Almost seventy years after his death, the stormy petrel of Zionism and one of the most flamboyant personalities in modern Jewish history remains a controversial figure on which Jewish historians take up remarkably opposing positions. His followers worshipped him and regarded him as a prophet commanded by God to go forth and lead his people, but many in the Zionist movement saw Jabotinsky as a wild man for almost all his political life. But few would doubt that he was an extraordinary and charismatic individual with views on how to win a Jewish National Home that differed substantially from those of most other leading Jewish figures of his time. He was a man who believed direct action was the way to obtain the goals that Zionism set for itself. Above all else, Jabotinsky had strong ideas on how to defend the yishuv from Arab attacks.
Vladimir (Zeâ€™ev) Jabotinsky was born in 1880 in Odessa to a middle-class secular family. The family language was Russian and there was little Jewish commitment in young Jabotinskyâ€™s life. Odessa, with a third of its population Jewish, then was a cosmopolitan city in which many of the great Jewish intellectuals lived or had lived. Jabotinsky had literary ambitions, and before he was eighteen years of age, he had made his first attempt at journalism in a local newspaper, and he also began to write short stories and to translate English and French poetry into Russian. When he was eighteen, he went to Berne in Switzerland to study law, but he had already decided to become a journalist. He chose Berne because Odesskiya Novotsi, an influential liberal newspaper, had no presence there, and he became its correspondent. Later, he moved to Rome on its behalf and still continued his law studies. He returned home in 1901 and, like Theodor Herzl in Vienna, wrote feuilletons, short essays or stories or criticisms for Odesskiya Novotsi. He became a journalist of repute and a writer of stature whose literary talent attracted the attentions of Tolstoy and Gorki.
Threats of local pogroms when he returned home led him to join a Jewish self-defense group, his first step towards a life-long concern with such self-defense, but it was the pogroms in Kishinev in 1903 that changed his life when he joined the Zionist movement. At about this time, he wrote a poem (in Russian) about Kishinev:
Once, in that town, under a heap of garbage
I noticed a piece of parchmentâ€”
A fragment of the Torah.
I picked it up and carefully removed the dirt.
Two words stood out: Beâ€™erets nokhriyah â€˜In alien land.â€™
This scrap of parchment
I nailed to the door to my own home.
For in these two words out of the Book of Genesis
Is told the entire story of the pogrom.
He attended his first Zionist conference in 1903 and, through his personality and drive, soon became a leading figure in the movementâ€”and he was only twenty-three years of age! He was a fiery orator, the finest in the Zionist circles of his day, and he was a vigorous opponent of those who believed that assimilation would solve the Jewish problem. In 1906, the Russian Zionists held their meeting in Helsingfors not long after eighty Jews had been murdered in a pogrom in Bialystok, and a manifesto called the Helsingfors Programme was launched that specified that Jewish settlement in Palestine should not have to wait until Jews received some form of diplomatic rights. Immigration should proceed uninterrupted and more speedily. This Program also urged Zionists to â€œstrengthen Diaspora Jewry and provide it with cultural, material, and political means in its struggle for the creation of a sound national life in the Land of Israel.â€ Most of the leading Russian Zionists were present at this key meeting, and yet this resolution was passed mainly through the compelling arguments of twenty-six-year-old Jabotinsky! He dominated the assembly, and Weizmann called him â€œthe boy wonder.â€ He mastered modern Hebrew, but he was fluent also in Yiddish, English, French, German, and Italian as well as his native Russian.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914, he became a roving correspondent for Russkiya Vyedomisti, a Moscow liberal newspaper, but it was Turkeyâ€™s entry into the conflict that gave him what he saw as the opportunity for Zionism. He was certain that Britain would be victorious, and he believed that a Jewish military force fighting with the Allies would enable there to be a Jewish seat at a post-war peace conference. Many Palestinian Jews had sought refuge in Alexandria when the Turks began to persecute them, and Jabotinsky went there to urge the younger men to form themselves into a unit to fight under British command. â€œThen and there,â€ he said â€œI reached the unshakeable conviction that where the Turk rules neither sun may shine nor grass grow and that the only hope for the restoration of Palestine lay in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.â€ Jabotinsky was supported by Joseph Trumpeldor, another legendary figure, a former captain in the Russian army and now a refugee in Alexandria, and 500 refugees began training in March 1915. British regulations, however, did not then allow foreigners into its army, and the Jews were persuaded to form a non-combative unit for mule transport on the Turkish front, the Zion Mule Corps, that served with some distinction in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign under the command of Lt-Colonel J.H. Patterson who later became a close friend and associate of Jabotinsky. It is worth recording that the yishuv leaders, Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zvi, had previously suggested that a Jewish Legion under Turkish command be formed to which the Turks at first agreed but later changed their minds. The Turks followed this with severe persecution of Jews. Some 18,000 Jews were deported from Palestine of whom 11,000 went to Alexandria.
Jabotinsky, however, was against the concept of the Mule Corps because he denied it could really help Zionist ambitions, and he then came to Britain to lobby for a Jewish fighting force that would operate not in Europe but in Palestine. He joined the British army as a private soldier (by this time the rules had changed) and, thanks to his intense determination, he managed to work his way into the inner circles in Whitehall. This seems incredibleâ€”a private soldier, an ugly man with a distinctly foreign accent, a Russian Jew in many ways the caricature of the Jew of literature, was allowed into the Whitehall offices of those in power concerned with the prosecution of the war. Others, Jews and non-Jews, were involved in the deliberations that led to the first Jewish fighting unit in the British army, but it was unquestionably a monument to Jabotinskyâ€™s energy and skill achieved in the face of strong opposition from many Jews. As a private soldier, he was often at the War Office fighting for a Jewish armed force, to him the â€œalpha and omega of Zionism,â€ called by Weizmann Jabotinskyâ€™s â€œidÃ©e fixe.â€ It must have been bizarre to have seen him in conversation with senior officers in the War Office. Lord Derby, the Secretary of State for War once wrote to Private Jabotinsky a letter that began â€œSirâ€¦â€ and Jabotinskyâ€™s commanding officer told him that this was the first time in British history that a private soldier had been so addressed.
Following much negotiation in the British corridors of power, a Jewish fighting unit, the 38th (Jewish) Battalion of the London Royal Fusiliers, was formed under the command of Lt-Col Patterson. Jabotinsky was even involved in this appointment because he was one of those who recommended Patterson for this command, and he joined this battalion as a second-lieutenant. He fought with the unit in Palestine. Patterson, an Irish Protestant, admired Jabotinsky intensely and became a passionate follower and supported him fully until Jabotinskyâ€™s death. For his services to Britain, at the end of the Great War, Jabotinsky was nominated for a special award, a British medal recommended by the British government but given under the patronage of King George V. He had to be persuaded to accept it, but when he was barred from Palestine in 1930, he returned the medal.
At the warâ€™s end, Jabotinsky pressed for the Jewish army units to be preserved in order to defend the yishuv from Arab hostility. By this time, there were three Jewish battalions, one of which was manned mainly by Americans and Canadians and the other mostly by Palestinian volunteers. But the battalions were disbanded with little Jewish opposition. Jabotinsky always called the Jewish fighting units â€œthe Jewish legionâ€ and, in fact, he wrote a book entitled The Story of the Jewish Legion, but these units were never officially accorded that title. Jabotinsky, unlike Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, was convinced that Jews would have to defend themselves in their new National Home and in this he showed foresight because there was serious Arab rioting at the time of Pesach 1920 when 200 Jews became casualties. Jabotinsky led a defensive force against the rioters for which he was arrested and sentenced, with two Arabs, to fifteen years in prison. His arrest prompted Chief Rabbi Kook to violate the sanctity of the Shabbat by adding his signature to a petition to the authorities demanding his release. One observer wrote: â€œIf Jabotinsky had had his way in 1919 and 1920, there is little doubt the British government would have declared the Balfour Declaration unworkable and Zionism would have lost Palestine.â€ The British High Commissioner in Palestine, Herbert Samuel, tried to suppress the political anger that followed by offering amnesties, but Jabotinsky refused and insisted on appealing against his conviction on the basis that it had been unjustified, and in March 1921 his sentence was squashed by a military court. Can there be any other example of a prisoner refusing to accept freedom until his innocence had been accepted? Jabotinsky was hailed a hero by all sections of the yishuv, but this hero worship did not last long because mainstream Zionists soon opposed him vigorously. At first, he tried to work with them, but he was expelled from Palestine after a provocative speech. He then returned as an insurance agent promising not to involve himself in politics but the 1929 Arab disturbances forced him into a fierce anti-government outburst, and he was again expelled from the country and was never allowed to return.
He had previously joined the Zionist Executive and the Board of Keren Hayesod and, for a time, worked well with Weizmann. But he soon became disillusioned with official Zionist policy and became Weizmannâ€™s most consistent opponent. There was one specific incident that illustrated the often fiery relationship between the two men and this was in 1922 when the Zionist Organization decided to recommend the introduction of some non-Zionist Jews into the Jewish Agency. Jabotinsky was vehemently against this, pouring scorn on the proposal. At one meeting, he remonstrated with Weizmann in such a violent manner that it affected Weizmann powerfully.
Israel Cohen, the leading Zionist historian of the day who was present at this meeting, has written that Jabotinskyâ€™s denunciation had such a crushing effect on Weizmann that â€œhe blenched and seemed to slump in his chair. He got up and walked with a bowed head out of the room.â€ Cohen could not understand how this â€œshort, spare, stocky individual with an unprepossessing faceâ€ could have so mesmerized Weizmann. As it happens, Jabotinsky was himself under some difficulty at this time because he had recently signed an agreement with the agent of the notorious anti-Bolshevik General Petliura with the aim of authorizing the formation of a Jewish self-defense unit in the Ukraine that would be independent of the Ukrainian army. Petliura had been responsible for pogroms in 1919-1921 in Southern Russia.
Jabotinsky was adamant that a Jewish state should consist of all territories in Palestine, that is, including Transjordan, and his whole philosophy was based on this concept. The emergence of a Jewish state still seemed to be some way off, and he condemned Zionist support of British policy that disregarded its obligations towards Jewry. He wanted to return to the Herzlian concept of a Jewish state. He was certain that substantial immigration from Eastern Europe to both sides of the Jordan River was essential, and he resigned from the Executive in 1923 to pursue his policy. A new organization called the World Union of Revisionists was set up to revise Zionist thinking although it retained its membership within the official organization, but in 1933, the Revisionists withdrew because the Zionist Congress would not define Zionism as â€œthe establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine.â€ In 1935, they became known as the New Zionist Organization (NZO) and claimed to represent some 700,000 followers mostly in Eastern Europe.
Jabotinsky, the fiery orator who persisted in attacking the moderate Zionist leaders, split the Zionist movement and his organization became more and more estranged from the mainstream. Until his party left the official movement in 1935, Zionist Congresses were regularly full of uproar, thanks mainly to his antics. His supporters were called the lunatic fringe of the Zionist movement, and some even called him a â€œJewish fascist.â€ Rabbi Stephen Wise was unhappy about what he considered to be fascist tendencies in Revisionism, and he believed that under Jabotinskyâ€™s guidance, his movement was becoming a Yiddish or Hebrew species of fascism. A number of Jabotinskyâ€™s political opponents, at one time or another, who accused him of being a fascist, spread rumors that in 1932 Jabotinsky was in favor of passing the Mandate over Palestine to Mussolini.
His youth movement, moreover, did have militarist tendencies. This movement, Betar or Brit Trumpeldor (named in memory of Joseph Trumpeldor), was created in 1923 with the objective of molding a new generation to Jabotinskyâ€™s views. But he was no fascist. He disliked totalitarianism, dictatorships, and police states and once wrote: â€œI believe in the ideological patrimony of the 19th centuryâ€¦.Todayâ€™s ideological fashion is that a human being is essentially dishonest and stupid and should not be given the right to govern himself; freedom leads to perdition, equality is a lie, society needs leaders, orders, and a stickâ€¦.I donâ€™t want this kind of creed; better not to live at all than to live under such a system.â€
His movement did, however, have some things in common with Italian fascism in its view that national interests transcended class interests and, like the fascists, it favored compulsory arbitration of labor disputes. Unlike Weizmann who met Mussolini on three occasions, Jabotinsky never met the Italian dictator. The advent of Hitler did, however, lead him to some co-operation with Ben-Gurion. In his youth, he had flirted with socialism under the influence of two Italian philosophers, and he had contributed some articles to an Italian socialist journal. He had even tackled Karl Marxâ€™s Das Kapital at that time.
The proposal of partition made by the 1937 Peel Royal Commission that would have resulted in a minuscule Jewish state made him despair both of British and official Zionist policy. He had pleaded with Peel: â€œWe have got to save millions, many millions in Polandâ€ because the position of Jewry in Eastern Europe was going to be a â€œdisaster of historic magnitude,â€ but such ideas were said to be nonsensical both by Jews and non-Jews. We now know how perceptive Jabotinsky was. In a letter to the London Daily Telegraph, he wrote:
A dwarfish state whose defenders can never grow to more than a handfulâ€¦will be surrounded by an Arab Federation from Aleppo to Basra and Sanaa [and] it will inevitably be coveted and inevitably attacked at the first opportunity.
The 1937 Zionist Congress, however, supported partition although it did express concern about defense of a Jewish state from Arab attack, but Jabotinskyâ€™s views on self-defense were more robust than those of any other Zionist leader.
In the British parliament, Winston Churchill was amongst those who were unsure about the desirability of the Peel report, and this brought the two men together. Through the good offices of the daughter of former British prime minister, Herbert Asquith, Jabotinsky was introduced to Churchill to whom he outlined his objections to the Peel proposals, and he convinced Churchill that partition was not the solution. He told Churchill that a post-partition Jewish state would be destined eventually to be captured by its neighboring Arab states, probably to be accompanied by destruction and massacre. The Jewish masses in Eastern Europe would need help when the expected burst of anti-Jewish activity would take place, and a Jewish homeland on both sides of the Jordan would be their refuge. He pointed out to Churchill that in a small Jewish state, Tel Aviv would be within fifteen miles of Arab gunfire and Haifa eighteen. Churchill was impressed with these views, which led to his voting in parliament against his governmentâ€™s motion approving the principle of partition.
But following much debate and argument, the British government appointed another commission, the Woodhead, that led to the notorious 1939 White Paper that planned to reduce Jewish immigration eventually to zero. Meanwhile, Arab terrorism continued and Jabotinskyâ€™s party in February 1938 passed a resolution opposing any plan â€œto deprive the Jewish people of their right to establish a Jewish majority on both sides of the River Jordan.â€ The mainstream movement was accused of being traitors to Herzlâ€™s ideals and Jabotinsky determined to step up defense activities to counteract terrorism. Throughout this period, Churchill was in contact with Jabotinsky receiving and accepting his advice, and, in Chamberlainâ€™s War Cabinet in 1939-1940, he actually pushed unsuccessfully for Jews to have arms for self-defense. But Jabotinsky did not have long to live.
In February 1940 he wrote The Jewish War Front in which he argued that Jews were an integral part of the Allied war effort, and he accused the British government of knowing much of what was happening to Jews in Poland and elsewhere. Jews, he urged, must now work for full statehood, and he wrote: â€œThe Jewish State is a true and proper war aim. Without it, the ulcer that poisons Europeâ€™s trouble cannot be healed; for without it there can be no adequate emigration of the millions whose old homes are irretrievably condemned; without it there can be no equality; and without this no peace.â€ No other Zionist leader was using these words.
He died suddenly in the United States in August 1940 of a heart attack during a visit to a Revisionist youth camp. He had traveled from London to launch a campaign in the U.S. and South America for the formation of a Jewish army of 100,000 to fight on the British side against the Germans. His will specified that his remains were to be transferred to Eretz Yisrael only on the instructions of a Jewish government. Ben-Gurion later refused permission for this but, when Levi Eshkol was prime minister, Jabotinsky was reinterred together with the remains of his wife Johanna on Mount Herzl in 1964 in the presence of the president, the prime minister and other dignitaries. One of the great and most colorful of Zionists had eventually made aliyah!
Jabotinsky was without doubt an exceptional character in a class of his own. He never compromised his beliefs, and his objectives were always clear. The cautious approach of other Zionist leaders whom he consistently accused of appeasing both the British and the Arabs did not appeal to him. His failure was in not seeing that Zionists could not achieve their objectives in isolation and Weizmannâ€™s cautious approach was necessary at least from the 1930â€™s onwards. Jabotinsky was a supporter of Irgun Zvai Leumi and became its commander-in-chief after the Peel Commission had reported and he was convinced that Jews held the exclusive key to their own destiny. A passionate advocate of a Jewish legion to defend the yishuv, he had supported Haganah, the established underground movement of the moderates, but he followed this with support for Irgunâ€™s policy of violent retaliation against Arabs that brought much disapproval from the rest of the yishuv. Relations with other Revisionist supporters was not, however, always cordial, and there was a serious clash with the up-and-coming Menachem Begin in Warsaw in September 1938 at a Betar conference. This conflict between Jabotinsky and Begin is not all that well-known, and Likud circles tend to gloss over it to this day. The battle between them was based on the need to retain diplomacy as part of the movementâ€™s ideals in contrast to concentrating on an armed struggle against both the British and the Arabs. Jabotinsky lost, and this resulted in an increase in militant activities against the British and the formation of the Stern Gang. But can we now say that Irgunâ€™s activities had no effect in Britainâ€™s decision to give up its Mandate? Jacobinskyâ€™s emphasis on Jewish self-defense was absolutely correct although he has gone down in history as the Jewish enfant terrible just as Churchill was similarly described in the 1930â€™s. One thing is, however, clear, and that is that he had more than a spark of genius in him.
Many of those involved in the politics and diplomacy of the time have written and spoken about Jabotinsky and it is worth examining some of their statements. Chaim Weizmann wrote of Jabotinskyâ€™s Jewish Battalion period that he knew of â€œfew people who could have stood up to the difficulties that he faced then. His pertinacity was fabulous and flowed from his devotion.â€ To him, Jabotinsky was unfit to negotiate with the British through impatience and lack of realism, but Weizmann had surely forgotten his achievement in getting a Jewish battalion in 1917. In 1931, Weizmann said that he was a danger for the Zionists and for world Jewry, but he once described Jabotinsky as â€œrather ugly, immensely attractive, well-spoken, warm-hearted, generousâ€”a certain queer and irrelevant knightliness.â€ Weizmannâ€™s wife, Vera, admired Jabotinskyâ€™s charm, his personality, his ability,and his wide knowledge of history and world affairs. She believed he was a â€œgenuine and dedicated idealist, a perfect gentleman and an orator of remarkable eloquence.â€ To Menachem Begin, Jabotinsky was the â€œfather of resurrected Hebrew heroism.â€ He was certain that Jabotinsky was a great man with foresight combining â€œnobility of spirit with an iron logic.â€
Norman Bentwich, an official in the Mandatory government and later professor at the Hebrew University, was, however, scathing. He saw Jabotinsky as one always wanting to hold the stage, but Bentwich conceded that Jabotinsky was a brilliant orator who â€œmoved the Jewish masses by the power of his words.â€ Horace Samuel who was a law officer in Palestine wrote in his Unholy Memories of the Holy Land that Jabotinsky was the most picturesque and melodramatic nationalist that ever performed on the Zionist stage, and Abba Eban, later to become Israeli foreign secretary, wrote of his magnetic personality despite his lack of physical attributes. He said that Jabotinsky placed emphasis on mass petitions and manifestos and believed that â€œif Zionist leaders would bang tables and slam doors then governments would listen and give in.â€ But Eban did concede that he had an â€œintuitive liberalism and tolerance.â€
David ben-Gurion, his arch political opponent, was fascinated by him. In fact, they had much in commonâ€”a common streak of mysticism and disillusionment with Britain. Ben-Gurion saw him as the Zionist Trotsky but with a greater opportunity for menacing the central structure than existed in the communist world. David Lloyd George, British prime minister when the Balfour Declaration was announced, called him a â€œstout-hearted warrior worthy of the Maccabees,â€ and Ronald Storrs who was Jerusalemâ€™s military governor wrote of the violent Jabotinsky whose â€œdrastic suggestions made the most forward official Zionism seem by comparison the essence of practicable moderationâ€ but than whom â€œthere was no more gallant, charming, and cultivated companion.â€ Storrs was impressed by Jabotinskyâ€™s literary achievements. Lord Lothian, British ambassador in Washington, admired his personal qualities and the uncompromising tenacity with which he fought for his beliefs, and he was unable to forget Jabotinskyâ€™s services in the Great War as well as his support at the start of the Second World War.
Louis Lipsky, the American Zionist leader (and father of the late Joel Carmichael, Midstreamâ€™s editor emeritus), said that Jabotinsky disturbed minds and poured acid onto open wounds, but he conceded that Jabotinsky was a bold, imaginative man who practically alone marched ahead in the belief that the army would follow himâ€”someday. Leopold Amery, a leading British Conservative politician, was very impressed by his single-mindedness and fervid enthusiasm, and he admired the way he fearlessly advocated those causes in which he believed. The writer Arthur Koestler who dedicated his novel Thieves in the Night about the Zionist struggle in Palestine to Jabotinsky wrote that Jabotinsky â€œdetested the turbid mysticism and confused sentimentality that pervaded the phraseology of the Zionist movement; he hated Talmudic dialectics and roundabout tactics of its leaders, and at Zionist Congresses he talked a language that was straight, lucid, and European and utterly un-Jewish.â€ Koestler added that Jabotinsky wanted to break with tradition such as modeling education on the French school system and latinizing the Hebrew alphabet, and for these opinions, he was denounced as a heretic, an anti-semite and a fascist. Koestler saw him as successor to Garibaldi and Mazzini.
Chaim Nachman Bialik, the great Hebrew poet, believed Jabotinskyâ€™s â€œgreat creative powersâ€ would have found an outlet in the area of Hebrew art and literature had he not been in politics. He once wrote that Jabotinskyâ€™s translation of his own poems was one of the best translations that he had seen. To Meyer Weisgal, a close associate of Weizmannâ€™s, Jabotinsky was one of the most gifted and fascinating characters in the Jewish world of his day but who, though a passionate Zionist, gave the impression of being a â€œnon-Jewish Jew.â€ J.H.Patterson who became a devoted follower wrote that â€œhis scholarly mind, his broad erudition, his exceptional linguistic abilities, and the brilliance which loomed out of every word he spoke were not â€˜Goyishâ€™ but â€˜Jewishâ€™ although there was something in him of the â€˜Goyisher Kop.â€™â€
Patterson was one of the first to liken Jabotinsky to Churchill.
The parallel between them was truly striking. Both had foresight and prophetic power to foretell political events and both warned their peoples in vain against the fatal policies of their mediocre leaders. At Zionist Congress meetings there would be a stampede for seats when Jabotinsky spoke. They would listen, applaud and admire and then vote for Weizmann. Reaction to Churchillâ€™s speeches in the House of Commons was similar. But the parallel did not go to the end for while Britain called Churchill to save them, the Jews did not do so for Jabotinsky.
Richard Meinertzhagen, a non-Jewish member of General Allenbyâ€™s staff in Palestine in 1918, and later an important official in British Colonial circles and a convinced Zionist (as well as an ornithologist of international reputation) eulogized Jabotinsky. He considered that Israel owed its creation more to him than to Weizmann and that he would have been its natural first president because he would have provided real dynamic leadership. Meinertzhagen believed that the British government saw Jabotinsky as a menace, not because he was thought of as being anti-British, but because they were concerned that his extremism endangered the status quo in Palestine, and this made the British position more complicated.
Jabotinsky was a literary figure of substance, and throughout his life, despite the strong political and diplomatic pressures on him, made a not insignificant contribution to Jewish literature. Whilst in Italy in 1901, he wrote his first play Blood that was a dramatization of the rise and fall of Francisco Crespi, a hard-line Italian nationalist. He translated many works of literature into Hebrew including Danteâ€™s Inferno, and he worked hard to introduce Hebrew as a language into Jewish schools in Europe. His first achievement was in translating Bialikâ€™s poem In the City of Slaughter into Russian from the Hebrew. He wrote a number of short stories, but his major literary work is the novel Samson the Nazirite (1927) that expressed his philosophy on Jewish life and history. On publication, it had a marked influence on right-wing Revisionist youth and Hollywood used bowdlerised parts of it in a Cecil B. DeMille epic Samson and Delilah featuring Hedy Lamar and Victor Mature. The Five, a novel written in 1935 was quite different from Samson. Set at the turn of the century, it dealt with the disintegration of an assimilated Odessa family that had five children.
Edgar Allan Poeâ€™s The Raven was translated into Hebrew as were many French, English, and Italian poems, and it is interesting to note that he based his Hebrew on the Sephardi pronunciation long before it became fashionable. A satirical play On Foreign Soil depicted Jewish life in Russia but the Russian censor banned it, and it was published only in Berlin in 1922. Jabotinsky wrote many short stories and some of these translated from Russian into English were published under the title A Pocket Edition of Several Stories, mostly reactionary.
Jabotinsky will go down in history as a man with unpopular beliefs. Nevertheless, some of these have been vindicated by subsequent events. He was consistent in his view of statehood for the Jewish peopleâ€”his contemporaries vacillated a lot, and his obsession with Jewish self-defense was an issue not fully understood by Jewish leaders outside Palestine. He believed that peace with the Arabs was an illusion. Can we today say that he was misguided in this? But whatever the verdict on the man, it has to be accepted that, without major resources, he was able to attract many thousands of supporters. Many gave up their livelihoods willingly going to prison to follow him. He was a legend and a hero to his followers.
Could Jabotinsky have been the Jewish Churchill? Is it provocative to suggest that he could have achieved for Jews what Winston Churchill did for Great Britain? In the 1930â€™s, Churchillâ€™s views made him the scourge of his Conservative Party just as Jabotinsky was of the Zionist movement. Churchill had a vision of the world and understood what had to be done to face the Nazi and fascist menace, and Jabotinsky, too, showed similar vision in the yishuvâ€™s conflict with the Arab world. There are certainly similarities between the two men in their lives and what they stood for. The two men had other attributes in common, both being journalists and talented writers. Churchill was the master of literary prose and his historical works are highly valued, and Jabotinsky had serious literary talent. But Churchill, Jabotinskyâ€™s senior by six years, did live long enough to be Britainâ€™s savior and David ben-Gurion was the Jewish savior. Can we speculate what role Jabotinsky would have had in the 1945-48 scenario and the post-1948 years? â€¢
About the author
Cecil Bloom lives in Leeds, England. He served some years ago as technical director of a multi-national pharmaceutical corporation and now spends time as a freelance writer. His work has been published in the U.K., U.S., Israel, South Africa, and Australia. He reviews books for The Jerusalem Post. His article â€œDmitri Shostakovich and the Jewsâ€ appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Midstream.