‘Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin’ Review

In the United States, we now fully understand what it means to have a controversial leader; however, a four-year presidential term pales in comparison to a lifetime commitment to a cause, which describes Menachem Begin’s devotion to the Jewish people. Documentarian Jonathan Gruber, in Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin, paints a comprehensive portrait of a born leader – one who is often misunderstood – and his place in history. With the recent rise in violence between Hamas and Israel, this history lesson is especially timely.

The roots of Zionism (a Jewish state) date back more than a century, and it was that cause that resulted in Begin being imprisoned and tortured in a Soviet gulag in Siberia during WWII. During the war, Begin’s father was in a group of Jews executed by the Nazis, while his mother and brother were also victims of the Holocaust. This is described as a driving force for Begin during the rest of his life.

Gruber includes many excellent and in-depth interviews, including the Israel ambassador, Begin’s biographer, one of Begin’s friends, a historian, and Begin’s personal secretary. The insights are fascinating and personal. Also included are some amazing videos and photographs…each offering yet more historical perspective into Begin’s life. We learn Begin spent 29 years with the opposition (yes, he was a rebel) before being elected prime minister in 1977. Americans likely best remember Begin for his Camp David peace accord with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat (who was assassinated for it in 1981), arranged by President Jimmy Carter. It was further proof of Begin’s preference for peaceful settlements, though he used military force when necessary. “The Begin Doctrine” is defined simply as “preemptive action.”

Eliza, Begin’s beloved and trusted wife, died in 1982 and it had a devastating impact on him. He would resign as prime minister in 1983 and live out his life mostly in seclusion before passing in 1992. Gruber’s documentary is well crafted and required viewing for anyone who wants to better understand one of the world’s iconic leaders, as well as a part of the world that often confuses many of us.