by Noah Nissani (1)
Copyright 1996 -- Authorized free distribution of non-modified copies for non-commercial purposes.
Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky was undoubtedly the most outstanding liberal Zionist leader. He was born to a Jewish traditionalist middle-class family, in Odessa on October 18, 1880 and died on August 4, 1940 in New York. He received his basic education in Russia and moved to Rome in 1898 to study jurisprudence. Like the majority of intellectual Jewish youth at the time, Jabotinsky was captivated by the dream of a more just Marxist society (2). However, from the beginning of this Socialist phase of his life, Jabotinsky's political intuition alerted him to the danger inherent in the prominent role of Jews in the worldwide war of classes declared by Marxism against the bourgeoisie and religion. Thus in his first Zionist speech pronounced in Bern in 1898, there was already what later became the leitmotif of his Zionist thought and action -- the conviction of imminent fatal danger to the European Jewish communities.
Jabotinsky participated in the elaboration of the Helsingfors (Helsinki) Plan adopted by the Russian Zionist Congress in 1906, which demanded autonomy for Jews and the other Russian ethnic minorities. He remained loyal to this Liberal approach when established scores of years later with respect to the Arab citizens of the future Jewish State: " Each one of the ethnic communities will be recognized as autonomous and equal in the eyes of the law." (3)
When Turkey entered the First War World on the side of the Central Powers, Jabotinsky realized that a unique historic opportunity was opened for the Jews to demand their historical national rights over Palestine. He was convinced that only by fighting on the side of the allies under their own flag could the Jews attain these rights. Consequently, Jabotinsky organized, together with Joseph Trumpeldor and Pinjas Rutenberg, the Jewish Legion that fought on the side of the Allies and participated in the conquest of Palestine from the Turks. He enlisted in it, and was decorated for his feats on the battlefield. At the end of the war, the International Conference of San Remo (1919), conferred the administration of Palestine, over both banks of the Jordan river, upon Britain, given it a mandate to establish the Jewish National Home. This decision, later ratified by the League of Nations (1922), became the international legal basis for the Zionist enterprise.
Only two months after the San Remo Conference decision was ratified by the League of Nations, Britain separated the Eastern bank of the Jordan, spanning nearly four-fifths of the mandate area, where it established the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. To make things more difficult, nearly three fourth of the Arab population was concentrated in Cisjordan, the remaining fifth of the mandate. As a result, Jewish immigration, now restricted to the most crowded area of the mandate, raised violent Arab opposition, and was drastically limited by Britain. This happened just after the Russian revolution, when anti-Semitism was increasing in Europe, and when nations all over the world were closing their doors to Jewish immigrants.
Jabotinsky opposed the policy adopted by the Zionist Organization, which was based on the Balfour Declaration. This latter expressed the commitment of the British government to the establishment of a national Jewish home in Palestine, in a letter from British foreign secretary to the chairman of the London Jewish community. This letter, from a member of the British government to a British citizen, was clearly an internal British affair that lacked international force. Furthermore, it was weakened by similar British promises granted to the Arabs (4).
Jabotinsky, on the contrary, advocated an international Zionist policy based on the legal rights conferred by the San Remo Conference. In Jabotinsky's opinion, fulfillment of Britain's obligations stipulated in the mandate, and opening the doors of Palestine to massive Jewish immigration were issues of international interest for liberal and anti-Semitic governments alike. Both realized the necessity for Jews to have a home. Since, the liberal governments were conscience-ridden for closing their doors to the persecuted Jews, and the anti-Semitic governments were anxious to rid their countries of their undesired Jewish citizens. Therefore, Zionist policy should focus on mobilizing international pressure against separation of Transjordan from the area designated for the establishment of the national Jewish home, and restriction imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine.
According to this approach, Jabotinsky negotiated with the most notorious anti-Semitic governments, in order to facilitate the transfer of the Jews from Europe to Israel. In 1921 he negotiated with the exiled govern of Ukraine, which granted him permission to organize Jewish self-defense against pogroms. In 1934-35 he resumed the contact with the National-Socialist German government previously held by Haim Arlozorov, chairman of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, who was assassinated in June 1933 after returning to Israel from Germany. The German government was disposed to allow and give political support to the transfer of German Jews to Palestine, whereas Weizmann (5) and other Zionist leaders opposed such non-selective and massive immigration. In a desperate and unfruitful effort to save European Jewry from the imminent Holocaust, Jabotinsky founded the New Zionist Organization in 1935. In 1937-38 he negotiated with the Polish authorities, who were disposed to give financial, political and logistic support for the Jabotinsky's plan to evacuate the Polish Jews to Israel.
In 1920 Jabotinsky organized the Jewish self-defense in Jerusalem and founded the Haganah, which constituted the basis of the Israeli Army in 1948. As a result he was sentenced by the British to 15 years of forced labor. However, worldwide public protest brought about his release after only three months in prison. In 1925, Jabotinsky founded the Union of Revisionist Zionists (URZ), antecedent of the Likud (Union) Party which now heads the Israeli government. The URZ opposed the policy of selected immigration (hachshara) oriented toward the creation of a Marxist society (4), and demanded the mass evacuation of the Eastern-European Jewry. In 1935, he founded the New Zionist Organization in a desperate effort to save European Jewry from the imminent holocaust.
(1) In writing this biography the author has made use of the Hebrew Encyclopedia, and Prof. Joseph Nedava's books Jabotinsky in Generation's Foresight, Shalah publishers, Tel Aviv (1949), and The Man and his Doctrine, published by the Ministry of Defense, Tel Aviv (1980). Return
(2) Jabotinsky's Marxist period was of brief duration. Yet in 1901, only being 21 years old, exposed in Roma his classical liberal philosophy:
"For me, and for all freedom lovers, neither an ant's nest nor a beehive can be model for a human society. A collectivist regimen, which enslaves the individual's personality, is not preferable to a feudal or autocratic regimen. 'The equality and the justice' of such a regimen will be based on organized production, distribution, and consumption -- coordinated by the govern: If somebody will not adapt to this system, the heavy hand of the govern will fall on him, or he will be hanged on a tree -- in the name of the equality and the justice. No: One thousand times Bakunin was right when he said to Marx that if workers would succeed setting up the new regimen that Marx advocated, it will be not less tyrannical than its precursor. But, real equality and individualism are allied. All individuals are equal: If somebody would fall at the side of the way in the march to progress, society must help him to stand up again."
In presence of the violent protests of his enraged public, which was Marxist in its majority, Jabotinsky turned to his opponents:
"I honor Bakunin and Kropotkin -- whom, certainly, you never read -- but I am not anarchist: I recognize the need of a government. However, the difference between I and you is that this government is a sort of Supreme Court standing over parties, groups, and individuals, but it does not intervene in the economic, public, and private lives of citizens while they do not affect the freedom of others -- but for you the government is the policeman's club. And this club only differs from other clubs in the sense that you will be who will wave it. For you, the aim justifies the means, and hence everything is permissible. For you the war of classes is a sanctified idea, even if it will lead to bloodshed. Also Moloch's priests believed that God needs blood, which will never be enough. You believe that tears are the best way to truth and justice. You exalt the worker. just as in the past men exalted the feudalism. Without real cause you attribute him all human positive characteristic, and to those who are not workers -- all bad quality. For me workers are as any other man, and the day they be the rulers will augur society and humanity regression: because the creative personality will be humiliated and trampled over." (Shmuel Katz, Jabo - a biography, pg. 33, Dvir Publishing House, Tel Aviv 1993 - Translated from Hebrew by N.N.) Return
(3) The War and the Jew New York 1942. Translated by the author from the Hebrew version in Prof. Joseph Nedava's book The Man and his Doctrine (See also "We and the Arabs - The Iron Wall", Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1925) Return
(4) The San Remo versus Balfour question has relevance for the yet unresolved issue, whether or not there was an alternative Zionist policy which could have prevented or diminished the Holocaust. This explains why the San Remo International Conference has been carefully eliminated from the Israeli collective memory, whereas Balfour's declaration has been emphasized. Return
(5) The following quotation of a lecture delivered by Haim Weizmann in 1935, may elucidate the philosophy underlying the policy of selected immigration: "I am afraid that we replace today the concept of rescue of jews with that of redemption...When I consider if these men [German refugees] can fit in the style of life we are creating here...I should say sincerely: No...Zionism is eternal life, whereas the rescue of thousands of Jews is not for me but temporary lives" Translated by the author from Daniel Doron's article, Haaretz 4.10.91. Return