'We can't stand by and do nothing'

Ze'ev Jabotinsky, one of the most controversial Zionist leaders in history, is the inspiration for a new project to fight anti-Semitism.

Jabotinsky rendering (photo credit: courtesy)
Jabotinsky rendering
(photo credit: courtesy)
At the foot of a Brutalist tower block on Tel Aviv’s bustling King George Street stands an unassuming concrete building.
Nicknamed Metuzdat Ze’ev (Ze’ev’s fortress), in the 1930s this building served as the headquarters of the Revisionist Zionist movement and a secret meeting place for the Irgun Zva’i Leumi, the Zionist paramilitary group that operated during the British Mandate.
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Today, Metuzdat Ze’ev houses an archive and museum commemorating the life and work of one of Israel’s most colorful and controversial founding fathers: Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Yossi Ahimeir, director-general of the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv, says Jabotinsky was a Zionist visionary whose legacy it is important to preserve.
In Ahimeir’s office, Jabotinsky’s presence is almost palpable. Looking down from a wall is a large portrait of the Zionist leader, his usually severe face softened by an uncharacteristic smile. More portraits and busts are propped on tables and shelves, and scattered around are handwritten documents and letters in Jabotinsky’s distinctive Hebrew scrawl.
It is Ahimeir, of course, who sits behind the large desk. But there’s a definite sense that Jabotinsky might walk in at any minute.
“Jabotinsky is such a vivid personality,” says Ahimeir.
“Not a day goes by, even seven decades after his death, when his name is not mentioned somewhere by people on both sides of the political debate.” Jabotinsky died eight years before the State of Israel was founded, and did not have an opportunity to put his political ideas into practice.
Despite, or perhaps even because of this, he has evolved into a legendary figure whose name still sparks extreme emotional reaction in and outside Israel (see box).
Today, Jabotinsky’s legacy of actively fighting against anti-Semitism has become the inspiration behind a bold new project, says Ahimeir.
The Jabotinsky Institute is planning to establish a global headquarters for fighting the growing danger of international anti-Semitism.
“Jabotinsky urged Jews to take action. And we want to take action,” says Ahimeir.
“Jabotinsky fought against anti-Semitism. He predicted there would be a catastrophe in Europe. He saw the danger of anti-Semitism to the Jewish people. And today anti-Semitism is on the rise. This also includes anti-Zionism and delegitimization of Israel.”
The Ramat Gan Municipality has already allocated four and a half dunams of land near Bar-Ilan University for the project, dubbed the Jabotinsky International Center.
The center will be a hub coordinating research into anti-Semitism by Israeli and international bodies. It will also publish and distribute research about global anti- Semitic activity.
“Our aim is to be an umbrella organization,” Ahimeir explains.
“If a university professor in, say, England makes an anti-Semitic statement, and a student hears it and goes to search for information on the Internet, we want to have something available for him immediately. It’s vital that people don’t have to wait for information.”
Designed by Israeli architect Michael Chyutin, the facility will also incorporate additional museum space and expanded archive facilities. A fund-raising campaign led by Keren Hayesod has been launched to help raise the $15 million required to build the new center.
However, Ahimeir notes, the problem of growing global anti-Semitism is so severe that immediate action should be taken to help combat it.
“It will take time before the new building is constructed, and we need to take action now,” he says.
That action has taken the form of fighthatred.com, a website in English with detailed information about anti-Semitic acts around the world.
According to Ahimeir, the idea for Fight Hatred came from Muzi Wertheim, the prominent industrialist and current chairman of Coca-Cola Israel, who is a member of the Jabotinsky International Center’s board of directors.
“Wertheim came up with the concept of creating an online resource in a newspaper format, with information provided in the format of newspaper articles,” Ahimeir says.
“He read something one day about Jabotinsky, and he said, ‘This is it, this is the Zionist legacy.’ So he got involved, even though he comes from a different political stream. After all, anti-Semitism is not about left or right.”
Designed as an online magazine, Fight Hatred features sections dedicated to current events, historical events, anti-Semitic websites, cartoons and videos. Included is a handy guide to anti-Semitism by country. It offers chilling testimony to the sheer magnitude of anti-Semitism around the world.
Ido Harel, who is in charge of the Fight Hatred project, told Metro the site is a hub for information that would otherwise be difficult for people to locate or access.
“There are many organizations around the world – the FBI and university departments, for example – who have a lot of research data about anti-Semitism,” says Harel. “But those data are not usually available to the public. We want to get that information out.”
Fight Hatred is written and edited by a team of professional volunteers in Israel, the US and other countries. Information, including research data and media reports, is first obtained from Israeli and international sources. Where necessary, it is translated into English and shared on the site in the form of news reports.
Fight Hatred is currently available in English, but there are plans to add material in other languages.
“We have volunteers who speak Portuguese, Ukrainian, Romanian and Hungarian,” Harel says.
“A Ukrainian Jew, for example, might write something about anti-Semitic activity in his country. But Jews in the English-speaking world can’t read it, so they don’t know about it. We want to make that information available, to make people aware.
“Just like Jabotinsky traveled around Europe in the 1930s to alert the Jewish people to the dangers of anti-Semitism. We are in a similar situation today.”
Harel says that delegitimization of Israel and anti- Zionism are just new, more politically correct forms of age-old anti-Semitism.
Hiding anti-Semitic sentiment behind polite euphemisms is itself not a new phenomenon. A German journalist, Wilhelm Marr, coined the word “anti-Semitism” in 1867 as a politically correct replacement for Judenhass (Jew-hatred).
“Jabotinsky said people need to take care anti- Semitism doesn’t enter polite conversation,” Harel adds. “But it’s already there. It’s become acceptable for people to talk about Israel in a way that crosses over a line.”
As an example, Harel points to the aggressive anti- Israel activities on university campuses in the UK and the US.
Last July, for example, 700 Jewish students at the University of California sent a letter to University President Mark Yudof outlining their concerns over growing anti-Semitism on campus.
Two months previously, the university’s Muslim Students Association had invited radical cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali to speak at Israel Apartheid Week. In his speech, Ali – who had previously called on Muslims to fight Jews until “either [they] are all dead or we are victorious” – dubbed Israelis “the new Nazis.”
Harel says that while it is on the rise, delegitimization of Israel has not replaced older, more traditional forms of hatred.
“There are many different types of anti-Semitism,” he adds.
“There are variations in all countries and all languages. Sure, there is the anti-Semitism that comes from Muslim countries, but it’s not just about the Arabs and [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. There is also the traditional Christian anti-Semitism, for example.”
In many cases, the old familiar forms of anti- Semitism – such as the blood libel that sparked the Kishinev pogrom in 1906 – have merged or been coopted by the new anti-Semitism. Some examples of “traditional” anti-Semitic memes being used in this way can be found in Fight Hatred’s anti-Semitic cartoon section.
“Cartoons have been used to promote anti-Semitic ideas for generations,” says Harel.
Even a quick glimpse at the cartoons, gathered from publications around the world, makes it clear just how much they rely on old racist stereotypes.
One of the more upsetting cartoons featured on Fight Hatred is by BADIL, a prominent, Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO funded in part by government grants from Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark.
The cartoon personifies Israel as a stereotypical “evil Jew” – black-clad, religious, with a twisted face. Standing atop a pedestal bearing the date 1948, he holds a pitchfork topped by a menora and tramples on Palestine, depicted as a defenseless Arab woman and child.
The demonic cartoon Jew also holds a set of keys, on which is written “UK” and “USA” – symbolizing Jewish control over those countries, another traditional anti- Semitic slur.
“Even very intelligent, well-educated people see cartoons like these and say, ‘Of course we’re not anti- Semitic, we are just anti-Israel – it’s legitimate for us to criticize Israel this way,’” says Harel.
“So on Fight Hatred, we give the cartoons a historical context to explain to people the roots of these images. We want to show there is a bridge, a connection between the old anti-Semitic images and these new ones by giving people this historical background.”
How does this relate to Jabotinsky?
Harel says that Jabotinsky was a man of action who urged Jews not to be passive, but to actively fight against anti-Semitism and for a Jewish homeland. In this spirit, Fight Hatred aims not just to offer information about anti-Semitism, but to give people the tools to deal with it.
“The main issue is really how we cope with all this,” he concludes.
Back in his office in the Jabotinsky Institute, Ahimeir says that by following Jabotinsky’s call for Jews to be active, the International Center will continue the Zionist leader’s work.
“Jabotinsky showed us we need to take action. That’s what he did in his fight against anti-Semitism,” he says.
“Israel needs this hasbara [public diplomacy], and we can’t rely on anyone else. We are alone in the world, even though we have friends and allies. And the government has not done enough. So we need to act, ourselves.”