him affect your life in any significant way?

CB: It certainly did. It was after meeting him that I decided to go down to Sde Boker to teach  English. Then, being there, I met neighboring Bedouin and decided to record and study their disappearing culture, which became my lasting activity throughout life. I already did have a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University.

YNM: If you had a chance to meet with Ben Gurion today and to ask him more questions what would you have asked?

CB: I would ask him whether more could have been done to integrate the Mizrahi population. And whether he has any regrets about his choice to defer Haredim from the army.

YNM: What would he have answered you?

CB: I don't know. What would you have asked?

YNM: I would ask him whether he is happy that today more women are in the Knesset and more women aspire to leadership roles in Israeli society as Hana Mansour Khatib, the first woman judge or qadi appointed in Israel's Muslim religious court.

CB: What would he have answered you?

YNM: To my mind he would have answered saying that Hana Mansour Khatib's success was built by the many people who helped nurture her. He would have mentioned that much of the credit of her accomplishments goes to her father who recognized his daughter was a high achiever and pushed her to study law, drove her to piano lessons and insisted that she learn how to swim. He would say that for sweeping changes in government to take place they need to be supported by a wide base of people, who are determined to give their daughters an education that empowers girls and women to aim to the top, in their chosen field, and work in synergy with fellow women and men to accomplish that.

But I sense that you are in a hurry towards the screening tonight at Ramat Hasharon's Bet Hahayal. Will there be a discussion tonight?

CB: Yes there will be a Q&A section after the screening. And it is all sold out!

YNM: That makes perfect sense, I was sorry there was no discussion after the screening last night.  Jerusalemites deserve that too, especially given you are a Jerusalemite yourself.

CB: Indeed. I would be happy to do it.

YNM: There is a place in the film when a foreign journalist asks Ben Gurion whether he was a Zionist, and whether he was a socialist to which he answered negatively to both. Then the journalist asks him what are you and Ben Gurion responds I am a Jew who lives in Israel who wants to live in peace with the rest of the world, and for people to honor each other and not to exploit each other.

Would you consider yourself a disciple of Ben Gurion?

CB: I don't know that the word disciple is the right word here. I was for sure influenced by the man. I stayed in the Negev for eight years. I admire him as a man, I admire his values, both the personal and the political. But I haven't done any politics myself. I am certainly an admirer. We were lucky to have him at the helm before and after the creation of the state.

YNM: Are there politicians today that follow his vision and path?

CB: There are people with his values and his vision. Whether they have the charisma and political strength to be elected, that is another question.

YNM: Ben Gurion was a highly talented and gifted man, an intellectual.

CB: He was not just an intellectual. He was a statesman, a politician and an intellectual. He was an expert in maneuvering and navigating between the British and the Arabs to keep it going to get us to statehood.

YNM: Indeed, and your accomplishment in the interview in my mind was that you took the discussion to places where it was made clear that Ben Gurion was a man of wide scope, highly educated, with an open and inquisitive mind, curious and outgoing in character, who was not afraid of encountering other traditions and cultures while also deeply immersed in his.

As when you asked him about his handling the reparations with the Germans. He refused to go by the popular ethos, and argued that the sons are not to be held accountable for their fathers' wrongdoings.

CB: Ben Gurion sort of allowed the Germans to collectively start a new beginning that would be on the right track of history this time around. By accepting the reparations, Ben Gurion allowed the Germans a second beginning after the war.

Ben Gurion was a free spirit. He trusted himself, and his judgment. And at the same time, he was a believer in the communal spirit and will power needed to achieve a communal dream. And Israelis had the spirit and the willpower, and Ben Gurion sensed it, and embraced it to bring about the shared dream –along with his peers—to reality.