Jewish History Blog

A Passover Message from an Unexpected Source: Ben Gurion’s Speech at the Peel Commission

Ben Gurion as a volunteer in the Jewish Legion 1918


It is 3922 years since the Exodus from Egypt. So many different eras, empires, civilizations and technological and political revolutions have occurred over those thirty-nine centuries that it is difficult to imagine that a small and stubbornly different people could have survived it all, much less continue to prosper and influence the world in so many ways. 

Jewish history is not only facts and dates, scholarship and academic disciplines. It is, more importantly, inspiration and faith, guidance and hope, vision and destiny. For all practical purposes, Jewish history begins with Passover, with the Exodus from Egypt. It is ironic that there are those in the Jewish world who, for whatever unfathomable reasons, have attempted to deny the entire narrative of the Exodus from Egypt. 

All of Jewish history and Jewish survival itself puts the lie to such attempts and theories. Judaism is based upon the simple notion that my grandfather was not a liar. Yes, there are deniers of the Exodus, but we are witness to the fact that many truths, such as the Holocaust, can spawn a denial industry. Denial will not change the truth. Knowing the Jewish story is itself a great high point of our pre-Passover preparations.I’ve often said I’d like to have the old-time secularists back. David Ben Gurion was an ardent secularist, but there were certain basics he never denied. Here is an excerpt from the speech he made in front of the Peel Commission in 1936. 

Lord Peel's arrival at the Peel Commission, 1936


For background, the Peel Commission occurred during the British Mandate over Palestine. After a series of Arab attacks against the Jews, the British attempted to extricate themselves from this nutcracker of Arab violence and Jewish pressure by establishing a commission to study the problem, appointing Lord Peel as its chairman. Under the shadow of Hitler’s rise in Germany, England floated a trial balloon in the form of a partition plan. The proposed Jewish section would have consisted of tiny, barely visible slivers and could never become a viable national entity. But while the Jews were displeased by the Peel Commission Report, the Arabs were even more outraged and violence again spread throughout the country. Ben Gurion’s speech was given in the midst of the commission, well before its conclusions: 

“300 years ago, there came to the New World a boat, and its name was the Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the history of England and in the history of America. But I would like to ask any Englishman sitting here on the commission, what day did the Mayflower leave port? What date was it? I’d like to ask the Americans: do they know what date the Mayflower left port in England? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat on the boat? 

“More than 3300 years ago, long before the Mayflower, our people left Egypt, and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows what day they left. And he knows what food they ate. And we still eat that food every anniversary. And we know who our leader was. And we sit down and tell the story to our children and grandchildren in order to guarantee that it will never be forgotten. And we say our two slogans: ‘Now we may be enslaved, but next year, we’ll be a free people.’ 

“. . . Now we are behind the Soviet Union and their prison. Now, we’re in Germany where Hitler is destroying us. Now we’re scattered throughout the world, but next year, we’ll be in Jerusalem. There’ll come a day that we’ll come home to Zion, to the Land of Israel. That is the nature of the Jewish people.”[1] 

That was Ben Gurion. He understood Passover. He got it. The only thing is, the task of the Passover seder is to try and pass down those values to the next generation. Tragically, Ben Gurion’s own descendants had no seder to make sure they got it. 

[1] Translation mine from Ben Gurion’s autobiography. 

For more on the birth of the state of Israel, please see our film “Faith and Fate VI: The Miracle of Israel, 1945-1948.”

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Posted in:
Israel/ Zionism, Modern Jewish History, Sabbath/ Holidays
Rabbi Berel Wein

2 Responses to “A Passover Message from an Unexpected Source: Ben Gurion’s Speech at the Peel Commission”

  1. Rivka says:

    Wow, what an amazing quote.
    What a shame Israel’s founders didn’t consider Judaism as important as a Jewish homeland.

  2. Jay Berman says:

    I just got this “speech” in an email saying that B-G made this reply to Dulles on his visit to the US in 1956. Any truth to that?