The Zionist narrative most often told is typically one which does not critically
judge leaders like Chaim Weizmann or David Ben-Gurion. Instead, their
concessionist policies – which included denials that Jewish statehood or a
Jewish majority in Palestine were goals of Zionism and acquiescence to limits on
Jewish immigration even in the late 1930s – is glossed over or presented as
having been the only practical option available to Zionism leading up to the
creation of the State of Israel.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his Revisionist
Zionist movement, Menachem Begin, the Irgun, Lehi, the policies they advocated
and pursued, which saved lives and were necessary to creation of the State of
Israel, are treated, even today, as interesting and too often as regrettable
asides, if they are mentioned at all.
Even Theodor Herzl and his brand of
“political Zionism,” which contrasted with “practical,” “cultural,” “socialist”
or “synthetic” Zionism, and whose “revisionist” mantel Zionism took up, is not
sufficiently taught and explained.
What follows is an attempt at a
summary of a different version of Zionist history – the Revisionist version – as
told through a short, and far from complete, list of books available in English
relating to the Revisionist Zionist movement.
THE FIRST hero of
Revisionist Zionism is not Ze’ev Jabotinsky, but the founder of the modern
Zionist movement itself – Theodore Herzl.
Part of the reason why Herzl
deserves so much credit for the establishment of the Jewish state, though it was
only realized decades after his death, is due to his ideological contribution to
Zionist thought – the fact that he desired and called for such a
In the The Jewish State (first published 1896), billed as “an
attempt at a modern solution to the Jewish question,” Herzl put forward
innovative arguments for the nationality of the Jewish people, the need for a
Jewish state, the legal basis for our right to statehood in our ancestral
homeland, and a plan for accomplishing what for two millennia was relegated to
heaven. That plan meant using modern political means to convince governments as
well as the masses to endorse the cause of establishing a Jewish state in
That political idea clashed with the preconceptions of many of
his Jewish contemporaries, from assimilationists and communists who opposed
Jewish statehood to other Zionists, including socialist Zionists, cultural or
spiritual Zionists, and practical Zionists, who saw Herzl’s political Zionism as
putting the cart (diplomacy and statehood) before the horse (the slow
development of Jewish settlement by practical and charitable means).
press the cause of Jewish statehood (or “political” Zionism) forward, Herzl had
to not only unite each of these factions into the Zionist movement and wage a
years-long political war both for them and against them, a struggle captured in
Theodore Herzl: A Biography (first published in 1945) by Israel Prize winner
Bien shows Herzl’s “conversion” to Zionism – making clear that
Herzl always had national-Jewish feelings which were merely unleashed by the
Dreyfus Affair – Herzl’s appeals to Jewish leaders, to the Jewish masses, his
diplomatic forays with heads of state like the Turkish Sultan and the German
Kaiser, English officials, his creation of the modern Zionist movement, and the
debates within the Zionist movement, particularly over the Uganda affair, which
was the central issue of the last Zionist Congress he was to attend.
demonstrates how Herzl gave himself over completely to the cause of the Jewish
people, at great personal cost – to his family, his finances, and his health –
and succeeds in showing why it was only this unique personality that could forge
a movement that could unite a disparate people and create a state in a distant
HERZL’S EFFORTS, however, were just the beginning of the struggle
for Jewish statehood.
Though Herzl’s vision of a public charter had been
achieved with the Mandate for Palestine, in the years following World War I, the
Zionist movement, led by Chaim Weizmann, took up an increasingly concessionist
approach in dealing with the British and Arab opposition to Zionism, with regard
to the fulfillment of that charter.
The whittling down of the Mandate,
the anti-Zionism of the British military government, the even-handed policy
toward Arab violent opposition to Zionism by the civil administration, the
limitations on Jewish immigration, and the various White Papers beginning with
the White Paper of 1922 and culminating in the 1939 White Paper, were hardly
Weizmann feared “asking for too much,” and while even
Jabotinsky admitted he was “a diplomatic genius,” by censoring Jewish demands,
Weizmann sacrificed the major aims of Zionism – including statehood.
response, opposition arose which became the Revisionist Zionist movement. The
movement was so-called because it sought to “revise” the aims of Zionism and
return them to those envisioned by Herzl, making Jewish statehood and the
creation of a Jewish majority in the country the unconcealed goal of the Zionist
Revisionist Zionists thus traced their ideological heritage to
Herzl and often referred to themselves as “political Zionists.”
between Weizmann and his supporters from the Labor faction and Jabotinsky and
his Revisionist Zionists, was essentially the same as the clash between Herzl
and the various other Zionist factions, but in a newer set of
That contest, which engulfed two decades of Zionist
history and precipitated even more bitter divisions to come, is told in the
massive two-volume biography of Jabotinsky by Shmuel Katz, Lone Wolf: A
Biography of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky (Barricade Books 1996).
Wolf, which might be called the Revisionist Zionist bible and which superseded
an older Jabotinsky biography by Joseph Schechtman, relates the bulk of the
Revisionist Zionist story through its dynamic leader and founder.
writes, though many of Jabotinsky’s warnings were ignored, especially regarding
the need to evacuate European Jewry, he and the Revisionist movement inspired
hundreds of thousands and made significant contributions to Israel’s
establishment, including reviving the Jewish military tradition – both in word
and deed, leading the struggle for illegal immigration, opposing class struggle
promoted by the socialist Zionists, opposing the shrinking of the borders of the
Jewish state, and keeping Herzl’s vision of statehood alive.
Jabotinsky, however, were not the only Zionist “founders” to grasp the truth of
Leo Pinsker, the author of Auto-Emancipation, who
preceded Herzl, but in his own words was too much of an eastern Jew to forge an
effective Jewish national movement, grasped it, but was forced to chair the
Hovevei Zion, who could not see beyond minimal settlement activity and charity
collection as the means to Jewish redemption.
Herzl’s ally Max Nordau
grasped it and, sharing Herzl’s fears for Jewry, proposed immediately
transferring 500,000 Jews to Palestine, which Jabotinsky later picked up and
called the “Nordau Plan.” Herzl’s other ally, Israel Zangwill, also adhered to
political Zionism, so much so that he left the movement after Herzl’s death, in
opposition to Herzl’s defeat at the Uganda Congress and the ascendance of
“cultural” or “spiritual” Zionism which aspired for a Jewish intellectual center
in Eretz Israel, but not statehood.
The Founding Fathers of Zionism
(Gefen/Balfour Books 2012) by Jabotinsky disciple Benzion Netanyahu, which had
been previously available in Hebrew, covers each of these personalities,
including Herzl and Jabotinsky, in five distinct essays which aim, in large
part, at emphasizing the importance of political Zionism as well as highlighting
those who conceived of it and carried its torch. The collection begins with
Pinsker and ends with Jabotinsky and the latter’s prophetic call to Polish Jewry
on Tisha Be’av, 1938: “For God’s sake: May each one save his life while there is
still time. And time is short.... Those who will succeed to escape from the
catastrophe will merit a moment of great Jewish joy: the rebirth of a Jewish
state... I believe in this just as I am sure that tomorrow morning the sun will
shine once again. I believe in this with total faith.”
This article is
Part I in a series on the history of Revisionist Zionist movement.
author is an attorney and member of the Likud central Committee.