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Biography of Yitzhak Ben-Aharon

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Yitzhak Ben-Aharon - Biography

Yitzhak Ben Aharon (Nussboim) was born in  Buzhintcha in Bukovina, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on July 17, 1906. He attended high school in nearby Cernowitz (Czervici). He attended the Advanced School of Political Science in Berlin.  Unlike his older brother Ben Aharon,, who was a member of the Communist party, was a Zionist from his youth, and was a leading member of the Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz movements in Rumania.

Labor Zionism: Yitzhak Ben-Aharon

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Ben Aharon came on Aliya (immigration) to Eretz Yisrael (Palestine) in 1928, and became a leading proponent of Labor Zionism.  He was a member of "Siah Bet" of Mapai which later split to form MAPAM. He was a leading member of workers' councils and in the Mapai, MAPAM and Achdut Ha'avoda  parties.  He joined the Kibbutz HaMeuchad Movement and joined Kibbutz Givat Haim in1933. He was Secretary of the Tel Aviv Workers Council 1932-1938, and Secretary of Mapai  from 1938-1939.

In 1935 Ben Aharon spent several months in Nazi Germany as an emissary of the Hechalutz movement. He  was arrested by the Gestapo and deported.

In 1940 Ben-Aharon volunteered for the British Army as part  of the Jewish Brigade, attaining the rank of major. He was captured by the Germans in 1941 while fighting in Greece,  and spent the war in a prisoner of war camp. Returning to Palestine after World War II, Ben-Aharon was arrested by the British on "Black Saturday," June 29, 1946. He was a founding member and leader of the  MAPAM party established in 1946. When Mapam split, Ben-Aharon joined the  Achdut Ha'avoda faction in 1954, later merged into the Israel Labor party.  He was a member of Israeli Knessets 1-5 and 7-8.  Ben Aharon served as Minister of Transportation in the fourth and fifth Knesset until his resignation from the government on May 28, 1962.

In a 1963 article in La Merhav, Ben-Aharon called for unification of the Israel Labor movement to prevent its disintegration and oblivion. Subsequently, the major parties united in the alignment list, but the different Kibbutz movements and parties remained divided and failed to carry out needed reforms.

Ben Aharon was an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation following the 6 day war. He created bitter controversy in 1973 when he published articles advocating unilateral withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank, presaging modern disengagement initiatives.

Ben Aharon served as Secretary General of the Histadrut  Labor Federation from 1969 to 1973. He quarreled with Golda Meir and others in his advocacy of the workers' cause, pointing out that the government, as an employer, while ostensibly socialist, was acting the part of traditional management in opposing working class interests. In 1977 he resigned from political life, after the Likud came to power, ousting Labor. His famous parting remark was, "If that is the will of the people, then the people must be changed."

He was not favored by other labor party leaders, who were unwilling to adopt his notion that the Labor party should represent workers. He did attract the support of younger, radical members, who wanted to reform the party.

In 1995, Ben Aharon won the Israel Prize for his contributions to Israeli society and the State of Israel.

In 2005, at the age of 99, Ben Aharon  was an outspoken advocate of the candidacy of Amir Peretz breaking ranks with many of the European elite of the Israel labor party.

Ben-Aharon was the author of  a number of books and articles including:

Listen Gentile (1947) (Eng)

The Doorway to Change (1948) (Heb)

The Courage to Change before the Calamity (1963) (Heb)

The Struggle for Change (1972) (Heb)

In the Eye of the Storm (1977) (Heb)

Messianic Regime: the End of the Road (1988) (Heb)

Pages from the Calendar (1994) (Heb)

Yitzhak Ben Aharon died May 19, 2006. He donated his body to science, so there was no funeral. He is survived  by his second wife Bilha and his sons Yariv and Yishayahu. Ben-Aharon's younger son, Yeshayahu Ben-Aharon, is a noted leader of the Israeli Kibbutz movement and advocate of radical social change and founder of alternative Kibbutz Harduf.

Upon Ben-Aharon's death,  Israeli President Moshe Katzav declared, "Israel has lost one of its builders and shapers of its social character." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that "the State of Israel has lost one of its giants, a true Zionist and honest ideologue, who for decades did not hesitate to express his unique and insightful views." Israel's Vice Prime Minister and Minister for the Development for the Negev and Galilee, Shimon Peres, said that: "One of the spiritual fathers of the Israeli labor movement has left us." Israel Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, the leader of the Israel Labor party. said, "Today, one the giants of the State of Israel has left us. If there is a man who can be said to have been one of the giants of the generation, it is Yitzhak Ben-Aharon."

Ami Isseroff

More Israeli and Zionist Biographies The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

 

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