'Ben-Gurion valued separation of powers'

Ben-Gurion was ‘a man of broad vision who believed that the impossible was possible,’ President Shimon Peres recalls.

Peres visits Ben-Gurion grave 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Peres visits Ben-Gurion grave 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Thirty eight years after David Ben-Gurion died, President Shimon Peres described what the founding prime minister dreamed Israel would look like today.
“He wanted the nation to be strong without being a dictatorship,” Peres, a disciple of Israel’s founding father, said at the annual Ben-Gurion graveside ceremony in Sde Boker on Sunday.
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The president also recalled that Ben-Gurion wanted a state that embraced the values of the dignity and freedom of its citizens, including freedom of expression. He wanted a state of social justice that encouraged creativity and science.
Peres’s words were strikingly relevant given the recent public debates over threats to Israeli democracy and the advent of a new social justice movement.
Peres said that Ben-Gurion keenly believed in the separation of branches of authority – that politicians should not be judges and that judges should not meddle in politics.
“He believed that there was no alternative to the democratic system, and any attempt to attack it endangered it. He was faithful to the concept of the decision of the majority providing that it did not ignore the rights of the minority.”
Peres, 88, is a year older than Ben-Gurion was at the time of his death.
Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, another loyal Ben-Gurion disciple who was also present at the ceremony, is 90.
Peres noted that Ben- Gurion had asked that the date of his coming to the Land of Israel be engraved on his tombstone, because he considered it the date of his birth. Ben-Gurion was in fact born on October 16, 1886, and arrived in Ottoman Palestine in 1906. He died on December 1, 1973, slightly less than two months after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.
Peres lauded him as a leader who overcame arid terrain and hostile neighbors.
“He was a great statesman without a state, a great military strategist without an army. He was blessed with unusual talents, with a will of steel, a word engraved in stone and an unshakable faith,” the president said.
Peres also described his beloved mentor as a man of broad vision who nonetheless inspected everything closely – who believed that the impossible was possible.
It was rare, said Peres, to meet anyone who had such a deep and abiding love for his people.
It is common knowledge that Ben-Gurion was a great scholar of the Bible, and much of his vision, according to Peres, was influenced by the biblical prophets.
He was dedicated to freeing himself from the shackles of the Diaspora. A Zionist in Ben-Gurion’s eyes was someone who chose to live in Israel, spoke Hebrew, and lived by the concept of the Chosen People as a light unto itself and to others, said Peres.
Yet for all his strength, Ben-Gurion too nursed fears. He was afraid, said Peres, that if the majority of Jews remained in the Diaspora the state would not be established, or conversely, if the Jewish people came to the Land of Israel but was divided, this too would obstruct the creation of a state.
Ben-Gurion had to cope with issues of security to withstand external threats, while simultaneously trying to mend ruinous rifts on the home front. “He did not forget the lessons of the destruction of the Temple or the Holocaust,” said Peres. “He believed in redemption.”
Immigration was a priority on his agenda, and he was opposed to the denigration of any immigrant.
Ben-Gurion also served as defense minister and in both capacities was fully aware that if Israel did not defend itself, no one would come to its defense, said Peres.
The IDF – the army created by Ben-Gurion – exists to defend the nation, but is also an army of peace, based on the concept of the purity of arms, said Peres.