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There are a lot information about Menachem Begin on Wikipedia page but when I change the language of same page of Wikipedia into Persian there is a line that has not been mentioned in English version. Here is its English translation:

This group planted a bomb in the King David Hotel in 1947, which killed 91 people. He began one of his speeches in New York with the words, "I am a former terrorist!"

And it cited the Persian translation of the book Interview with History by Oriana Fallachi. But according to Wikipedia, there is no name of Menachem Begin in the list of Oriana Fallaci's interviews. I didn't even find anything in the archived book by searching for "terrorist".

Did Menachem Begin say "I am a former terrorist"?

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    It is a matter of historical fact that Begin was a terrorist in the period before the UK relinquished their mandate over Palestine. Whether he claimed this in public statements is interesting, though possibly less significant. Many leaders–some with positive historic legacies–have been terrorists and admitted it. My favourite being that the first Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday agreement admitted he used to be an IRA commander.
    – matt_black
    Jan 8 at 14:33
  • @matt_black if you mean Martin McGuinness it's a matter of historical record that he was an IRA commander, and was jailed for a terrorism offence. By 'favourite' do you mean favourite terrorist elected to a parliament, or your favourite example of such? Jan 9 at 0:19
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    @WeatherVane it's my favourite example of a former terrorist whose political career ended with a generally positive legacy.
    – matt_black
    Jan 9 at 10:00
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    @matt_black Jean Moulin or Nelson Mandela had a similar fate.
    – Evargalo
    Jan 11 at 7:35
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    For historians "terrorism" is a mode of action, not a moral judgement. It is a fact that Mandela acted as a terrorist in the 60s and the 80s (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UMkhonto_we_Sizwe#Domestic_campaign), independantly of whichever list published by any country, and independantly of the fact that the regime he was combatting was racist and criminal.
    – Evargalo
    Jan 11 at 10:32

2 Answers 2

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After @Laurel's answer I googled for "Oriana Fallacci interview with Ariel Sharon" and just found out that there is a new edition of Oriana Fallacci's book featuring Ariel Sharon and some other world powers. The following text is the part of the interview that the question is about:

Oriana Fallaci: The fact is that you are using that word "terrorist" as an insult, and rightly so. But what were you when you were fighting the Arabs and the English to found Israel? Irgun, the Stern Group, Haganah—weren’t they all terrorist organizations? When Begin killed seventy-nine people in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, wasn’t that a terrorist act? He admits as much. Some time ago in New York, during a lunch in his honor, he began his speech with the phrase: "I am an ex-terrorist."

Ariel Sharon: Mr. Begin’s organization did not attack civilians. And Mr. Begin was honorable in telling his men not to hit civilians. The bomb at the King David Hotel was directed at the English military, and the guilt for that episode falls squarely on the shoulders of the English High Commissioner, who had been warned a half hour beforehand but who escaped, rather than evacuating the hotel. We were not terrorists; we were freedom fighters. We were fighting the English occupation.

References:

  1. L’intervista di Oriana Fallaci ad Ariel Sharon a Tel Aviv, del settembre 1982 (In Italian)
  2. Interviews With History and Power By Oriana Fallaci (2016)
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  • This gives a lot of helpful details. From the wording I would assume this happened in 1977–1981 and the fact that it's "a lunch in his honor" cuts out a bunch of options (like any interviews or public speeches). However, I'm still not sure what visit this was in order to try and find some context (or the text of the speech).
    – Laurel
    Jan 12 at 15:10
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    From the quotes it seems that that Fallaci claims that Begin said this, and Sharon then counters that Begin would never say this as he didn't see himself or his organization as terrorists. This is also how he talked about himself and the Jewish resistance. For example, from a 1981 speech: "I came from the fighting resistance. I fear no one." (youtube.com/watch?v=agAPkTdZbas)
    – SIMEL
    Jan 12 at 20:04
  • @Laurel I'm curious how you guessed the date of writing from the wording?
    – C.F.G
    Jan 13 at 4:50
  • @C.F.G He became PM in 1977 and if you're saying something happened "some time ago" I'd assume you mean at least a year ago. But any of the details she remembers could be wrong and so could the date range I guessed.
    – Laurel
    Jan 13 at 6:17
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Partial answer: I don't know, and neither do the Wikipedia editors

Some additional context is given by Dankula on the Wikipedia talk page (Google Translated with minor copyedits and added notes):

Apparently, there was a typo. Mr. Begin did not tell Oriana Fallaci "I am a former terrorist" either in jest or metaphor. Instead, he started a non-humorous speech in America in front of hundreds of people (including Reagan) with this sentence. "I am a former terrorist". Unfortunately, I do not have access to the original speech (currently) and I trusted Ms. Fallaci and quoted her interview with [former Israel PM Ariel] Sharon. In this interview, both people (Ms. Fallaci and Mr. Sharon) agree that this sentence was said, and even Mr. Sharon, like my good friend [fellow Wikipedia commenter] Sinbad, did not try to make it look like a metaphor or a joke. Rather, it justifies that the target of the King David Hotel bomb [1946] and other Haganah, Irgun, and Stern terrorist bombings were British soldiers, and it remains silent on Fallaci's question about the civilians killed. Therefore, even Mr. Sharon does not question the principle of the case and does not interpret it as a joke or a metaphor. The original speech was delivered in the presence of President Reagan [elected 1980] and during Begin's imposed trip to America shortly before the bombing and attack on Beirut [in 1983?], which probably Sinbad Garami can achieve better than us. I really recommend reading Mr. Sharon's 1982 interview

Sharon's 1982 interview is quoted in part on The Free Library and FPIF. The exact citation is "The Washington Post, August 29, 1982, front page, pp. 18, 19)". Unfortunately, here I hit a wall as I cannot access (or even find) that article. This probably couldn't have included all the information either, since it was a 10-hour interview, so maybe it's published elsewhere too (and in a language that's more decipherable than Persian).

As for the speech itself, Begin visited the US about a dozen times while PM (and before the interview). Begin and Reagan met on several occasions, such as September 9, 1981, a day later and June 21, 1982, but I don't think these were in New York nor is there anything else that even looks close to the line in question. Begin did give at least one speech in NY in 1978 (May 4th?), though I can't find the full text of that and it's not clear if not-yet-President Reagan was there. He did meet with Carter later in 1978 in NYC, but again I have no real details. Thus the second wall that I've hit.

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  • I don't even understand the quote above "I am an ex-terrorist" he did NOT say, he said "I am a former terrorist". What is the difference? Jan 17 at 20:22
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    @EvanCarroll It looks like Google Translate decided to translate the same text two different ways. It makes more sense after fixing that.
    – Laurel
    Jan 17 at 21:10
  • Still a remarkably awkward translation. Apparently, there was a typo. Mr. Begin did not tell Oriana Fallaci "I am a former terrorist" either in jest or metaphor. Instead, he started a non-humorous speech in America in front of hundreds of people (including Reagan) with this sentence. "I am a former terrorist". vs "Mr Begin said "I am a former terrorist" and it was neither in jest, nor a metaphor but he didn't say this to Oriana Fallaci: it was said in front of hundreds of people (including Reagan) in America". Jan 17 at 23:35
  • The negation of having said X to Y when having said X to Z is awkward when done discretely. But I guess it's a Google thing. Jan 17 at 23:36

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