Ze'ev Jabotinsky’s fake news incident

‘Fake news” is not a new concept. Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, whose yahrzeit, or death anniversary, is today, the 29th of the Hebrew month Tammuz 1940, was a victim.

ZE’EV (VLADMIR) Jabotinsky. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ZE’EV (VLADMIR) Jabotinsky.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘Fake news” is not a new concept. Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, whose yahrzeit, or death anniversary, is today, the 29th of the Hebrew month Tammuz 1940, was a victim.
Born in Odessa in 1880, Jabotinsky’s first calling was that of a journalist. His early fame came by penning that unique form of reportage known as the literary feuilleton in a daily column titled “At a Glance,” published in the Odesskije Novosti newspaper. Such columns are characterized by a familiar tone, as if chatting with the reader, dealing with subjects ranging from an opera performance or a restaurant’s fare to public transportation and local or international politics. He left high school just prior to his graduation to become a foreign correspondent in Switzerland, and then in Rome. During 1909-1910, he was responsible for the Zionist press effort in Turkey, editing and overseeing four newspapers in three languages.
It was while on press assignment in Belgium in October 1914 that he came up with the idea of a Jewish Legion whose task would be to fight on the British side to liberate Palestine from the Ottomans. He stood at the head of Jewish self-defense in Jerusalem during the April 1920 Arab riots and was arrested. He resigned from the World Zionist executive in January 1923 and later established the Zionist-Revisionist organization and founded the Betar youth movement.
At the end of December 1931, Jabotinsky was in Warsaw, Poland, attending a conference where he delivered a speech, part of which was transmuted into a fake news incident.
The London Times, in its December 30 edition that year, carried a story by its Warsaw correspondent which quoted Jabotinsky saying, “The Jews of the world are angry with England; and if they continue to be angry... they may yet become the dynamite which will shatter the British Empire.” The JTA cable that day did not carry that phrase in its summary of the speech.
Nevertheless, accepting The Times’ version, David Eder, then-president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, published a letter in The Times on January 2, 1932. It announced that the federation “desires to dissociate itself from the irresponsible statements attributed to Mr. Jabotinsky.” The Jerusalem Post’s predecessor, The Palestine Bulletin, carried the item two days later.
Prof. Selig Brodetsky, chair of the Zionist executive’s political department in 1932, stated that the Zionist organization “repudiates all responsibility for the alleged utterances of Mr. Jabotinsky.” D’Avigdor Goldsmid, former chairman of the council of the Jewish Agency, also dissociated himself from Jabotinsky’s attacks on Great Britain, “emphatically,” as well as from the whole of his program The Times reported.
In Chicago, The Sentinel weekly reported on January 8, 1932, “The Jews of England, are in a state of bitterness and consternation because of [the] speech.” Columnist Joseph Salamark noted, “If the fantastic swashbuckling of Jabotinsky does any harm, that harm is reflected on the whole of the Jewish people. We have suffered not a little from the wild antisemites who talk of a Jewish world conspiracy, a Jewish world power, a Jewish international control.” Jabotinsky was being targeted as being a cause of hatred of Jews.
JABOTINSKY WAS obviously in trouble. But what exactly did he say?
On January 5, 1932, The Times carried a letter from A. Abrahams, secretary of the executive committee of the Revisionist World Union, who noted that in the report of the Warsaw Yiddish daily Der Hajnt, the quoted passage makes for a “different reading.” According to Der Hajnt, Jabotinsky had declared, “England, with her 13 years’ government in Palestine, has nullified our aspirations. She has thereby set light to 15,000,000 Jewish hearts, and the danger of 15,000,000 flaming matches is very great.”
That still could be considered incendiary, but arguably not quite explosive.
It was only on January 27, 1932, some three weeks later, that Jabotinsky was provided a platform in the form of a letter to the editor in The Times. The Palestine Bulletin published it the following day. Jabotinsky clarified his actual words, in which he had mentioned the term “dynamite,” as: “But this is not the only game of world incendiarism in which some English agencies now seem to engage. There is an even bigger one going on just now: I mean the systematic galvanization of pan-Islamic fanaticism in its most medieval and reactionary form. Jerusalem is being converted into a center of incitement... a center from which innumerable sticks of dynamite are to be showered all round, threatening not only our Jewish settlers in Palestine but also the whole of Europe’s colonial system.”
Accepting Jabotinsky’s testimony, one must conclude that he had been the victim of a “fake news” item.
But that was only one part of the fakery.
As the JTA and The Palestine Bulletin noted, Jabotinsky’s letter in The Times had been shortened. We may well suspect that it wasn’t just a matter of space. Jabotinsky did not hold back his strong opinion on the reality of England’s rule over Palestine in period of the post-1929 riots.
Here are some of the missing excerpts:
“Let me warn all concerned against attempts to shout down the feelings here expressed as those of one single faction or one single person. It would be blindness not to realize that the natural reaction to all this must inevitably be the rise of a strong anti-English feeling among all sections of Jewry not living under the British crown.
“In this term, anti-English feeling, I imply no hint of a futile threat.... It was we who have for years, and even as late as the 1931 Zionist Congress, endeavored to persuade our masses that the main defaulters were the Palestine bureaucracy and the Zionist leadership; but that there still remained England’s collective conscience as our Court of Appeal, and if we only could reach it, it would redress all our wrongs. I wish we could still go on preaching the same... but a moment comes when even the most desirable illusion can no longer be maintained in the face of cruel realities.”
Jabotinsky had suffered a double fake news hit, and it wasn’t the first time he was victimized.
On April 29, 1930, the JTA published an interview with Emir Ardel Arslan, head of an Arab delegation then visiting America, who alleged that Jabotinsky had once said, “The Zionists will only allow enough Arabs to remain in Palestine to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.” It was only on May 12 of that year when the JTA published Jabotinsky’s reaction which was that the allegation was an “invention”.
The source of the misquotation, Jabotinsky pointed out, was in the Palestine Inquiry Commission Report, from the commission appointed after the 1929 riots. His actual words were: “There is not one Zionist who really dreams of ousting the existing rural population of Palestine... irrespective of whether I desire to oust them or not, it is impossible.... Perhaps it is possible... to constitute a nation simply by urban population, waiting for such time when the intensification of cultivation will allow the Arabs to live on a smaller area so that we can buy the remainder.”
Fake news is not new.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch (imediaw.org.il).