2017-11-22 / Home

‘Salute to Israel’ one of many Arts, Books & Culture Fest highlights


Moderator Harvey Shapiro (left) with authors Michael Bar- Zohar and Francine Klagsbrun during the “Salute to Israel” program at the Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books & Culture of the Katz JCC. 
Photo by Stephen Ehrlich. Moderator Harvey Shapiro (left) with authors Michael Bar- Zohar and Francine Klagsbrun during the “Salute to Israel” program at the Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books & Culture of the Katz JCC. Photo by Stephen Ehrlich. An evening dedicated to saluting Israel at 70 featured two prominent authors discussing their recently released biographies of Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Shimon Peres. Francine Klagsbrun, author of “Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel,” and Michael Bar-Zohar, author of “Phoenix: Shimon Peres and the Secret History of Israel,” delighted a large crowd at the Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books, and Culture of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill. The Nov. 9 “Salute to Israel” was one of many appearances by authors, entertainers, and performers during the weeklong festival.

Klagsbrun, a pioneering feminist, portrayed Golda Meir as very much an insider as far as the founding generation of Israeli political leadership, but yet also an outsider in many ways. She was the first Israeli ambassador to the Soviet Union as well as Labor Minister and Foreign Minister prior to becoming Prime Minister, but as a woman, she was an outsider.

“She cared about women, working women, but she was also opposed to the women’s movement,” said Klagsbrun, who spent eight years researching her book. Meir referred to the women’s movement as “bra burning crazies,” according to Klagsbrun. Ironically, as one of the most powerful women in the world during her term as Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974, she was held up as an icon by the feminist movement.

Klagsbrun said that Meir was very adept at playing up her grandmotherly image. She got a laugh when she told the audience at the JCC that she included Meir’s chicken soup recipe in her book, but added that people shouldn’t bother making it because the recipe isn’t worth it.

Meir was also different from the founding generation of Israeli leaders in that she was born in Kiev, came to the U.S., grew up in Milwaukee, and then made aliyah to British-controlled Palestine. Most of the founders of Israel went from Europe directly to Palestine.

Klagsbrun discussed Meir’s personal life, her marriage, her estrangement from her husband, Morris Meyerson, and her love affairs. She also spoke of her many accomplishments, including raising crucial funds to buy arms during Israel’s War of Independence and playing a pivotal role in the early days of the Soviet Jewry movement.

As Prime Minister before and during the Yom Kippur War, Meir also took a lot of the blame for Israel’s unpreparedness when Syrian and Egyptian forces attacked. Klagsbrun said that she thought that the blame was undeserved. “Golda Meir was a rock during that war. She was a rock,” said Klagsbrun about Meir’s role in rallying the country.

Michael Bar-Zohar, a former member of Israel’s Knesset and the author of many books on Israel’s military and intelligence history, focused his remarks on Shimon Peres’ pivotal role in cajoling the French government to sell Israel arms at a time the U.S. and other world powers refused to do so as well as Peres’ getting the French to provide Israel with the uranium to fuel Israel’s nuclear program.

Bar-Zohar told how the French government of Maurice Bourges-Maunoury agreed to lend Israel uranium and help build a nuclear reactor in Dimona, only to fall out of power on the very evening that the agreement was to be signed. Peres was able to convince his friend to sign the agreement a day later and backdate it to the day before, when he was still France’s leader, without telling anyone.

Israel’s reactor was only discovered five years later by an American U2 spy plane. When he learned of it, President John F. Kennedy was furious that Israel had become a nuclear power. Bar-Zohar said that it is the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons that is the ultimate military guarantor of the country’s security.

After their prepared remarks, Klagsbrun and Bar-Zohar took questions from the audience. Harvey Shapiro, president of the Raymond & Gertrude R. Saltzman Foundation, served as moderator.

One person asked Bar-Zohar if Israel had considered using a nuclear weapon during the Yom Kippur War. Bar-Zohar, who said that his book was cleared with Israeli military censors, noted that Israel completed building its first nuclear weapon in 1967, prior to the Six Day War. He said that there was a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb in the Sinai Dessert as a demonstration to the Egyptians, but the demonstration never occurred. This was also considered in 1973 after Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur. Bar-Zohar said that Israel would only consider using a nuclear weapon if it feared it would be annihilated.

In a discussion of Israeli leadership during the Q&A, Bar-Zohar and Klagsbrun sparred over Golda Meir’s legacy, particularly during the Yom Kippur War. Bar-Zohar said that Meir certainly did a lot of good, but also that her reputation is much higher in the United States than in Israel. He and Klagsbrun also spoke of the tension that existed between Meir and Peres.

Bar-Zohar said that although he is a member of the Labor Party, he does not see a current replacement for Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said that Netanyahu has fostered good relations with moderate Arab countries, which are worried about Iran and its nuclear weapons, as well as African nations. Bar-Zohar added that Israel is still fighting for its existence and cannot afford to have a bad Prime Minister. Klagsbrun added that she is optimistic that Israel will continue to have great leaders.

Following the program, Klagsbrun and Bar-Zohar signed copies of their books. 

Return to top