Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin

An historic but unlikely friendship.

(2020) Documentary (Abramorama) Menachem Begin, Daniel Gordis, Ron Dormer, Arye Naor, Herzl Makov, Hart N. Hasten, Bruria Ben Senior, Lahav Harkov, Anita Shapira, Ghaith Al-Omari, Yoske Nachmios, Dan Meridor, Lee Phung, Yossi Klein Halevi, Joseph Lieberman, Yechiel Kadishai, Yona Klinovitski, Meir Y. Soloweichik, Stuart Eizenstat, Daniel Limor, Michael Oren, Caroline Glick. Directed by Jonathan Gruber

 

Menachem Begin, the sixth prime minister of Israel, remains a controversial figure. For some, he is beloved, the “best Prime Minister Israel ever had” as a man on the street puts it. Others see him as the architect for the misery that continues for the Palestinian people. One thing is certain; he was a complicated man who went his own way.

Gruber, who previously directed a doc feature on Yoni Netanyahu, brother to recently former Prime Minister Benjamin and leader of the raid on Entebbe Airport, takes a look at Begin, from his days as a Zionist in present-day Belarus (which was then a part of the Soviet Union) through his days as the leader of Irgun, labeled a terrorist group by the British and who hastened the British withdrawal from Palestine by bombing the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where the British military was headquartered, and founded Likud, the right-wing party which was the opposition party to the Labor party which ran Israel for the first thirty years of its existence.

We see his turbulent years as Prime Minister, including his desire to make Israel a haven for all Jews, regardless of nationality. He did welcome the African Jews when previously they were discriminated against, and even allowed the Vietnamese boat people safe harbor when no other Western nation would accept them. He is still revered in the small Vietnamese colony that thrives in Israel. We also see his lifelong devotion to his wife Aliza whose death in 1982 would throw him into a deep depression, directly leading to his resignation from his post a year later. Oddly, we don’t hear from any of his three children who are still alive today. Of course, though, his signature achievement was the peace treaty with Egypt that he negotiated with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978, which was mediated by American President Jimmy Carter.

I wouldn’t quite label the documentary as hagiographic; Gruber does interview Jordan-born scholar Ghaith al-Omari regarding Begin’s reputation with the Palestinians. There is also coverage of his disastrous war on Lebanon which led to the massacre at Sabra and Shantila, two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon which were attacked by a right-wing Lebanese Christian militia while Israel troops did nothing to prevent it, an incident which would stain Begin’s legacy and bring calls for his resignation at home. He also is largely responsible for the settlement policy that is now at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continues to be the root of violence in that part of the world.

In Gruber’s favor though is the density of information here and it is delivered at a pretty fast pace. We do get a good sense of Israel’s early years, of Begin’s feud with original prime minister David Ben-Gurion, and of how tenuous their position was in the beginning. Begin, who survived the Holocaust largely because he had been imprisoned by the Soviets for his Zionist beliefs, was helpless as much of his family died in concentration camps. He grew to believe that Jews had no allies and needed to learn to handle their own defense, which would require a Jewish homeland, a country of their own. Although Begin was initially often in conflict with the Israeli government, he is certainly a reason that there is one now.

REASONS TO SEE: Quick-paced and informative.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the talking heads are a little dry.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images of concentration camps and Middle East violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Begin, along with Anwar Sadat, received the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gaza
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Chasing Comets

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