Jabotinsky, Vladimir (Ze’ev)

(1880–1940)
   Zionist leader and founder of the Revisionist movement. Jabotinsky was the most controversial figure in the pre-State Zionist movement. He was gifted in exposition, bold and imaginative in his ideas, and had great energy and charm. Yet he could never gain the leadership of the movement, and most of his career was spent in rebellion against the more moderate policies of the Zionist establishment. Jabotinsky was born into a middle-class Odessa family. His education was in Russian schools, and was mainly secular. As he himself later stated, he had in his youth ‘no inner contact with Judaism’. At the age of eighteen, he went to study law in Berne and Rome, at the same time serving as foreign correspondent for the Odessa press. On his return to Odessa, he obtained a job on a newspaper. The wave of anti-Jewish pogroms that started in Kishinev in 1903 shocked the young Jabotinsky into a greater awareness of the Jewish problem, and swung him towards Zionism. He played an active part in organizing local Jewish self- defence. He attended the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1904 and was greatly impressed with the personality of HERZL, already a dying man. However, Jabotinsky sided with the other Russian Zionists against Herzl in the fight over the Uganda Project.
   For the next decade, until the outbreak of World War I, he devoted himself to Zionist work, wrote regularly for the Russian Zionist periodical Razsvet, and travelled extensively. As a propagandist, he was superbly equipped, being a brilliant speaker and writer in a number of languages: Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French and German. He tried hard to promote the adoption of Hebrew as the language of instruction in Russian Jewish schools, but with little success. In 1906, he was a delegate at the Helsingfors Conference of the Russian Zionists, and helped to draft its programme. In 1909, after the Young Turk revolution, he was sent to do political work and edit Zionist publications in Constantinople. He left this post because of disagreement with David WOLFFSOHN, the president of the Zionist Organization after Herzl’s death. At the outbreak of World War I, Jabotinsky was in Cairo as a journalist. Together with Joseph TRUMPELDOR, he formed the Zion Mule Corps from young men who had been expelled from Palestine by the Turks and had reached Egypt. It later served in the Gallipoli campaign. Jabotinsky’s major goal now became the formation of a separate Jewish Legion as part of the Allied Forces. He went to Rome, Paris and London to promote the idea. He was discouraged by practically everyone, including the Zionist leaders, who were trying to remain neutral in the conflict and feared that Turkey would react against the Jews in Palestine. Jabotinsky tenaciously pursued the project in Britain. The only important Zionist to support him was WEIZMANN, who at one point threatened to resign because of the opposition of his Zionist colleagues. In 1917 permission was obtained for a Jewish battalion to be recruited, mainly from Russian-Jewish immigrants in England who were not eligible for service with the British forces. The unit became the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Jabotinsky joined it and was commissioned as a lieutenant. It was sent to the Middle East and Jabotinsky was decorated for leading the first company to cross the Jordan River. This battalion was joined in 1918 by another recruited in the United States, the 39th, and later by the 40th, formed of Palestinians. Together they constituted the First Judean Regiment (more commonly known as the Jewish Legion) with the menorah as its insignia. Jabotinsky later wrote a book about the Legion.
   After the war, Palestine was at first under a British military administration, to which a Zionist Commission was attached. Jabotinsky served for a while as the political officer of the commission, but did not get on with the British officials, whom he accused of evading the obligations of the BAL FOUR Declaration. Self-defence remained a major concern. He was bitterly disappointed at the disbanding of the Jewish Legion, which he had hoped would become a permanent part of the security forces in Palestine. Early in 1920, Arab riots broke out. Jabotinsky was involved in organizing the Haganah (Jewish defence militia) in Jerusalem. He was arrested for this and sentenced by a military court to fifteen years’ imprisonment. Soon after, Sir Herbert SAMUEL arrived as the first high commissioner and declared an amnesty for the Arab and Jewish leaders jailed after the riots. Jabotinsky refused to be satisfied with a pardon and insisted on appealing against his conviction, which was quashed by the British commander- in-chief in Cairo.
   In 1921, he became a member of the Zionist Executive. His relations with his colleagues, however, became more and more strained. Ever restless and impatient, he chafed at the gradualist, pragmatic approach of Weizmann, with its emphasis on co-operation with Britain and practical work in Palestine. For Jabotinsky, the Executive’s conduct was a betrayal of the aims of political Zionism as propounded by Herzl and NORDAU. For their part, his colleagues regarded him as demagogic and unrealistic, and as flouting collective discipline. A case in point was the understanding Jabotinsky reached with Slavinsky, a representative of the Ukrainian nationalist and anti-Bolshevik leader PETLYURA. Jabotinsky’s aim was to have a Jewish militia move into the Ukraine behind Petlyura’s forces, in order to protect the Jewish population. This arrangement had not been brought to the Executive for approval. Since Petlyura was blamed for the pogroms that had swept the Ukraine, Jabotinsky’s dealings with him were controversial and yielded no tangible result.
   Weizmann and Jabotinsky were political foes and quite unlike each other in temperament. Yet they were friendly on the personal level. In his autobiography, Trial and Error, Weizmann described the younger man in kindly terms: ‘He was rather ugly, immensely attractive, well-spoken, warm-hearted, generous, always ready to help a comrade in distress; all of these qualities were, however, overlaid by a certain touch of the rather theatrically chivalresque, a certain queer and irrelevant knightliness which was not at all Jewish.’ Weizmann thought Jabotinsky was a first-rate propagandist, but lacking in political judgment. In 1923, Jabotinsky resigned from the Executive and thought of giving up active Zionist politics. But he continued to travel through Eastern Europe and to react to events in speeches and articles. Groups of his supporters sprang up in a number of places. In 1925, at a conference in Paris, he launched a new party, the World Union of Zionist Revisionists. He also built up a young organization, the Betar (Brit Trumpeldor). It started in Riga, Latvia, gained strength in Poland, and spread to other countries.
   The ‘activist’ programme of the Revisionist movement called for mass immigration and settlement, to be financed by a huge international loan; an official Jewish force for self-defence during the Mandate; an eventual Jewish majority in Palestine on both sides of the Jordan; and Jewish statehood when this majority had been achieved. Opponents dismissed these demands as impractical slogans, but they had an emotional appeal for many frustrated and anxious Jews in Poland and elsewhere, especially among the intellectuals and the youth. Moreover, official Zionist policy was producing meagre results. There was only a trickle of immigrants and Zionist funds, while the Mandatory administration showed signs of backing away from the Zionist commitment in the face of growing Arab resistance. The Revisionist movement gained in strength in Eastern Europe, as the Jewish situation there became more insecure. At the Fourteenth Zionist Congress in 1925, there were four Revisionist delegates. Six years later, the number was fifty-two, making it the third largest Zionist party. At that time (1931), the Zionist Organization had suffered a serious set-back. The Arab riots of 1929 were followed by the PASSFIELD White Paper, marking a pro-Arab and anti-Zionist turn in Whitehall policy. Weizmann’s reliance on British goodwill came under heavy attack, and he was forced to resign. Jabotinsky had led the opposition to him, but was passed over for the leadership. Weizmann’s successor as president was his close associate, the moderate and cautious Nachum SOKOLOW. The Revisionists were again rebuffed by the congress when a Jewish state resolution proposed by them was blocked. There was growing pressure within the Revisionist ranks to secede altogether from the parent body. In 1935, at a congress in Vienna, the New Zionist Organization (NZO) was established, with Jabotinsky as its president. Jabotinsky now proclaimed an ‘evacuation plan’, modelled on the one that had once been proposed by Max Nordau. In its final form, it provided for the transfer from Eastern Europe to Palestine of one-and-a-half million Jews over a number of years. Jabotinsky sought to gain international support for his plan, and had interviews with such Eastern European leaders as the prime minister and foreign minister of Poland, Benes of Czechoslovakia and King Carol of Romania. He claimed to have received sympathetic attention, but the practical effect was nil. In 1936, the Arab rebellion broke out in Palestine. The British government appointed a Royal Commission headed by Lord Peel. Jabotinsky appeared before it on behalf of the NZO and made a powerful plea for mass immigration and Jewish statehood, in the light of the growing threat to European Jewry. When the Peel Report proposed a partition plan, with a Jewish state in part of the country, it was accepted by the Zionist Executive as a basis for discussion, but fiercely rejected by Jabotinsky and the NZO. The weakness of the Revisionist position was that it had no realistic alternative policy, and no substitute for Britain as the Mandatory power.
   Time was running out for Zionist hopes. HITLER’S Germany and MUSSOLINI’S Italy were already casting their shadows across Europe and the Mediterranean and bidding for Arab support in the Middle East. The Western democracies were weak and confused, and Munich was round the corner. Jewish refugees were fleeing from Central Europe in increasing numbers with nowhere to go, and boatloads of illegal immigrants were trying to reach the Promised Land. For the Zionist leadership it had become a question of salvaging what they could. In this atmosphere, the demands and slogans of Revisionism seemed understandable but futile. Elements of extremism and violence developed within the Revisionist movement. Jabotinsky’s enemies called him a Jewish Fascist, though he personally was an old-fashioned liberal and was repelled by the philosophy and practices of the totalitarian states. The liberation movement that coloured his outlook was the 19-century Italian Risorgimento under Garibaldi and Mazzini. The extent to which Jabotinsky’s motives lent themselves to misunderstanding was illustrated by the Betar. He had conceived of it as an instrument for giving Jewish youth national pride, discipline and a sense of comradeship and sacrifice. Others saw in the Betar an un-Jewish attempt to copy the Nazi and Fascist youth organizations, with their uniforms, marching, banners, leader-cult and militaristic spirit.
   While Revisionism in the Diaspora had no clear social or economic doctrine, its Palestine section became a right-wing minority, bitterly contesting the dominant position of the Labour Zionists and the Histadrut (workers’ federation). Passions were aroused by the murder in 1931 of the Labour Zionist leader Chaim ARLOSOROFF. Two young Revisionists were tried for the crime. They were acquitted for lack of corroborating evidence, but the affair continued to poison relations. Other causes of trouble were disputes over the distribution of immigration certificates; the National Labour Federation set up by the Revisionists in opposition to the Histadrut; and clashes between the respective youth movements. In 1934, talks were held in London between Jabotinsky and BEN-GURION, and an agreement drawn up to resolve these matters. It was rejected by the Histadrut on the one hand and the Betar on the other. The most troublesome issue arose out of disunity in the vital area of self-defence. The Irgun Tzvai Leumi (Etzel) (National Military Organization) started as a splinter group that broke away from the Haganah in 1931. It became loosely associated with the Revisionist party and took its directives from Jabotinsky personally. In the 1936 Arab rebellion, the policy of the Haganah and the Zionist leadership was one of havlaga (‘self-restraint’). In practice, this meant abstaining from reprisals against the Arab civilian population for attacks on Jews. When the Irgun defied the official line and went in for such reprisals, about half of its members dissented and rejoined the Haganah. Though Jabotinsky endorsed the Irgun tactics, he urged that prior warning should be given to the Arab quarters marked out for attack. This humanitarian safeguard was little observed in practice, for operational reasons.
   Ben-Gurion insisted that there should be national discipline in self-defence matters and a single source of authority; but this was to be achieved only a decade later after the State of Israel came into being. With the outbreak of World War II, Jabotinsky laid down that his movement would join in the general war effort, and Irgun attacks were suspended for the time being. One extremist faction, the Lehi or Freedom Fighters, broke away and continued to operate underground against the British. It became known as the Stern Gang, after its earlier leader Abraham STERN.
   For several years, Jabotinsky had been denied entry into Palestine by the Mandatory authorities, and had spent most of his time shuttling between Eastern Europe, Paris, London and New York. In the summer of 1940 he went to the United States and died while visiting a Betar camp in New York State. His death meant the eclipse of the NZO. It had produced no other leader of calibre who could succeed Jabotinsky.
   In his will, Jabotinsky had stipulated: ‘Should I be buried outside of Palestine, my remains may not be transferred to Palestine except by order of a future Jewish government in that country.’ This wish was fulfilled a quarter century later. By order of the ESHKOL government, the remains of Jabotinsky and his wife Johanna were brought to Israel and reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, after a state funeral. His only son, Eri (1910–69), who had played an important part in the Betar and the Revisionist movement, became professor of mathematics at the Haifa Technion.
   Jabotinsky was a prolific and versatile writer, especially in the earlier years before he became an active Zionist leader. He produced poetry, essays, plays, novels and short stories, as well as Russian translations of Hebrew poetry by BIALIK, parts of Dante’s Inferno from Italian, and French, British and Italian poems.
   Though he did not live to see the birth of Israel, his influence was projected into its political life through the nationalist Herut Party, the main opposition group in the Knesset.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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  • Jabotinsky, Vladimir — born 1880, Odessa, Russian Empire died Aug. 3, 1940, near Hunter, N.Y., U.S. Russian Zionist leader and founder of the Zionist Revisionist movement. He became a popular journalist and editorialist and by 1903 was expounding Zionism. In 1920 he… …   Universalium

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  • Vladimir — /vlad euh mear /; Russ. /vlu dyee mirdd/, n. 1. Saint. Also, Vladimir I, Wladimir. (Vladimir the Great)A.D. c956 1015, first Christian grand prince of Russia 980 1015. 2. a city in the W Russian Federation in Europe, E of Moscow. 343,000. 3. a… …   Universalium

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