Yitzhak Ben Aharon (Nussboim) (1906-2006)

Founder of the Kibbutz Movement and Israel Labor Party, Israel Prize Laureate

Yitzhak Ben Aharon was born in the Bukovina Province of Romania (then part of the German-speaking Austro-Hungarian Empire), in July 1906, and was educated in Czernowitz.

As a teenager, after the First World War, Yitzhak Ben Aharon joined the Zionist youth movements that marked the Second Aliyah, Hehalutz and Hashomer Hatzair. Despite the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and new European national borders under the Treaty of Versailles, he was able to continue the Advanced School for Political Science in Berlin, in the mid-1920s. He came on Aliyah under his own steam in 1928, crossing the Lebanese border on a donkey.

In terms of dates, this was the overlap period between the Fourth Aliyah and Fifth Aliyah, when kibbutzim were just breaking ground, while halutzim who were not members were often hired out to other settlements. Ben Aharon joined the Kibbutz Hame'uchad Movement and in 1933, when Kibbutz Giv'at Haim was founded in the Emek Hefer (Hefer Valley) region between Tel Aviv and Haifa, memory of Haim Arlozoroff, he was one of its founding members. The kibbutz split in 1952 and was renamed Giv'at Haim Ichud; he then moved to the new Giv'at Haim Me'uchad.

Ben Aharon rapidly became a notable figure in the national Labor movement and was to continue his political – and eventually military involvement – in the state-in-the-making. During this period, he became prominent in the Labor movement as Secretary of the Tel Aviv Workers' Council, from 1932-1938, when he was elected Secretary of the Mapai Party, a post he held for one year.

He was also part of the Yishuv's effort to rescue Jews in Nazi Germany through the Fifth Aliyah: he was sent as a shaliach by the Hehalutz movement, but was arrested and deported from Germany. During the Second World War, Ben Aharon responded rapidly to the Yishuv's campaign to enlist in the British Army, but was taken prisoner by the Germans in Greece during one of their operations in 1940, not long after recruitment. As a British soldier, he was protected and was interned in a German Prisoner of War camp until the liberation of Greece in 1944.

After the Second World War, Ben Aharon returned to political life within the Labor movement, part of which soon split with David Ben Gurion's Mapai Party, to found the Achdut (Ahdut) Avodah Party. He would later move between various parties again, before and after Independence, when he became a Member of Knesset.

The post-war years, however, were a period of conflict about how best to achieve an independent Jewish state, with different clandestine organizations at times cooperating and at times competing against each other. It was also the height of the Aliyah Bet (Maapilim) movement to bring Shoah survivors to the state-in-the-making. At the time, those who opposed the Mapai in terms of political activity and the Haganah, led by Ben Gurion, sometimes became targets of various security operations against the Yishuv underground movements. In 1946, Ben Aharon was one of those arrested in the "Black Shabbat" (Saturday) operation by British security, although he was not a member of either the Etzel or the Lehi movements, but rather the Haganah itself, and a member of the Communist Ahdut Avodah-Po'alei Zion party.

After the UN General Assembly vote on Partition (November 29th 1947), the Yishuv was under attack and various political changes allowed fluid coalitions to be formed in the struggle for survival, while enhancing some of the dividing lines between them in terms of their alignment in the Cold War. In January 1948, he helped found the pro-Soviet left-wing Mapam (United Workers') Party through the unification of Achdut Avodah (Po'alei Zion) with Hashomer Hatzair, in which Yitzhak Ben Aharon was one of the leading figures, sitting as a faction member in the First and Second Knessets. It is highly significant that he was a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, which had been instrumental in the procurement of arms for the fledgling State of Israel.

Despite emerging news of the renewed persecution of Jewish intellectuals in the Stalinist USSR, Mapam remained aligned with Moscow and even issued an official statement of condolence on Stalin's death (5th March, 1953).  The party split, however, before the 1954 elections and Yitzhak Ben Aharon was returned in the 3rd through 5th Knessets as a member of Ahudut Avodah-Po'alei Zion, which subsequently joined Ben Gurion's Mapai coalition government. In the 4th and 5th Knesset, he was Minister of Transportation (incomplete term), resigning from his post in 1962 on ideological grounds, in protest at the government's economic and labor policies.

From the early 1960s, Yitzhak Ben Aharon thus returned to the Histadrut, Israel's Labor Movement, in the fight for social justice, which reflected the mood and rights' struggles of labor movements elsewhere, especially Europe – particularly, the UK, France, and Germany. He remained on the outside of Israeli inner political circles on both labor and diplomatic issues.  Notably, he opposed Israel's expansion into the territories after the Six Day War (1967), in contrast to the position adopted by successive Israel (Labor Alignment coalition) governments, which placed him in the dovish camp. He rose to the position of Histadrut Secretary General in 1969-1973, reinvigorating it in terms of radical socialist trade unionism and frequently contesting the government on labor issues, as well as initiating major strikes. To a large extent, he retained this exclusive ideological and trade-unionist label until his final days, supporting first Amram Mitzna in the 2003 Israel Election, and subsequently Amir Peretz's candidacy for Labor Party leadership in 2005, and the 2006 General Election.

Yitzhak Ben Aharon nevertheless joined the Labor Alignment in the Elections following the Yom Kippur War and remained in the Labor Party through the 7th and 8th Knessets, until the political "watershed" of 1977, when the first Likud government came to power under Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He quit this arena, disillusioned with the socialist vision of Israel and retired from political life, remaining active in the Kibbutz Movement and a lifelong member of the Labor Alignment/Israel Labor Party. Ben Aharon had the status of an eminent, popular Israeli radical ideologist in left-wing circles, although the mainstream political left maintained a distance from him. He published various books and political articles from 1968-1973, but his major collections appeared after this period, including Interviews (1984), a collection of Calendar Notes (1906-1993) in 1994 and a collection of Letters (1927-1997) in 1997. He also published a collection of letters from his internment (1946).

Yitzhak Ben Aharon was awarded the Israel Prize in recognition of his life's work and contribution to the country in 1995, under the Rabin government, shortly before his 89th birthday. In connection with his esteem for Amir Peretz, he retained his name at the #120th spot on the Labor Party list for the 17th Knesset, after his close friend and colleague Lova Eliav. He was undubitably one of Israel's founding fathers and a prominent, outspoken ideologist of both Socialist Zionism and the Kibbutz Movement.

Further Reading



Peace & Borders
Magazine [2003] http://www.larouchepub.com/eirtoc/2003/eirtoc_3014.html

Kibbutz, Labor Movement; Labor Politics


http://www.edu-negev.gov.il/bs/mmtt/hefer/benaharon.htm [Easy Hebrew / for younger students]

Peace Process

Kibbutz Movement, Labor Movement
Givat Brenner http://www.givat-brenner.co.il/event.asp?eventID=971
Palmach Film Archive http://www.palmach.org.il/show_item.asp?itemId=6311&levelId=41383&itemType=0&seret=107746&seretLevel=
On Yigal Allon http://www.bet-alon.co.il/museum/alon_02.php
About the Israel Prize 1995 http://www.snunit.k12.il/minhal/word/22008.doc





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29 Jan 2009 / 4 Shevat 5769 0