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Special Interview: Begin Resigned Because He Broke Under Pressure, Biographer Claims

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Why did Menachem Begin decide suddenly, on September 14, 1983, to quit as Israel’s Prime Minister and retreat into self-imposed exile in his Jerusalem apartment? Why does he still keep silent in the aftermath of the controversial Lebanon war, which shook and divided Israeli society as no other war did?

Amos Perlmutter, author of the just published “The Life and Times of Menachem Begin,” (Doubleday $21.95) contends that contrary to Begin’s public image, he is “a weak man” who “breaks down under pressure.”

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the 55-year-old Israeli-born professor of political science at American University in Washington said that Begin simply caved in under the pressures of Israeli involvement in Lebanon and the disaster of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

“In addition to these pressures Begin is manic-depressive and has been going into periods of deep depression,” Perlmutter asserted.

“Begin keeps silent because he believes that he was betrayed by his party (Herut) and his political friends,” Perlmutter said. “The 11 Herut members of the Knesset voted against the Camp David accords.

In addition, Begin did not receive the support he needed from his party on the issue of the war in Lebanon. And most important, Begin believed that his friends would come out against Ariel Sharon (the Israeli Defense Minister who directed the Lebanon war). But none of them did. So Begin caved in. He is not a strong man. He is a stubborn man, but a man without stamina.”

WIFE’S DEATH WASN’T CAUSE

Contrary to reports that Begin went into seclusion because of the death of his beloved wife Aliza in the fall of 1982, Perlmutter said: “I do not think that the death of his wife influenced in any way his decision to step down. In my opinion Begin lives now as a refugee in his own land. No, I don’t think he will ever attempt to return to political life,” Perlmutter said.

According to Perlmutter he met with Begin often, the last time in Begin’s Jerusalem flat a month before he stepped down.

“At the beginning, Begin and his personal secretary of many years, Yehiel Kadishai, helped me in gathering materials for the book. Later, however, when they realized that I was writing the story of Begin’s life the way I see and understand it, they turned cold to me.”

Perlmutter claimed that in his book he brings to light for the first time the true nature of Begin’s relationship with Zeev Jabotinsky, the leader of Revisionist Zionism.

“Begin never gained the recognition that he so longed for from his idol, Jabotinsky, incurring his wrath at the last Betar conference in 1938 in Warsaw, when, even while supporting his mentor, he straddled the ideological fence. Begin opted for military Zionism, the kind that was openly preached by the Sternists, who called for a war against the British Empire and who sought an alliance with Nazi Germany against Britain.” Perlmutter said. “Begin never had, as he claims, personal relationships with Jabotinsky and he was not his disciple.”

Asked how Begin is going to be remembered in history, Perlmutter said that no doubt it will be for the peace treaty with Egypt and the political revolt that shook Israel when Begin rose to power in 1977.

“But in many ways his most remarkable achievements may have been his political survival and that of the Herut Party that he created and the legacy and ideology of Jabotinsky and Betar which he kept alive,” he said.

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