Who is Ze’ev Jabotinsky?

Some background ahead of Jabotinsky Day

By ALEX WINSTON
August 2, 2019 10:19
2 minute read.
Who is Ze’ev Jabotinsky?

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

On Thursday, Israel will celebrate Jabotinsky Day.

Who is Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky?

Born into an assimilated Jewish home in 1880 Imperial Russia, Vladimir Jabotinsky joined the Zionist movement around the time of the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903. As more antisemitic pogroms loomed on the horizon he established the Jewish Self-Defense Organization, a Jewish militant group, in order to safeguard Jewish communities throughout Russia.

Around this time, he began learning modern Hebrew and took the name Ze’ev (wolf). One of his slogans was, “Jewish youth, learn to shoot!”

After being elected to the Zionist Congress in 1915, together with Joseph Trumpeldor, he established the Zion Mule Corps, a Jewish legion consisting of several hundred men who fought the Ottoman Empire in Gallipoli.

After the British government formally established the Jewish Legion in 1917, Jabotinsky took action in Palestine in 1918.

He was later elected to the executive council of the Zionist Organization, until he left the mainstream Zionist movement in 1923 over differences with then chairman Chaim Weizmann. He established a new revisionist party called Alliance of Revisionist Zionists and its youth movement, Betar.

Both a nationalist and a liberal, Jabotinsky dreamed of establishing a modern Jewish state based on, and with the help of, the British Empire. However, in response to British restrictions on immigration to Palestine, Jabotinsky proposed a plan for an armed Jewish revolt in Palestine.

The outbreak of World War II temporarily put an end to these plans.

Despite nationalist tendencies, Jabotinsky firmly believed that while the state should provide, it should not interfere with its citizens nor impose itself on civil liberties.

“Every man is King,” Jabotinsky famously wrote.

The revival of modern Hebrew, social justice and democracy are all values that Jabotinsky fought for, and can now be found in modern Israeli society.

The legacy of Jabotinsky can still be found in Israeli politics, too.

The political party, Herut, founded by Jabotinsky’s protégé Menachem Begin, merged with the Likud in 1973, which has since been Israel’s largest party on the Center-Right, ruling since 2009.

When Jabotinsky died of a heart attack in New York in August 1940, while visiting a Betar defense camp, he was interred in New Montefiore Cemetery. In accordance with his will, it was not until after the establishment of the State of Israel that Jabotinsky’s remains were transferred to Israel.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol organized the transfer of his remains in 1964, and ever since then, Jabotinsky lies in the cemetery on Mount Herzl.

Jabotinsky Day is commemorated on the Hebrew date of Jabotinsky’s death.

The day was enshrined into Israeli law on March 23, 2005, when the Knesset enacted the Jabotinsky Law “to instill for generations the vision, legacy and work of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, to mark his memory and to bring about the education of future generations and to shape the State of Israel, its institutions, its objectives and its character in accordance with its Zionist vision.”

A state memorial service is held every year at the Ze’ev Jabotinsky Tomb on Mount Herzl. On Thursday, the event will be attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

The Knesset also holds a special hearing to commemorate the day and IDF bases throughout the country also hold lectures and services to mark the occasion.


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