Quoting Jabotinsky

Michael Brenner (not Lenni Brenner the Trotskyite and not to be confused with another Michael Brenner who writes also on Israel) writes about the new Jewish Nation State legislation in his “Jabotinsky and the Jewish State law”, November 27, 2014.  One of my rules of thumb as a half-century old adherent to Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism is that when opponents of right-wing nationalist Zionism and Likud leaders begin to quote Jabotinsky, that’s when one need pay careful and close attention.

Brenner notes that in Jabotinsky’s thinking “all [? YM] a Jewish state meant for him was a territory in which Jews enjoyed a sufficient degree of sovereignty in their internal and external affairs and in which they constituted a majority.”

That, of course, is a facile, if not a shallow, reading of the man’s Zionism.

Books in English have been published disputing Brenner’s bias such as “Every individual, a king: the social and political thought of Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky” by Hebrew University’s Raphaella Bilski Ben-Hur and “The Political and Social Philosophy of Ze’ev Jabotinsky: Selected Writings”, as well as a pamphlet that was issued by the Israel Democracy Institute, “Ze’ev Jabotinsky on Democracy, Equality, and Individual Rights” and many other articles including one on the formation of a ‘new Jew’ personality. Of course, the many Hebrew-language sources that dispute Brenner’s assertion are too numerous to even begin to list.

Beyond this prejudicial build-up, Brenner seeks to surprise and quotes from Jabotinsky’s 1940 book, The Jewish War Front, wherein he proposes that “both Jews and Arabs share equal collective autonomous rights as well”. So much so, that “In every Cabinet where the Prime Minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab, and vice-versa.”

Of course, that it may be a surprise to many is only a proof that one of the greatest Zionist thinkers of the 20th century was not only ignored and ostracized in his day but posthumously suppressed and banished from our political dialogue.

Brenner sees in the move to legislate a Jewish Nation-State Law “not only an unnecessary provocation to Israel’s Arab citizens” but an act that “also ignores the vision of its founders.”  And that is why he quotes from Jabotinsky.

One always need be careful when dealing with quotations from Jabotinsky. Excerpts must be faithful to the fundamental conceptualization of the author’s thinking so that the quotation cannot be used for a purpose which is contrary to the author’s outlook.

For example, Jabotinsky writes in his introduction to the article that the status of a minority “is everywhere and always a tragedy. Every great people has its outlying fragments which form minorities in other countries…”.

However, today’s reality amongst Israel’s Arab minority is not quite that. They very much think of their status a tragedy. The events of 1948 that caused their status is a nakba, the catastrophe, and they have, in increasing numbers and ferocity, acted with violence to the idea of a Jewish state. Can Jabotinsky’s idyllic vision be easily applied today, without a period of reduction of Arab hostility on the one hand and, on the other, a coming to terms by Arabs both within and without with Israel and Zionism?

I think it quite necessary to acknowledge Jabotinsky’s logic when he does ignore in that article Arab demands and complaints:

In Palestine any inconvenience to the native population from the influx of immigrants arises from the tragic necessity that these immigrants must find a home. It has nothing to do with ambition, nothing to do with the will to dominate over anyone…The cause is genuine hunger, the nostalgic passion of people who have nowhere else where they can make a home for themselves.

I would maintain that that paradigm and certainly that need still exist and it is impossible to reinterpret Jabotinsky to be an opponent of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s initiative.

More importantly, Jabotinsky does add a qualifier to his proposals, that “the Jews are ready to guarantee to the Arab minority in a Jewish Palestine the maximum of the rights”.  The “Jews”, and not Israelis; “Jewish Palestine” echoing today’s “Jewish State”, and not a simple democratic state. As Jabotinsky writes in introducing his thinking on the basic issue of civic equality:

In fact, Jabotinsky knew well that Muslim Arabs were problematic as regards the entire question of Jewish nationalism and so he added in his plan the option that any group of citizens that could reasonably justify a claim for autonomy as well as a measure of independent recognition would be so granted that request.

Would that lead to bifurcation of our society?  Is that good or bad?  Should not all citizens feel patriotic and compliant to a general state culture?  Is that a better situation than Israel as the Jewish nation state?

Jabotinsky also was willing to recognize ethno-communities who would be responsible for matters of “religion and personal status” as well as “education in all its branches and grades, especially in the compulsory elementary stages”.

Is that acceptable to our liberals, as regards to the ultra-Orthodox community or will they fight to have core educational themes incorporated in their curriculum?

It would seem to me that Jabotinsky, if alive, would ponder and think to themselves that the progressive and liberal Zionist camp, while championing, supposedly, a rejection of the idea of a Jewish Nation state are simply seeking to substitute for that a secular, non-Jewish Israeli Nation State which would serve them as the instrument not only to redefine Jewishness as they see it for their modern non-nationalistic world but to repress any traditional Jewish identity.

One can quote Jabotinsky. One must do so correctly and fairly and one must be able to adapt his principles to current realities.

About the Author
Yisrael Medad, currently is a Research Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem and Deputy Editor of the English Language Anthology of Jabotinsky's Writings. American-born, he and his wife made Aliyah in 1970. He resides in Shiloh since 1981. He was a member of the Betar Youth Movement World Executive and is a volunteer spokesperson for the Yesha Council. He holds a MA in Political Science from the Hebrew University and is active is many Zionist and Jewish projects and initiatives.