Culture, Global, Israel, Politics

Literary roundup: Jabotinsky

Ze’ev Jabotinsky
In the Times Online, appears a lengthy review by Geoffrey Wheatcroft of no fewer than 6 books on Israeli and her history: Jacqueline Rose’s THE LAST RESISTANCE, Colin Shindler’s THE TRIUMPH OF MILITARY ZIONISM: Nationalism and the origins of the Israeli Right, David Goldberg’s THE DIVIDED SELF: Israel and the Jewish psyche today, Victoria Clark’s ALLIES FOR ARMAGEDDON:The rise of Christian Zionism, Yakov M. Rabkin’s A THREAT FROM WITHIN: A century of Jewish opposition to Zionism, and Jimmy Carter’s PALESTINE: Peace not apartheid
The review is long and rangy, starting and ending with a focus on the complicated and largely unknown major Israeli historical figure Jabotinsky. As he says in the review,

But the conflict in the Holy Land is still more dissonant in this regard. It is the single most bitterly contentious communal struggle on earth today (something which itself casts an ironical light on the aspiration of the first Zionists to “answer the Jewish question” by “normalizing” the Jews and removing them from the pages of history); it must receive more media coverage than India, which has a population a hundred times greater; it inflames acute passions. And yet it sometimes seems that the more strongly people feel, the less they actually know about the story of Zionism. Maybe it should be a requirement for anyone who wishes to hold forth on the subject to write first a few lines each on Ahad Ha’am, Max Nordau, George Antonius – or Vladimir Jabotinsky.
If not many Europeans or Americans know who “Jabo” was, Israelis certainly do. He remains the most charismatic, fascinating and controversial figure in the history of Zionism, and in the state to whose creation he devoted his life, but which he never saw. Born in 1880 in Odessa, he was converted to the Zionist cause as a young man by tsarist persecution, became a tireless publicist and organizer, and helped to create the Jewish Legion which fought with the British against Turkey during the First World War. In the 1920s he broke away to found the uniformed youth group Betar, and then the militantly nationalistic right-wing brand of Zionism he called Revisionism, in opposition to Chaim Weizmann and the general Zionists, and to David Ben Gurion and the Labour Zionists of the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Palestine.
From Betar would grow the Irgun Zvei Leumi, which waged an armed campaign against the British and the Arabs – in British and Arab eyes, a terrorist campaign – in the ten years before Israel was born. When Jabotinsky died in American exile in 1940, he had not seen the murderous horror that engulfed the European Jews, the creation of the Jewish state, or the legacy of his own movement. The Irgun evolved into the right-wing Herut party, which was not merely excluded from office but veritably anathematized in Israel for the first quarter-century the state existed after 1948, but which, now in the guise of Likud, took power at last in 1977 under the old Irgun leader Menachem Begin – and which descends to the present administration.

His reviews cover books that are not only historical, but which also, importantly link that history and Israel’s roots in Jabotinsky’s vision, to the domination of today’s Israeli politics by the heirs of Jabotinsky -literal heirs.
“Almost unremarked in the West, Israel today has the purest Jabotinskian government yet seen.”
Generously, he points out the complexities of Jabotinsky’s character, acknowledginfg his increible talents as a writer: “From Theodor Herzl – whose gifts as a writer were grudgingly acknowledged by Karl Kraus in Eine Krone für Zion, his 1898 anti-Zionist philippic, and who amplified his political tract Der Judenstaat in a didactic novel, Altneuland – Zionism was always a very literary movement. It has produced no greater writer than Jabotinsky, whose translations as well as his own work helped to create modern Hebrew literature,” and seems to consider Jabotinsky more generous and truthful toward the Arabs than many of those who followed. Wheatcroft certainly sees Jabotinsky as more honest with himself. He also, with a few brief quotes shows how peculiar are the modern claims that Israel’s origins were not colonialist.

…the only real difference between Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion may have been that the former expressed himself in public with greater bluntness. The record confirms that. Jabotinsky insisted that there could be no foreseeable compromise with the Palestinian Arabs: “The native population, civilised or uncivilised, have always stubbornly resisted the colonists, and it made no difference whether the colonists behave decently or not”.
One of the odder claims made today by some Zionists, more likely American than Israeli, is that Zionism was an “anti-colonial” movement. Jabotinsky never pretended anything of the kind, as he made clear with his gift for vivid phrase-making, “The Iron Wall” being one case in point. When a colleague in the Legion had wondered whether, as Jews, they should be fighting the Muslims, their “uncle Ishmael”, Jabotinsky briskly replied that “Ishmael is not an uncle. We belong, thank God, to Europe and for two thousand years have helped to create the culture of the West”. And he rubbed it in harder still with the words, “The Jews came to the land of Israel to push the moral frontiers of Europe to the Euphrates”.
Indeed, as Jacqueline Rose is astute enough to notice and generous enough to acknowledge, Jabotinsky was in some ways less racist than other Zionists, in his insistence that “the entire country is full of Arab memories” and that the Palestinians naturally believed that it was their land too. We don’t know what he would have said and done in the circumstances of 1948, but ten years earlier he had explicitly repudiated the very idea of transfer: “It must be hateful for any Jew to think that the rebirth of a Jewish state should ever be linked with such an odious suggestion as the removal of non-Jewish citizens”.
The review is worth reading, and in particular, it is interesting to see him simultaneously dismiss as “pious, plodding and platitudinous, its awestruck accounts of meetings with the mighty padded out with what-I-did-in-my-holidays jottings” Carter’s book, and also see it as a benchmark of those who criticized it in such shrill tones, similar to that heard over Walt and Mearsheimer’s work. He begins with Jabotinsky and ends with him: the figure whose politics and passion runs through Israeli life today in a largely unseen way.
xp kol ra’ash gadol

4 thoughts on “Literary roundup: Jabotinsky

  1. Jabo warned Polish Jews in the 1930’s to leave
    or perish.He was then criticised for encouraging

  2. Geoffrey Wheatcroft clearly has little sympathy for Israel, so his “review” makes sense. Your ignorant blog post, on the other hand, I will mercifully attribute to a mere unfamiliarity with the subject at hand.
    with a few brief quotes shows how peculiar are the modern claims that Israel’s origins were not colonialist
    huh. well maybe “a few brief quotes” are sufficient for your understanding of what is surely among the most important revolutionary movements of our time, but forgive others for wanting to dig a little deeper.
    we can start with the fact that the Revisionists were always, and remain, a minority in Israel, pre- and post-statehood. the 1977 Likud victory had much clearer origins in ethnic strife and failed Labor leadership than it did in any of Jabotinsky’s writings (you may remember the Yom Kippur war. Or not). remember when the Mapai leadership of the Yishuv — the very founders of the State of Israel — went so far as to sink the Altalena? pretty good indicator of the political leanings of the leadership at the time.
    so even if you begin with the dubious premise that the Revisionists themselves were “colonialist,” to characterize “Israel’s very origins” as such is a stretch.
    and yet even the Revisionist-colonialist link is a distortion. So Jabotisnky himself referred to the halutzim as “colonialists.” Great. Is that supposed to prove anything? Was he even speaking English when he said this? Whatever. It hardly matters.
    The point is that a truly colonial enterprise starts with an empire (most Zionist pioneers were stateless). It sends colonists to settle an area and extract its resources for the financial gain of the sponsoring country (Zionists had no host country and ALL took a pay cut to move to Israel). It seeks to exploit the local workforce (the very OPPOSITE of the Zionist ethos of Jewish labor). It perpetuates a dominant economic paradigm (read Hess, Ahad Ha’Am, Nordau, etc. if you want to understand how radically the Zionists sought to overturn capitalist society and the Jews’ place in it). It is expansionist (the longer the Zionists were there, the smaller their desired map became). Etc.
    Jabotinsky rightly viewed himself as a foreigner in Israel. But his entire belief system was nonetheless rooted in Jewish nationhood and history. And while he had been estranged from the land of Israel for 2000 years, he never doubted the Jewish peoples’ ancestral rights there. You think the same can be said of Dutch colonists in South Africa, German colonists in Namibia, French colonists in Algeria, Spanish colonists in Latin America….? The very parallel is absurd. Not to mention lazy.
    Maybe you should read some books rather than relying on book reviews.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.