Alex Rose

The less understood Jabotinsky

“I devote my life to the rebirth of the Jewish State, with a Jewish majority on both sides of the Jordan” [Vladimir Zev Jabotinsky]

Whenever the very name “Jabotinsky” is mentioned, the general reaction is one of accolades such as “fanatic” and “fascist” by extreme elements of this adverse culture. Even Ben Gurion was so vilified by Israel’s first PM, that he forbade bringing Jabotinsky’s remains to Israel. In fact, it can be shown that the latter demonstrated far greater tolerance towards the Arabs than Ben Gurion. We have only to examine Zev Jabotinsky’s words to reveal his inner thoughts.

The core of his contentions can be found in his “The Iron Wall” [November 4,1923] and “The Ethics of the Iron Wall” which appeared in The Jewish Standard” [London, 5/9/1941] – originally published in Rassviet [Paris] on 11/11/1923, as a continuation of the pervious article.

In his two volume book, “Lone Wolf”, Shmuel Katz includes sections from the aforementioned articles under the heading, “On the Iron Wall [We and the Arabs]” – pages 930 – 934.”I am reputed to be an enemy of the Arabs, who wants to have them ejected from Palestine, and so forth. It is not true. Emotionally, my attitude to the Arabs is the same as to all other nations – polite indifference.”

Politically, his attitude was determined by two principles. Firstly, he could not entertain ejecting the Arabs from Palestine, but he could conceive of there being two nations in Palestine as long as the Jews became the majority. Secondly, he was a member of the group who was responsible for the Helsigfors Programme, which addressed national rights for all nationalities living in the same State; a program which extended beyond Jews, its basis was to assure equality of rights. Hardly an expression of diehard conservatism.

While Jabotinsky was prepared on oath never to eject anyone, he recognized that the Jews having a peaceful credo in attitude towards the Arabs was insufficient; its realization depended entirely on the attitude of the Arabs to us and to Zionism. He was adamant in asserting that there could not be a voluntary agreement between ourselves and the Palestinian Arabs. His key understanding was framed on a firm belief it not being attainable at the time nor in the prospective future.

As a man who commanded extensive knowledge of history, Zev [Vladimir]Jabotinsky, recalled a common factor in human behavior in that the native populations, civilized or uncivilized, have always stubbornly resisted colonists, irrespective of whether they were civilized or savage. In other words, he of conservative demeanor, accepted the idea of a Palestinian people, a distinctive entity, no matter that their occupation was of a short period. In this, he was surprisingly different to liberal Zionist leaders, Ben Gurion and Chaim Weitzman.

“It is utterly impossible to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestine Arabs for converting ‘Palestine’ from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish majority.” By way of confirmation he reviewed past history of different societies, concluding with a recognition that every “native population”, civilized or not, regards “its lands as its national home”, of which it is the sole master, and it wants to retain that mastery always; it will refuse to admit not only new masters but, even new partners or collaborators. This is equally true of the Arabs and they are not fools asserts Jabotinsky.

In the matter of the Arab-Israel conflict, the crux of the problem is recognizing that the early Zionists wanted only a single item, Jewish immigration; and this was what the Arabs absolutely did not want. Contrary to the belief of Jewish liberals, no adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine would be acceptable. And this was precisely behind Jabotinsky’s thoughts. To him, the only resolution lay in the development of a power which is independent of the native population – behind an “iron wall” which the native population could not breach. “We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter, whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmet agree with it or not. So says Jabotinsky as he develops the idea of his “Iron Wall.”

He continues by pointing out that as long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up hope in return for either kind words or for bread and butter. When a living people [Palestinians] yields in matters of such a vital character it is only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of the Jews, because they can make no breach in the Iron Wall. Not until then, will they drop their extremist leaders; and the leadership will pass to the moderate groups leading to mutual concessions. At that time, we can discuss “practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizens, or Arab national integrity.”

Jabotinsky quotes a very instructive legal action in the Talmud, which has a direct bearing on this matter. “Two people walking along the road find a piece of cloth. One of them says; ‘I found it. It is mine.’ But the other says ‘No; that is not true; I found the cloth, and it is mine.’ The judge to whom they appeal cuts the cloth in two, and each of these obstinate folk get half. But there is another version of this action. It is only one of the two claimants who is obstinate; the other, on the contrary, has determined to make the world wonder at his magnanimity. So he says; ‘We both found the cloth, and therefore I ask only a half of it, because the second belongs to B. But B insists that he found it, and that he alone is entitled to it. In this case, the Talmud recommends a wise judgment, that is, very disappointing to our magnanimous gentleman.

The judge says;”There is agreement about one half of the cloth. A admits that it belongs to B. So it is only the second half that is in dispute. We shall, therefore divide this into two halves; A a the obstinate clamant gets three-quarters of the cloth, while the ‘gentleman’ has only one quarter, and serve him right. It is a very fine thing to be a gentleman, but it is no reason for being an idiot. Our ancestors knew that. But we have forgotten it. We should bear it in mind. Particularly, since we are very badly situated in this matter of concessions. There is not much we can concede to Arab nationalism, without destroying Zionism. ”

At the 1936 Peel Commission, in his testimony, Jabotinsky made very clear his position. He expressed the view of not denying that the Palestinian Arabs would necessarily become a minority in the country. What he did deny was that this is a hardship. It is one that exists in many other countries. He fully understood that any minority would prefer to be a majority and it was quite understandable that the Arabs of Palestine would prefer “to be the Arab State # 4, #5, #6.—but when the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish claim to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite verses the claims of starvation.”

In 1937, when Jabotinsky appeared before the Peel Commission, he remarked on how accusing the Jews of greed regarding issues of land was “like blaming Dickens’s orphaned Oliver Twist for crying out ‘MORE’ at meal times, when all he meant was ‘Will you just give me that normal portion necessary for a boy my age to be able to live?’

With that, Jabotinsky continued; “I assure you, that you have here today in the Jewish people with its demands, an Oliver Twist who has unfortunately no concessions to make. What can be the concessions? We have got to save millions, many millions.”

Avi Shlaim, a doyen of the left, surprisingly produced a positive account of Zev Jabotinsky in the prologue of his “The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.” However, Edward Said’s review comment,” A milestone in modern scholarship of the Middle East” speaks volumes for the rest of the book. Shlaim refers to Jabotinsky as being an exceptionally talented and versatile man, an original thinker, ideologue, and a powerful leader. While his followers worshiped him , his enemies detested him with equal passion. Indeed, the American Reform Rabbi, Stephen Wise called him a traitor and Professor Einstein is reputed to have referred to him as “a danger to our youth as Hitler is to German youth.”

To Shlaim, in the realm of ideas, Jabotinsky was important as the fonder of Revisionist Zionism whereas in the realm of politics, his impact was much greater than is commonly realized. In this respect, he notes that not only Revisionist Zionists were influenced by his ideas, but so was the Zionist movement as a whole. Shlaim draws attention to the words of one perspective observer who was of the opinion that “On the Iron Wall” should be treated as “a forceful, honest effort to grapple with the most serious problem facing the Zionist movement and as a formal articulation of what did become, in fact the dominant rational for Zionist and Israeli policies and attitudes toward the Arabs of Palestine from the 1920’s to the late1980’s.” Would that this had been the case!

Shlaim reminds us of a key Jabotinsky phrase, “Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement.” In this, he did not distinguish the Palestinians as recently “indigenous” nor did he view them as integral to the Arab nations.

“Why Jabotinsky Still Matters” is essentially a book review of Hillel Halkin’s, ” Jabotinsky : A Life “by Rick Richman as published by The Tower on June, 2014. Apparently while in Kishinev to lecture, Jabotinsky stumbled on a piece of paper inscribed with the words, “I have been a stranger in a strange land”, words of Moses which appear in Exodus 2.22. Jabotinsky then proceeded to compose a poem in reference to the scrap as:

Just a few words from the Bible, but the sum
Of all one needs to understand
About a program.

In conclusion to this worthy book review, Richman poses the question, “What would Jabotinsky do today? if he were alive. Conjecture suggests that he would counsel that any discussions with the Palestinians about “Arab national integrity” are destined to be futile until the Arabs are ready to recognize a Jewish state; and he would point to the last 23 years as indisputable proof. He would make Arab recognition of a Jewish state the new Iron Wall i.e. a non-negotiable condition for peace talks, “something Israel is owed as a matter of ‘hadar’.”

Hillel Halkin’s “Who Was Jabotinsky? published by Mosaic on June 11, 2014 provides a deep insight into the man rather than politics concerning the Arabs. He sets out to dispel 3 different stereotypes of Jabotinsky all of which he considers to be untrue. This insightful study of the man demonstrates the extent of his complexity.

Halkin learnt that Jabotinsky was not the product of the assimilated or even semi-assimilated Jewish home as is mostly thought. His father died when Zev was very young and his mother always kept a kosher home, regularly lit Sabbath candles, spoke Yiddish far more so than Russian, and saw to it that her son studied Hebrew and had bar-mitzvah lessons. All of which would not be considered as assimilation, despite his rare synagogue attendance and little familiarity with religious ritual as compared to Begin. Halkin found that Jabotinsky re-engaged religion , if only in the last years of his life. In particular, he came across a little-known essay published in the Polish Yiddish newspaper ‘Moment’ in 1935. It reflects on Jabotinsky’s planning what to say and how to justify religion at the NZO convention. He begins:

“The generation [in Odessa] that I belong to —was not, at heart, “atheistic”. Atheism means, after all, taking a stand, having an opinion.” —-He continues, “—a complete person cannot but be ‘religious’—–Nor was a private yearning for the Infinite enough. A positive attitude toward religion, he went on to say, had to express itself publically, too.” From this, one can readily appreciate Jabotinsky’s influence in the existing laws governing state and religion in Israel.

Front Page: A Giant of Jewish History – Commemorating the 70th anniversary of Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky’s death: Douglas J.Feith, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute presented the subject paper on August 20, 2010. Mr. Feith served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy for US President George W.Bush from July 2001 until August 2005.

Space limits but a few paragraphs to this important and comprehensive paper. The concluding paragraphs provide a guide to is content. Feith’s emphasis is summarized:

[a] Jabotinsky’s concept of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine was fundamentally at odds with that of the “would-be peacemakers” throughout the 20th century down to the present day.
[b] In recent times, the US has superseded the British in taking the lead in attempts at engineering Arab-Israel peace utilizing the same failed means rather than recognizing the profound nature of Palestinian Arab opposition to Israel. Hence for over 40 years the US officials fussed over the same “Yenta”. The repetitive discussions on boundary lines , water rights, Jewish settlements, security arrangements and Jerusalem without ever attaining peace. This would be no surprise to Jabotinsky.
[c] Should peace evolve at any time, it will not be the result of the same futile efforts.
[d] Douglas Feith has little confidence in the current diplomacy being conducted by officials who learn nothing and forget nothing. US officials should heed the lessons of history. “They should recognize that Jabotinsky had a point when he argued against condescending to the Arabs and failing to take their words, principles and interests seriously.”


About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.