July 17, 1906
Yitzchak Ben-Aharon, a pioneer of the kibbutz movement, is born Yitzhak Nussboim in Bukovina, Romania, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He joins several Zionist organizations as a teenager, then walks and rides a donkey to travel to Palestine in 1928. He helps found Kibbutz Givat Haim between Haifa and Tel Aviv and lives there until his death in 2006 at age 99.
Calling himself a radical socialist, he is active in the labor movement of the Yishuv in the 1930s. He serves as the secretary of the Tel Aviv Workers’ Council from 1932 to 1938, then two years as secretary of Mapai, the dominant political party in Israel’s first 30 years. He joins the British army’s Jewish Brigade in 1940 and reaches the rank of major, but he spends the last four years of World War II in a German prisoner of war camp after being captured in Greece in 1941. After the war, he is one of the Zionist leaders arrested in the British military roundup known as Black Sabbath.
He is elected to the first five Knessets, first with Mapam, then with Ahdut HaAvodah-Poalei Zion. He serves as the transportation minister from 1959 to 1962, but he resigns from the government and the Knesset in 1962 to protest economic policies he considers anti-labor. He returns to the Knesset for two more terms from 1969 to 1977 as a member of the Alignment, a Labor Party predecessor. He leads the Histadrut labor federation as secretary-general from 1969 to 1973 and allows Arabs to join for the first time. He also criticizes Prime Minister Golda Meir, his party leader, for being too cozy with capitalists.
Ben-Aharon is an advocate of coexistence with Arabs. He says that the Land of Israel has room for Arabs and that Jerusalem should be shared with Muslims and Christians. He calls for unilateral withdrawal from much of the territory captured in the June 1967 war. Despite the controversy arising from such political positions, he is awarded the Israel Prize in 1995.