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Vladimir Jabotinsky was the founder of Revisionist Zionism, which struggled for immediate Jewish statehood and the mass evacuation of endangered Jews from Eastern Europe. His liberal democratic principles are examined by Israel Eldad in this reply to the left-wing political philosopher Shlomo Avineri. Eldad was an ultranationalist and had broken from Jabotinsky for that reason. Avineri’s essay is reprinted in The Making of Modern Zionism. Jabotinsky Distorted Dr. Israel Eldad,
The Jerusalem Quarterly,
No. 16, Summer 1980
The Jewish race is one of the primary races of mankind that has retained its integrity, in spite of the continual change of its climatic environment, and the Jewish type has conserved its purity through the centuries. The Jewish race, which was so pressed and almost destroyed by the many nations of antiquity, would have disappeared long ago in the sea of Indo-Germanic nations, had it not been endowed with the gift of retaining its peculiar type under all Jewish type in cases of intermarriage with members of Indo-Germanic race, I can quote and example from my own experience for the Jewish type is indestructible. Nay, more, the type is undeniable, even in its most beautiful representatives... My own race has played such an important role in the world history and is destined for a still greater one in the future.
there are no superior nor inferior ones, for every race has its own qualities, features and its own combination of characteristics… In my eyes, all people are equal. Of course, I love my people above all but it isn’t “superior” to my mind.
1. The renewal of Herzlian state-Zionism. 2. The advancement of the security aspect within Zionism, firstly defensive in character, then its Jewish Legion phase (in World War One) and then the fighting underground development (all this a result of the military idea conceived as a state attribute, a political asset and an educational value). 3. Agitation for the rescue of European Jewry through their large-scale evacuation, even utilizing the aid of interested, if anti-Semitic states (while Weizmann cooperated with the anti-Zionist British regime in a slow and selective immigration program). 4. The establishment of Betar as an outstanding youth movement especially in Eastern Europe, wholly Zionist and striving for Eretz Israel to the extent of initiating illegal immigration. 5. Opposition to the expanded Jewish Agency of 1929 as a selling-out of Zionism’s primacy to a Jewish non-political plutocracy. 6. Leaving the World Zionist Organization over its refusal to unreservedly define Zionist Endziel as a Jewish state.It is as if in passing that Avineri mentions Jabotinsky’s political programs, leading today’s reader, certainly a youngster or someone older who is not familiar with the annals of Zionism, to believe those policies could never have been in dispute. These policies included the Jewish state as the goal of Zionism, the idea if a Jewish army, sound the alarm in the face of the approaching catastrophe and the need for the immediate transfer of millions of Jews. Avineri’s response to the foregoing is “philosophical,” i.e., a perspective of “raising a demand in its proper time.” Thus, in 1935, the time was not ripe to lay claim to a state and yet, in 1937 and subsequent to the Peel Commission, the time had come. The bringing of millions of Jews was a wild idea but at the Biltmore conference in 1942, when millions had already been destroyed, the correct moment had arrived after all. The fundamentals of Jabotinsky’s ideology – a Zionism of rescuing millions, of statehood and an army – have become an inseparable part of the public domain. Consequently, they are of secondary importance for Avineri whose pivotal point alleged fascism, is achieved by the method of distorted, half-true quotation. The Principle of Discipline Let us now examine his proofs. True enough, Jabotinsky deals at length with the topic of military education and instruction. For him it was not only a necessity for self-defense (a realistic view in light of Arab hostility) or a political asset (already during World War One, even Moshe Sharrett, an extreme moderate labored on behalf of a Jewish army during World War Two), but as pedagogic principle. We should not have to depend on gentile help out of a position of inferiority in terms of honor and political strength. He also considered training as an instrument to inculcate discipline. Again, it is true that Jabotinsky and the hero of his novel, Samson, are excited at the sight of a disciplined mass drawn up in order and answering to a single signal as one. “The fundamental of discipline changes individuals into a united force,” Avineri insinuates. What, then, is wrong with all this? What is unacceptable here with regard to a people that lacked a sense of statehood and order? Why should a Jew in America or Poland become a disciplined soldier in those countries armies but not in a Jewish army? Why can everyone enjoy the sight of athletic displays performed by thousands in strict cadence, all moving as one, while we cannot? In our instance, anyone that demands such behavior as conforming to a “well known temperament” in Avineri’s careful phrase. The athletic base is dominant in Jabotinsky’s works but Avineri chooses to see it as suggesting Italian Futurism. Italy fulfills a decisive function in Avineri’s analysis. To be sure, he can find abundant evidence in Jabotinsky’s writings if the fact that he as actually enamored with this country, its people and its culture. But this was the Italy on the threshold of the Twentieth Century, the ultra-liberal nation of Girabaldi, Mazzini and Cavour. It was this Italy that had a strong influence upon him. The futurism that was one of the roots of fascism made its appearance in Italy some twenty years after Jabotinsky’s period of university study in Italy. It was foreign to him, as was anything that broke up forms of harmony. Jabotinsky’s poetry is all coordinated rhythm, set rhyme, cautious imagery – where is the futuristic connection in this instance? Even the quotation Avineri presents as an example of the Jabotinsky view of Italy bears out clearly his preference for liberalism over the futurism that would lead to the worship of discipline and fascism. This Italian instance provides us with an excellent illustration of the author’s method of selective quotation. Jabotinsky, in the article, had put words in Garibaldi’s mouth. These words, for Avineri, are the proof of nationalism that Jabotinsky had learnt in Italy (a nationalism of the latter development, Avineri constantly reminds us and connects it with the theory of race). Garibaldi states, then, a la Jabotinsky, that I was the knight of mankind but I taught my people to believe that there is no higher value than the nation and homeland and that there is no god in the world on whose behalf it is worthy to sacrifice these to precious jewels. This, undoubtedly, is contained in the article Rebel of Light, but it is not all. There is additional material to be found there and which Avineri conceals form the reader or student who would no doubt the reliability of his teacher. For example:
While I did attempt to get Nice back to France, for it is ours, Prussian troops were then marching on France. I rallied all my veteran comrades to defend the freedom of French... I devoted my life to Italy but on the plains of South America they remember me for there, too, I fought tyrants in the ranks of the Brazilian revolution as well as in Argentina and Peru. I dedicated my life to Italy but during the quiet years I dreamt of buying a boat, a free nest floating on the water that would sail from land to land so that I might aid all peoples rising up against tyranny. I was the night of mankind [and here follows the section Avineri quotes, and in continuation]. It is my belief that in every corner of the world there is an oppressed people with a glorious past but a bitter-as-wormwood present, and the struggle will rage on to achieve my ideal.
In the beginning, G-d created the individual. Every individual is a king equal to his fellow. It is preferable that the individual sin against the society than the society sin against the individual. Society was created for the good for individuals, not the opposite. The messianic vision is one of a paradise for the individual, a glorious anarchic kingdom, a contest between personal abilities “society” has no rule but to help those who have fallen...
This I phrased in opposition to those who consider that “In the beginning there was mankind.” In the competition between the two, the nation comes first and yet the individual subjugates his entire life to the service of the nation – this, too is not a contradiction in my opinion. This is his wish, what he has been willed and not been forced to do.
A revolution is what I call a liberating uprising but there is no liberation except in freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. There is no liberation without the right of every citizen to influence, to change the regime; no liberation without equality of rights for every citizen regardless of race, religion and class. My outlook is in essence the negation of the totalistic state. The state system that is the most normal and healthy as well as the most pleasant is the “minimal state.” That state acts only in case of real necessity. There is no basis for limiting the right of self-expression in the area of ideas. My “yes” does not prevent you from declaring “no.” Of course, there is a need for extra flexibility. In times of war and crisis (economic as well as political), there might arise the need to expand the scope of what is to be considered the minimum. The instinctive ideal of man is a serene anarchy. As long as this ideal cannot be realized, democracy must be recognized as the form closest to the ideal. An individual – this is the supreme concept, the highest value, that which was created “in the image of G-d.” The doctrine of communo-fascism states that man is part of state societal mechanism. Our tradition has it that in the beginning, G-d created the individual. Man is intended to be free. Democracy’s meaning is freedom and the goal of democracy is to insure the influence of the minority.The pivotal point around which Avineri seeks to prove Jabotinsky a fascist (that is without mentioning the word) is his relation to the class struggle and his suggestion to establish a “parliament of professions.” The term “corporatism,” frequently used in Italian fascist thought as well as in the Portuguese variety, is not mentioned once in the selections Avineri has collected. Avineri ignores two significant themes in Jabotinsky’s thought: his proposal of “national arbitration” in matters of labor disputes in Mandatory Palestine, or more exactly the Jewish community of Zionist endeavor. And there is no mention in Avineri’s presentation – surely raising doubts about his intellectual honesty – of Jabotinsky’s argumentation against strikes and lockouts. Jabotinsky held that at the time there did not yet exist a normal political economy, but one that was in the process of being built. The crucial function of that economy was to allow the maximum number of Jews to enter Mandatory Palestine in the shortest possible time. This demanded financial investment, most of it private capital. Industrial action on the part of both employees and employers during this critical period had to be prohibited. And note: Jabotinsky’s intent in the prohibition of strikes was to limit it to the pre-state years when the Yishuv was led by the World Zionist Organization, the Va’ad Leumi, etc. or in other words, when the structure was voluntary. It was in this framework that Jabotinsky called for national arbitration according to the needs of Zionism and the Yishuv. Jabotinsky did demand “Yes, To Break!,” meaning, obviously, not the breaking of the Hebrew worker but the monopoly of the Histadrut labor federation. His call came against the background of the withholding of immigration certificates from member of the Betar in the Diaspora as well as the interference in their employment situation in Mandatory Palestine. He wanted to permit the establishment of additional trade unions; (do not all parties, including the religious, maintain separate trade unions in democratic France and Italy today?). When Jabotinsky expresses his support for the middle class (as in “The Storekeeper”), he does so, according to Avineri, because he is desirous of transplanting the Diaspora economic order in Mandatory Palestine. This is another example of Avineri’s twisting of substance. This was the first theme Avineri ignored in his treatment of Jabotinsky’s struggle against the socialist labor movement in Mandatory Palestine. The second is in Avineri’s portrayal of Jabotinsky’s view of the social vision of the state. “Jabotinsky’s alternative,” writes Avineri, “is not a liberal economy but an elitist corporative arrangement in the accepted sense of the 1920s and 1930s.” In direct contradiction to this we find at the source, in all simplicity:
[Jabotinsky, V., “Introduction to the Theory of Economy – Part Two,” 1934, in Nation and Society (Hebrew), pp. 218-219]
I dare think, not only in 1923 but also in 1950, that here quarters of the civilized world will yet cry out for the full realization of free bourgeois liberalism.
Liberalism is bankrupt. Parliamentarianism’s exalted ideas have been shattered. Is it so? We will yet see if Grandpa Liberalism has been buried along with the concepts of freedom, equality and the people’s will. The fashion of the “now” will disappear simply because it is evil and because liberalism’s prescriptions for society are better and more practical. True, these are not the remedies of a pharmacy or a hospital clinic. Occasionally, one falls sick and needs bitter medicine and maybe an operation, but one does not need to make hospital regimen into a way of life. Injections, bandages and diets make up the hospital routine, whereas life is eating what you want and going where you want. Today’s therapy and surgery may be successful. It is possible, too, that they will prove misguided. But this I do not comprehend: masses, hysterically saluting in a chloroformed state, a castor-oiled salute in deranged nightshirt dress, this crowd is a gathering of good-for-nothings. Grandpa Liberalism will yet dance at their funeral and the funeral of its “buriers” today.And yet this is not all, for Jabotinsky, in an attempt to coin an original Hebrew term for this idealized economic system, came up in the biblical Jubilee. In another concept, Pe’ah, Jabotinsky saw the forerunner of the income tax. Jabotinsky’s Jubilee principle was intended to be an attentiveness and a vigil over the individual, the family and the land that could never be sold for it belonged to the nation. This, he postulated, would be a permanent revolution and would prevent the formation of a landowning class. He further stipulated five elements as the foundations of the Jubilee state (today, we would label this the welfare state) as follows:
[Jabotinsky, V., “Grandpa Liberalism,” Heint (Warsaw), October 14, 1932, quoted in Bela, op cit., pp. 274-275]
The “elementary needs” of a normal man, which he must struggle for, must find employment to attain, and if unemployed must agitate for, are but five: food, housing, clothing, education and health [and] are the obligation of the state according to my “prescription.” From where will the state derive means to provide them? They will taken from the nation just as taxes are collected and military service is compulsory.
It would have been presumed [writes Avineri] that one such as Jabotinsky who considers nationalism, the uniqueness of the national element, the national will to separate from that which is foreign and national pride as the fulcrum of all historic and political development, would also be attentive to the yearnings of Arab nationalism. For one who was no stranger to Ukrainian nationalism, including its anti-Semitic expressions, it would have been though that in his analysis of the Middle East reality he would but try to take into consideration the appearance of Arab nationalism in Palestine and neighboring countries. But it is not so and anyone seeking in Jabotinsky a coming to terms with this topic will fail. This discussions regarding Arab nationalism are few and trifling. It would appear that anyone encountering this scanty material would be correct in his opinion that it reveals a certain amount of derision of the Arabs.
The writer of these lines is considered an enemy of the Arabs, one who wishes to banish the Arabs from the Land of Israel. There is no truth to any of this. It is my opinion that it would be impossible to do so. There will always remain two peoples here. Secondly, I am proud to be numbered among that group which formulated the Helsingfors Program. We formulated it, not only for Jews, but, for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations. I am prepared to swear, for us and for our descendants, that we will never destroy this equality and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs. Our credo, as the reader can see, is completely peaceful. But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This however, is not dependent on our attitude to the Arabs, but on the Arabs’ relationship to us and to Zionism.
I understand as well as anybody that we have got to find a modus vivendi with the Arabs; they will always live in the country, and all around the country, and we cannot afford a perpetuation of strife. But I do not believe that their reconciliation to the prospect of a Jewish Palestine can be brought either by the bribe of economic uplift, or by watered and obviously falsified interpretation of Zionist aims a la (Lord) Samuel (the British High Commissioner). I do not despise the Arabs as do those who think that they will ever sell to us the future of their country, so long as there is the slightest hope of getting rid of us by hook and crook. Only when the hope is lost will their moderates get the real upper hand and try to make the best of a bad bargain; and then I am prepared to let even Kalvarisky [A central leader of the Brit Shalom – I. Eldad] lead the orchestra. But until then, just because I want peace, the only task is to make them lose every vestige of hope: “neither by force, nor by constitutional methods, nor through G-d’s miracle can you prevent Palestine from gradually getting a Jewish majority” – that is what they must be made to realize, or else there will never be peace.A Problem of National Contraposition Taking all things into consideration, it is not to Avineri that I turn, but rather to the conscientious reader, whatever his view: is the above an indication of derision or of disrespect of the Arabs of Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel], or is it perhaps the complete opposite? Whoever hopes to succeed in deceiving the Arabs that we do not desire a state here or even a majority buying them persistently with the advantages that would accrue to them the fields of employment, culture, technology, health, socialism – it is he who mocks them, wanting to purchase their nationalism, their national aspirations, and not Jabotinsky. In this case, it is clear who was the realist and who was the mystic. In this connection, I wish to cite the judgment of a young leftist Israeli historian, certainly no friend of Jabotinsky:
[Letter to Col. F.H. Kisch, July 4, 1925, Central Zionist Archives, S25/2073 (in the original English)] It is difficult to compromise between two truths, between two beliefs. Our faith is deep, so is theirs. There is no precedent in history of a native population accepting colonization by foreigners. In opposition to the colonization by one nation coming from abroad, the local people will fight; always, everywhere and without exception.
[Jabotinsky, V., “Parliament,” Ha’aretz, July 21, 1925, quoted in Bela, op. cit., p. 415] Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall that the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy. Not only must this be so, it is so whether we admit it or not. What does the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate mean for us? It is the fact that a disinterested power committed itself to create such security conditions that the local population would be deterred from interfering with our efforts. All of us, without exception, are constantly demanding that this power strictly fulfill its obligations. In this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our “militarists” and our “vegetarians.” One prefers an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets, the third proposes an agreement with Baghdad, and appears to be satisfied with Baghdad’s bayonets - a strange and somewhat risky taste - but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall. We would destroy our cause if we proclaimed the necessity of an agreement and fill the minds of the Mandatory with the belief that we do not need an iron wall, but rather endless talks. Such a proclamation can only harm us. Therefore it is our sacred duty to expose such talk and prove that it is a snare and a delusion. All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a living people.
[Jabotinsky, V., “On the Iron Wall (We and the Arabs),” in On the Way to Statehood (Hebrew), pp. 258-259]
In praise of Jabotinsky, it must be said that he was practically the only one in the Zionist camp who preferred a courageous and exact formulation of the Arab problem, defining it as a problem of national contraposition. “I respect the Arabs,” said Jabotinsky in 1926, “and while we have an ancient culture, etc., they too possess proper feelings for our homeland and between these emotions a clash must exist.” These words brought him a compliment from the Arab side: “he is the sole Zionist who does not deceive us and who understands that the Arab is a patriot and not a prostitute.” There was an element of honesty in Jabotinsky’s outlook in his refusal to accept convoluted and nebulous Zionist terminology in connection with the Arab question. He preferred, rather, to represent matters in a straightforward fashion. Ben-Gurion reached this stage years later.I leave it to the reader with some principles to decide where is the honesty, the understanding and where was the unwillingness to understand. For it was the same Jabotinsky who Avineri claims never saw or involved himself in regional affairs but was fully wrapped up in his Anglophobia, who in 1929 wrote the following:
[Elam, Y., An Introduction to Zionist History (Hebrew), pp. 60-61]
Here in Palestine, either England gets along with us or get out. The future of the Arab countries is clear to us. Sooner or later, in negotiations or in blood and fire, they will liberate themselves, one after another, from European rule. This will be the destiny of Egypt and all her neighbors. England will be pushed out of Palestine as well.