He was called the next Herzl, the next Dostoyevsky, the Jewish Garibaldi, the
Jewish Churchill, the Prisoner of Acre, the Defender of Jerusalem, the Father of
the Revolt, and the Father of the IDF. He wrote books, poems and articles. He
founded armies and organizations. He was the voice of the downtrodden and was
considered by some to be a modern day prophet, travelling around the world
warning the people of impending destruction but never doubting their ultimate
redemption. Yet, most Jews don’t know much about him or understand his impact on
In much of the Zionist literature, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and
his Revisionist-Zionist movement are treated as an afterthought. Where discussed
at all, they are often mentioned as a fringe faction, which happened to be
correct on a number of issues. In Walter Laquer’s History of Zionism, Jabotinsky
gets one chapter.
In Howard Sachar’s tome, Jabotinsky is mentioned in a
few scattered instances.
True, Jabotinsky’s legacy gets a boost every now
and then with the election of a Likud prime minister or the death of a
Revisionist- Zionist figure, such as Benzion Netanyahu or Yitzhak
But the occasional spatter of articles don’t do justice to the
lasting impact of Jabotinsky’s words and deeds.
Jabotinsky wasn’t just
the head of a fringe faction, an influence on two or three prime ministers, or
the spiritual father of the leading party in Israel. Every chapter of Zionist
history after Herzl’s death was colored by Jabotinsky’s personality. He stands
among Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Weizmann as one of the founding fathers of the
JABOTINSKY FOUNDED the Jewish Legion and the Hagana and
renewed the Jewish military tradition which was and remains essential to Jewish
statehood. His concept of the “Iron Wall,” with its implications for Jewish
military strength, defeating violent Arab opposition to Zionism and achieving
peace with our neighbors, has become embedded in Israeli society.
fathered and fostered the organizations and philosophy which expelled the
British from the country, without which the state would not have been founded.
(Even Lehi, which split from the Irgun after Jabotinsky’s death, was composed of
former members of Betar and the Irgun).
He led the effort for illegal
immigration, saving thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.
opposition from the Zionist leadership, the Betar and Irgun saved at least
24,000 Jews, in what they called “Af Al Pi” (despite it all) immigration, which
was the forerunner to Aliya Bet.
Until his death, Jabotinsky was the
primary Zionist leader who carried the torch of Jewish statehood, while both
Weizmann and Ben- Gurion shamefully denied that a Jewish majority and Jewish
statehood were the goals of the Zionist movement.
This is not to mention
his contribution to the revival of the Hebrew language, his founding of Jewish
self-defense groups, his propaganda (hasbara) and fund-raising work for various
Zionist causes, or his inspiring thousands to come to Israel and help build the
Jewish state. His Zionist propaganda for the Jewish Legion in Britain has been
said by many, including Chaim Weizmann, to deserve “half the credit for the
Nor is this to mention Jabotinsky’s failures, which
also speak to his greatness as well as to the shortsightedness of his opponents.
He failed to convince the Zionist leadership, the world, even European Jewry
itself to evacuate Europe (his warnings were cast down as
He died before he could convince the Allies to establish
a Jewish army to fight in World War II, which would have created a sizable
Jewish military force, enabled Jews to fight the Nazis on their own terms, and
strengthened their claim to statehood after the war.
(Several years after
his death, a less politically useful “Jewish Brigade” was formed which provided
military training to thousands of Palestinian Jews). He also died before he
could prevent the partition of the already diminished territory of
It’s no wonder that multiple Israeli political parties now say
they follow in his tradition, that more streets and public places in Israel are
named after him than any other figure, or that Israeli legislators debate what
he would say about this or that bill or policy.
UNFORTUNATELY, OUT of
ignorance and political bias of various shades, our historians, intellectuals
and educators have relegated Jabotinsky to the sidelines of Jewish history,
especially in the Diaspora.
The result is a monolithic history in which
our leaders were in general agreement and made essentially the best choices they
could have made given the circumstances. In this history the two-state solution
(or partition) was supported by all; it was the United Nations which founded the
State of Israel; and our leaders never risked our security in fear of
The true history is one of a minimalist-leftist
coalition (Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and the socialist factions) rejecting the
policies of Jabotinsky’s maximalist-rightist movement with disastrous
consequences for the Jewish nation. Partition was criticized severely; it was
Jewish arms which founded the state; and the leadership was cautious of
international opinion to the point of being suicidal.
The danger of this
historical cover-up is not merely the denial of a great man his place in
history, but the prevention of generations of Jews from learning from the failed
decisions of the past.
A Jew who is denied the opportunity to read
Jabotinsky’s testimony before the Peel Commission, his article the “Iron Wall,”
his warnings of “H-U-R-B-A-N,” or the plethora of other classic writings and
speeches he produced is robbed of the realization that the issues we face today
are essentially those we have faced for almost a century.
He is denied
Jabotinsky’s eternal, prophetic and awe-inspiring message: We are not consigned
to our fate. We need not concede our national interests in search of the
ever-elusive moral high ground. Our cause is indeed just and if we have the
courage, even in the 11th hour, we can redeem ourselves.
The writer is
director of Likud Anglos. His grandfather, R. Jack Tauber, was personal
secretary to Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky’s 72nd yahrzeit is this Thursday.