Who would Jabo vote for?

Jabotinsky would probably find pride in the fact that a son of Ben-Zion Netanyahu z”l, who was his closest aid and an acclaimed historian, is carrying the torch.

ZE’EV (VLADMIR) Jabotinsky. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ZE’EV (VLADMIR) Jabotinsky.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Anyone interested in the foundations of Israel’s political Right and getting a better understanding of Benjamin Netanyahu should look back to Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s essays Iron Wall and We the Bourgeoisie.
After decades of futile attempts to make peace with the Palestinians, “Oslo” and “Left” have become disparaging four-letter words in Israel. Few people and fewer political parties want to be associated with them. In fact, none of the 30–plus political parties competing for the 120 mandates in the last election endorsed the Nobel-famed “Oslo Accords” in their party platform, and as a new Election Day beckons, many politicians in Israel – mostly masquerading – will seek right-wing votes.
In most developed countries, the political Right and Left are differentiated by socioeconomic policy, and to a lesser degree by their stance on security and geopolitics. In Israel, for longstanding existential reasons, it has traditionally been the other way around, with national security taking center stage. As the Jewish state developed, the economy, education and social issues gained more electoral interest. Today, most Israelis realize that security, prosperity and peace are intertwined.
Contrary to common thought, calling for the bombing of Egypt’s Aswan Dam, canceling Israeli citizenship to anyone who does not swear allegiance to the state, land swaps from within sovereign Israel, and different forms of deportation initiatives all have little to do with right-wing ideology, and nothing to do with nationalist liberalism. Such nonsense has been the mainstay of opportunistic politicians, progressive party leaders, populists, and conservative columnists alike. The right-wing doesn’t have a monopoly on belligerence either. In fact, most of Israel’s wars and military campaigns were led by the Left.
Amusingly, mainstream media have often labeled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a right-wing warmonger, like when he contemplated a ground offensive in Gaza, and then just as quickly depicted him as too timid when he refrained from such action against Palestinian terrorism.
Similar shallowness was recently displayed by American media outlets when US President Donald Trump preferred beefing up economic sanctions against Iran to launching cruise missiles in retaliation for Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz.
The strategy of Israel’s political Right envisions the Jewish people’s right to Israel, secured by its own might, and prospering via a competitive and fair free market. The rest is tactical.
Ironically after all these years, policies advocated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of Israel’s political Right, still serve as a guiding light. An influential intellectual, prolific poet, scholar and politician (fondly nicknamed “Jabo”), Jabotinsky had a clear weltanschauung on a wide range of issues. Of the many books, plays, poems and articles he wrote in more than 10 languages, two essays published nearly a century ago had paramount impact, and are as relevant today as they were then. The first, The Iron Wall, underscores the importance of a strong Jewish state that can defend itself, by itself, and refrain from concessions until its neighbors acknowledge the Jewish state’s eternal existence in its homeland.
In Jabotinsky’s words: “Only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall... not till then will they drop their extremist leaders whose watchword is ‘Never!’ And the leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions.... And when that happens, I am convinced that we Jews will be found ready to give them satisfactory guarantees, so that both peoples can live together in peace, like good neighbors.”
Unilateral concessions and withdrawals in search of peace with the Palestinians have been made over the years by several Israeli leaders, many with illustrious military backgrounds. All those attempts to gain peace failed miserably.
BUT FOR nearly 100 years, Zionism’s true political Right has rested on Jabotinsky’s premise that a true recognition of Israel is needed before concessions are conceivable. In recent years, no one has advanced the global acceptance of Israel more than Netanyahu. Israel’s bond with the US has never been closer, and relations with Japan, India, Russia and China are also stronger today. Netanyahu has also broadened Israel’s diplomatic presence to places it has rarely or ever been before, like Africa and South America. But Israel’s warming relations with Gulf states is the strongest signal of the 21st century realization of Jabotinsky’s manifesto. That vision seemed ludicrous at the time, but it has served Netanyahu as a blueprint since entering public life. Now it is a reality, with Netanyahu appearing – for the fourth time – on the July cover of Time magazine, explaining that “in the Middle East, only the strong survive.”
Even Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa says, “Israel is part of the Middle East, the Jewish people are part of our surroundings.... We do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it.... The Jewish people has a place among us.” Critics may argue that Bahrain is the only Arab state besides Egypt and Jordan to publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, but Khalifa also clarified, “We know our brothers in the region do believe in it as well.”
With that said, and almost a century after Jabotinsky laid down the foundations of Zionism’s revisionist platform, the “Iron Wall” vision seems more of a reality as the ripeness for a “Deal of the Century” may be in sight.
Jabotinsky’s other, less cited essay, We the Bourgeoisie, also written in the 1920s, highlighted individual liberty, free market, innovation and an economy fostering entrepreneurship, where “every individual is king.” Such values intrinsic among most liberal capitalists today were frowned upon during Israel’s first years, when its leaders held a socialist ideology.
No one has been more influential than Netanyahu in moving Israel from a largely socialist economy, where the “means of production” and the major corporations were owned by the government, toward a free market economy where entrepreneurship and innovation is valued and rewarded.
Under Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, the new state needed to fend off five surrounding neighboring enemy states and knew trying economic times, with most of the population living on rations. There was hardly any imports, and even less exports. At the time, Israeli couscous, also known as “Ben-Gurion rice,” was a unique invention to feed the masses. Today, it is considered a staple of Israeli cuisine.
Under Netanyahu, Israel has shown it can not only survive, but thrive. It has proven that the human mind and free market economics are more valuable than gold mines or any other natural resource that Israel lacks. Innovation has made the tiny nation that dwells in a hostile neighborhood the origin of disruptive technologies that facilitate precision in targeting and agriculture, not to mention the disk on key, Waze, and much more, making Israel the envy of many in the world.
Geopolitical and economic events of the past year – the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Golan Heights as an integral part of the State of Israel, and the Qatar conference where most of the region’s states recognized that Israel is here to stay – are monumental.
Beyond Left and Right politics, another attribute that differentiated Jabo from leaders of his time was his ability to identify and act upon the existential threat that Nazi Germany posed to the Jews. Similarly, Netanyahu was one of the first to identify (in the mid ’90s) and act upon the existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel.
Netanyahu is far from flawless. He has made mistakes. His most steadfast supporters find the lavish lifestyle he is said to have adopted over the years, and the social rift within Israel’s tribes, a cause for concern. No one applauds these, and some are appalled by them. Nevertheless, Netanyahu has strengthened Israel’s security and ability to defend itself by itself in an unprecedented manner, while advancing pragmatic prospects for peace and prosperity.
Jabotinsky would probably find pride in the fact that a son of Ben-Zion Netanyahu z”l, who was his closest aid and an acclaimed historian, is carrying the torch.
Ophir Falk is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University, founder of Acumen Risk Ltd, and former owner of a Tel Aviv whiskey bar called Jabo. Yaron Schwartz is a senior analyst at Acumen Risk Ltd and a former member of Betar of North America. He holds an MA in international affairs from Columbia University.