New book examines the history of Israel's far Right

Peering at an early influential figure through a new lens

PRIME MINISTER Ariel Sharon sits under a picture of Ze’ev Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv in 2002. The book analyzes the legacy of Abba Ahimeir, an influential member of the far Right during the Jabotinsky era. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Ariel Sharon sits under a picture of Ze’ev Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv in 2002. The book analyzes the legacy of Abba Ahimeir, an influential member of the far Right during the Jabotinsky era.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Israel’s cultural political theater of operations can almost be divided into two main periods. The first, dominated by the hegemony of Mapai, its publishing house Am Oved, the newspapers Davar, Al HaMishmar of the Marxist Mapam with its own publishing house, Sifriat Hapoalim and the “Palmach generation” literati lasted until 1977 and ever since has been, relatively successfully, fighting a battle of survival. After Menachem Begin’s electoral victory that year, an almost unknown slew of heroes of themes and poetry gained ground, especially the campaigns of the Irgun and Lechi undergrounds.
I write “almost” because in 1971, Galila Ron-Feder-Amit published her first children’s novel, followed by her “Anonymous Children” series on the backdrop of the pre-state undergrounds and many others, which dealt with the activities of the right-wing camp of Zionism. Still, these cultural efforts were based on a spirit of heroism of deeds rather than any attempts to bring right-wing Zionist thinking and philosophy into a shared Israeli canon. With the exception of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Five Mems, his Josef Popper-inspired points delineating his social welfare policy and, but to an extent, the poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg, most other intellectuals of the Revisionist camp were outside popular inclusion.
THIS VOLUME introduces one crucial figure of the pre-state period, who provided the “ideological exemplar,” as Peter Bergamin notes, for the groups who took up arms against Arab terror gangs and later the British administration, and properly covers the full range of his early output and actions. Unfortunately, his review ends in the mid-1930s.
Abba Ahimeir (1897 –1962) was a historian and a philosopher of history and culture who also engaged in journalism and published novels and short stories. Originally a socialist who received his doctorate from the University of Vienna, he arrived in Mandatory Palestine in 1924 and crossed lines to the Jabotinsky camp.
Bergamin asserts that he then continued rightward to a form of “extreme of Zionist ideology”. Whether or not it was truly fascist is subjected to a major discussion in the book and the author presents his reassessment. Indeed, Ahimeir viewed the early Mussolini as a positive force and published nine columns using the top head “From the Notebook of a Fascist,” which severely handicapped Jabotinsky as did the call for him to become a Duce.
Ahimeir, father of the 2012 Israel Prize for Media awardee Yaakov Ahimeir and former MK Yossi Ahimeir, opposed the British Mandate regime per se early on following the events of the 1929 anti-Jewish riots.
He founded Brit Habiryonim (Union of Zionist Rebels). This was a clandestine, self-declared fascist faction of the Revisionist Zionist Movement (ZRM) in Palestine with an official ideology that was Maximalist Revisionism, an ideology for which Ahimeir is now most well-known.
Ahimeir’s career as a political activist came to an early end when he was arrested in connection with the murder of the Labour Zionist leader Chaim Arlosoroff. Although acquitted, Ahimeir nonetheless went to prison for his involvement as a political activist. This is the first intellectual biography of one of the most influential figures on the Zionist Right. Based on much unseen primary source material from the Ahimeir archive in Ramat Gan and the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv, as well as Ahimeir’s newspaper articles, the author provides a rigorous analysis of Ahimeir’s ideological development. He suggests there was too much historical hindsight involved in judging Ahimeir’s approach to the Italian theoretical framework.
BERGAMIN IS as much interested in Ahimeir’s Zionism and activism as he is in his philosophical outlook and so, for example, there is a discussion of the suggestion that Jewish culture was forced to undergo Spenglerian pseudomorphosis as well as the need for a revolutionary spirit if Jews were ever to gain liberation from Great Britain’s mandate and obtain statehood.
The author has invested much into researching what Israel’s establishment had cast off into obscurity and the reader will learn much more than just about Ahimeir. One example of a slipup however is on page 93 where Bergamin has Jabotinsky leaving from Palestine to the United States in November 1921 and resettling in Europe in 1922. Jabotinsky, after his release from Acre Prison on July 8, 1920, left Palestine for England on August 20. It was from there that he left for a seven-month fundraising sojourn in America returning to England to take up residence in Paris in 1924.
Ahimeir’s influence on the youth of Betar, those that would join the Irgun and later, the Lechi, was a critical contribution to the fight for Israel’s freedom. 
By Peter Bergamin
I.B. Tauris
262 pages; $91.81