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Bibi’s Political Forefather?

When Andrew Sullivan and Roger Cohen link the prime minister’s policies to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, they’re getting the early Zionist leader all wrong

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Netanyahu and Jabotinsky. (Collage Tablet Magazine; original photos Gali Tibbonl/Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons.)

Instead, Jabotinsky justified his demand by invoking the need to save European Jewry from extermination. Years before the Holocaust, he sensed an “elemental calamity” approaching for the Jews of Europe. In a tragically prophetic speech in Warsaw on the Ninth of Av in 1938, he begged the crowd to listen to him and immigrate to Palestine at what he saw as “the very last moment” before catastrophe: “For heaven’s sake! Save your lives, every one of you, as long as there is time—and time is short!” Jabotinsky tirelessly carried this message with him across the continent, a desperate, would-be rescuer of its Jews.

It was Jabotinsky’s obsession with sheltering millions of European Jews, not some anti-Arab bigotry, that drove his territorial claims. Even as he expressed “the profoundest feeling for the Arab case,” Jabotinsky argued that it simply could not compare to the Jewish need for refuge. “When the Arab claim … [for] Arab State No. 4, No. 5, or No. 6 … is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved,” he said, “it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation.” Yossi Klein Halevi, a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, told me, “You can’t understand [Jabotinsky’s] thinking on the Arab-Zionist conflict, his maximalism, without understanding his role as the lone Jewish voice for emergency rescue.” To Jabotinsky, Arab desire, however legitimate, could not measure up morally to Jews’ existential crisis.

3. Jabotinsky called for never-ending war against Palestinian Arabs until they succumbed.

In referring to Jews “crushing” and “immiserating” Palestinian Arabs with military might until they break, writers like Peter Beinart and Andrew Sullivan are offering a shallow interpretation of Jabotinsky’s iron wall.

Jabotinsky first proposed the iron wall in 1923 less as a literal buffer than a demonstration of strength meant to convince the Arabs that the Jews were there to stay. Given the natural defiance of the native population to Jewish settlement, Jabotinsky understood that as long as a “spark of hope” remained that the Arabs could expel the Jews, they would not relent. Only when “there is no hope left … when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall,” he wrote, would “extremist groups lose their sway” and moderates rise to “offer suggestions for compromise.” When that happened, Jabotinsky said later, he was prepared “to let even Kalvarisky [a founder of the Brit Shalom peace movement] lead the orchestra.” But until then, any true peace would need to wait for the necessary psychological shift.

The iron wall was not meant to be an excuse for ruthless force, but a display of resolution and permanence that would eventually lead to reconciliation. According to Avi Shlaim, Jabotinsky “was not opposed to talking with the Palestinians at a later stage.” But the danger of the concept of the iron wall, in his view, was that “that Israeli leaders less sophisticated than Jabotinsky would fall in love with a particular phase of [the wall] and refuse to negotiate even when there was someone to talk to on the other side.” Sallai Meridor, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States and Betar youth member, told me that, contrary to conventional wisdom, “the iron wall article suggests that Jabotinsky was ready for significant compromise under certain circumstances. He was strongly against offering it as long as the Arabs had not given up completely on the desire to get rid of the Jews, but he foresaw that [if they did so], there could be an agreement based on mutual concessions” on the major issues for both sides. As eager as Jabotinsky was to establish Jewish sovereignty, he was just as eager to make peace with the Arabs once they recognized the inevitability of the Jewish state.

Of course, you wouldn’t know any of this from recent critics, who, by reading history backwards from the present, have demonized and simplified Jabotinsky’s legacy to attack their current political foe, Netanyahu. But if Jabotinsky really is central to Bibi’s thinking, then perhaps those critics are as wrong about the present as they are about the past.

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“But the danger of the concept of the iron wall,
in his view, was that `that Israeli leaders less sophisticated than
Jabotinsky would fall in love with a particular phase of [the wall] and
refuse to negotiate even when there was someone to talk to on the other
side.’
…”But if Jabotinsky really is central to Bibi’s
thinking, then perhaps those critics are as wrong about the present as
they are about the past.”Might it not be that they are wrong about Jabotinsky, but that Netanyahu is one of those “leaders less sophisticated than Jabotinsky” who acts on the interpretation of Jabotinsky meaning what the modern critics say it means.

elixelx says:

“To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits …” Jabotinsky
“…leftist Israeli historian Avi Shlaim called Jabotinsky “the first major Zionist leader to acknowledge that the Palestinians were a nation and that they could not be expected to renounce their right to hold on to their patrimony.”
Arabs=Palestinian Nation? Only in the mind of the leftist historian.
Jabotinsky was correct; Shlaim is a befuddled simpleton!

julis123 says:

Why should this surprise anyone? When it comes to anything connected to Israel both Andrew Sullivan and Roger Cohen have proven time and time again that they have no idea what they are talking about.

wishnitz says:

Absent from this article and from all of the critic’s comments is the one fact upon which modern Israel is built: the legacy of the biblical tradition and G’d's promise of the land to the Jews. Sullivan, Cohen and most of the left-wing critics look at Israel in a modern-present day context. They just do not understand that many Jews -and certainly the majority of Israelis- believe that they have a divine and historical right to the land. Jabotinsky understood this, having lived in traditional Poland, Begin surely knew this and Netanayahu understands this. Everything else is just idle chatter. the Jews will remain in Israel because the believe it is theirs.

elixelx says:

Quite so. Israel is a modern secular state we call “Medinat Israel” (State of Israel) and it was indeed created in 1947-8. So I am an Israeli, thanks as much to my immediate forebears as to the United Nations

But the LAND of ZION, “Erez Sion”, twice called by name in our National Anthem, is 3000 years old; THAT is a far far more compelling claim to this piece of Earth.

There may be secular Israelis, but there cannot be secular Zionists.

We have the land, we own the land, we believe and know that we are the RIGHTFUL OWNERS because it was given to us by the Almighty, and we in turn gave rivers of blood, sweat and tears to make it a Home.

mrkibbitz says:

The best defense of Jabotinsky on this question is by an Irish scholar and Jew and a Jabotinsky admirer, Colin Shindler, who demonstrates that J. was a middle-class nationalist in the mold of Garibaldi. The prototype for Netanyahu is the Maximalist Abba Achimeir, Jabotinsky’s enemy on the right and a militarist on the contemporaneous Italian model. See Shindler, ‘The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right” (London:  I.B. Taurus, 2006). 

Shindler’s book needs to be better known in the U.S. by people on both sides of this debate.

Grathi says:

Ben Gurion did not advocate transfer. Benny Morris, famously, only quoted part of what Ben Gurion sail, there y changing its meaning entirely. Read Karsh on this for more details.

harold11 says:

Thank you, thank you.  A lot of people needed to see this.

        Thanks for the article. It is important to remember that Jabotinsky was indeed a fierce democrat. Menachem Begin followed in his steps when he stressed the importance of the independent   judiciary in a democracy.  If both were alive today they would have opposed some of the recent laws proposed by members  of the Likud. 
       Ben Gurion  did not hail the notion of compulsory transfer in 1937. Benny Morris admitted   that he was mistaken. In fact, in 1937 Ben Gurion wrote to his son: “We  do not wish and we do not need to expel Arabs and take their place. All  our aspiration is built on the assumption – proven by all our activity  in the Land [of Israel] – that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.”       And Jabotinsky wrote in his poem, “Two Banks of the Jordan River”: “There (in the future state)  will be prosperity and happiness for the son of the Arab, the son of the Christian and for my son”.             

 The Zionist movement was founded by secular Jews.  They were not motivated by the Bible but by  nationalism. They wanted to reestablish the independent state of the Jewish people in the place of the origin of that people. Even those who do not believe in God, can not deny that the Jews became  a people some 3500 y ago in what they call Eretz Israel.
Jabotisnky was a secular Zionist leader.
    I am a secular Israeli Zionist and I know that we have an historical right to this country because we became a people here.
    

One of the better abbreviated assessments of Jabotinsky that I have read. Jabotinsky was NOT a Socialist, which Ben-Gurion and ilk could not tolerate, as it called into question the entire Labor Zionist movement.

Thanks so much for your comments, everyone–it’s fantastic to see the range of opinion.

getjune says:

  A very clear informative article.   Thank you

“The Prime Ministers” by Yehuda Avner is a good perspective  as to how Jabotinsky’s views played out.

Royq says:

Yes–my understanding was that that particular citation had been debunked, and that Morris retracted his claim.

gemel says:

As a former Betarnik, whose Uncle was on the Altalena and in the Irgun, I appreciate the honesty and thoroughness of this article’s depiction of Jabotinsky. 

Too often, the breadth and depth of his writings and life actions, which helped make a Jewish state possible, are glossed over or else stereotyped by the popular media (and especially the left-leaning or socialist establishment in Israel).

PhillipNagle says:

Good article.  Too much of Israel’s history has been written by Labor Zionists, whose doctronere socialism almost destroyed Israel.

chazzan says:

Absolutely correct sullivan and Cohen don’t have a clue.
To be very blunt they couldn’t find their toches with both hands and a map.

Aaron Cantor
aaroncantor2003@yahoo.com

It  seems hard to believe that in an age of enlightenment, truth is so hard to find. I do not believe that Israel has a real choice in the matter. Arab leaders are fulminating violence  and have been doing so for generations. They teach their children to hate and do so with a “clear” conscience. Many of them have similar views to that of Hitler. Israel has to be strong- and need to turn their hearts to G-d.   

J. Arnon says:

Why does it matter what Andrew Sullivan thinks?

As  for Roger Cohen, he too comes from the British Isles which means that he grew up in an environment where he either had to demonstrate hostility to Jews  and especially Israel in some way or else not be left behind in his career choice. 

J. Arnon says:

 Jabotinsky whose world view I do not share was also a terrific writer I wish his whole oeuvre were available in English. 

Roger Cohen could only dream of being as good a writer as Jabotinsky was. 

bertglass says:

You make a case for Jabotinsky.  Now what about Netanyahu?  I find Netanyahu strange.  He is soft on the rocket launchers and hard on the general Arab population.  I do not see his actions as promoting peace in any way.  Nor is he stopping the rockets.  

Yisrael Medad says:

Very good treatment but two comments:

a) on the transfer proposal, it should be pointed out that, among many others, the British Labour party had adopted the proposal in 1944 and debated moving Arabs out of the Mandate Palestine to Iraq, even forcefully.  Yes, those socialists.

b) but more essentially, I’d like to suggest a correction: in writing it was Jabo’s “obsession with sheltering millions of European Jews, not some anti-Arab bigotry, that drove his territorial claims” you got it wrong. Maybe you read Gans’ article: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/they-should-read-jabotinsky-1.266960

What “drove” him was the coming catastrophe, yes, but that situation only made the fundamental demand for all of Eretz-Yisrael which Jabotinsky promoted for a long time, more urgent, not more correct and just.  Jabo opposed the first Partition in 1922 and resigned from the World Zionist Executive, way before the issue of a real threat of political state anti-semitism figured into the situation.  Jabo based himself on many reasons for his “Shtey Gadot LaYarden” (Two Banks Has the Jordan [no pun]) demand including a legal one, an economic one, a religio-cultural one with roots in his 1903 article, ציונות וארץ-ישראל. (see my unpublished letter: http://ymedad.blogspot.com/2009/07/blog-post_09.html).

Yisrael Medad says:
mouskatel says:

Please, more of these sane, fact-based articles and less of the Liebowitz rubbish.

Binyamin says:

This article is a pathetic whitewash of both Jabo and Bibi. First Bibi: Yes, his Dad is a virulent Arab hating racist. And yes, to know the father is know the son:

Mr. Hirsch quotes only sparingly from the infamous Ma’ariv interview Ben Zion gave a few years back.  Here are a few more quotes: 

 

What needs to be done to the Israeli Arabs:  “That they won’t be able to face [anymore] the war with us,
which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education,
terminating electrical power and more. They won’t be able to exist, and they
will run away from here. But it all depends on the war, and whether we will win
the battles with them.”

 

Q: Operation “Cast Lead”
was one of the worst blows we handed on a civilian population.

A: “That’s not enough. It’s possible that we should have hit harder.”

 

Q: You don’t like the
Arabs, to say the least.

A: The bible finds no
worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no
respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases.
The
tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by
essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It
doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay.
His existence is one of perpetual war.

Q: Is there any hope of
peace?

A: Out of agreement? No.
The other side might stay in peace if it understands that doing anything [else]
will cause it enormous pain.

The two states solution
doesn’t exist. There are no two people here. There is a Jewish people and an
Arab population… there is no Palestinian people, so you don’t create a state
for an imaginary nation… they only call themselves a people in order to fight
the Jews.

Q: So what’s the solution?

A: No solution but force…
strong military rule. Any outbreak will bring upon the Arabs enormous
suffering. We shouldn’t wait for a big mutiny to start, but rather act
immediately with great force to prevent them from going on….If it’s possible,
we should conquer any disputed territory in the land of Israel. Conquer and
hold it, even if it brings us years of war. We should conquer Gaza, and parts
of the Galil, and the Golan. This will bring upon us a bloody war, since war is
difficult for us – we don’t have a lot of territory, while the Arabs have lots
of space to retreat to. But that’s the only way to survive here.”

Regarding the Arab
citizens of Israel:

“We don’t have a real
partnership with them. The Arab citizens’ goal is to destroy us. They don’t
deny that they want to destroy us. Except for a small minority who is willing
to live with us under certain agreements because of the economical benefits
they receive, the vast majority of the Israeli Arabs would chose to exterminate
us if they had the option to do so. Because of our power they can’t say this,
so they keep quiet and concentrate in their daily life.

I think we should speak to
the Israeli Arabs in the language they understand and admire – the language of
force.”

From: Maariv, April 3,
2009.  Translated into English and
published at: http://www.promisedlandblog.com/?p=803

Re Ben Zion’s influence on Bibi from staunchly
pro-Israel American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg based on an “extended
discussion” with Binyamin Netanyahu hours before he was sworn in as Israel’s
Prime Minister in 2005: “Always in the back of Bibi’s mind is Ben-Zion,”
one of the prime minister’s friends told me. ‘He worries that his father will
think he is weak.’ One of Netanyahu’s Knesset allies told me, indelicately,
though perhaps not inaccurately, that the chance for movement toward the
creation of an independent Palestinian state will come only after Ben-Zion’s
death. ‘Bibi could not withdraw from more of Judea and Samaria’—the biblical
names for the West Bank—‘and still look into his father’s eyes.’”

Goldberg added: “Many
people in Likud Party circles have told me that those who discount Ben-Zion’s
influence on his son do so at their peril.”
Yes, Bibi’s Zionism is, very much, racism.

 

According to Tablet readers comments the wrong side lost WW2 and we should simply exterminate the Jews in the name of progressive liberalism and peace and such.  Which is fine, really. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I just wish the later day Chaim Rumkowskys would admit that’s what they are. The rest of us would actually have more respect for them. Now, “Binyamin” all I can suggest is make sure your suicide belt works the first time. A hunger strike in prison after you fail has far too little radical street cred.

Readers’ comments is why I stopped generally reading Tablet years ago. If I wanted Mein Kampf and al Jazeera and the memoirs of Pol Pot I’d go to the source. Binyamin doesn’t do them justice. 

herbcaen says:

I think that Peter Beinart, Andrew Sullivan and Gunter Grass should marry each other in a menage a trois. Think of the creepy life forms that could arise from triploidy

Binyamin says:

Thanks, Hard.  Devastating reply.  Just devastating.

Binyamin says:

Hard: The following is from the “comments policy” section on your blog page:

* Avoid personal attacks and insinuations altogether. Period.

 I believe on the weekend of March 9-13, the IDF did an amazing job taking out the PIJ and PRC missile operatives.  Not only that, there were only 2 civilian casualties in Gaza due to Israeli counter fire. (4 Gazans were killed by “friendly” fire.)

Can you get much better than that?

The only People against whom Jabotinsky was possibly a “racist” were the Jews.
IN FACT, he was so utterly anti-religious that his design of a constitution would forbid the participation of religious parties in political life.
His ideology was secularIST, inspired by Voltaire-Robespierre-like ideas, certainly not by Jewish Torah-true philosophy.

This could be a whitewash job on Jabotinsky or his views really could be that complex.  However, it only highlights what a fool’s errand it is to criticize individual Zionist politicians while leaving the Zionist movement itself untouched.  The project to create a Jewish state in Palestine and the common justifications for it (Especially:  Jews needed a state to guard from persecution) is what really needs to be attacked, not Bibi and Ben-Zion’s attitude to Arabs.

In any case, after Jabotinsky’s passing, the militia he founded went on to commit the Deir Yassin massacre and the depopulation of Jaffa.  That may or may not be the result of Jabotinsky but it is the result of Zionism.

‘Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited’ p. 212-13, 217

“The equivalent of six infantry companies were assembled and, of
overwhelming importance, as we shall see, two three-inch mortars –
stolen from the British in 1946 – were taken out of hiding, along with a
plentiful supply of bombs. In the early morning hours of 25 April the IZL
struck, attacking the Manshiya quarter at the northern end of Jaffa; the
aim was to drive through the quarter’s southern end to the sea, severing
it from the town. If all went well, Jaffa itself was then to be attacked. The
assault was to be accompanied by a mortar barrage on Manshiya and
downtown Jaffa.  (…)

“In any case, the objectives of the three-day barrage, in
which 20 tons of ordnance were delivered, were clear: ‘To prevent constant
military traffic in the city, to break the spirit of the enemy troops,
[and] to cause chaos among the civilian population in order to create
a mass flight’, is how Amihai Paglin, the IZL head of operations, put
it in his pre-attack briefing. The mortars were aimed roughly at ‘the
port area, the Clock Square, the prison, King George Boulevard and
‘Ajami’.341 Cunningham wrote a few days later: ‘It should be made clear
that IZL attack with mortars was indiscriminate and designed to create
panic among the civilian inhabitants.’342 And, indeed, most of the casualties
were civilians, according to Haganah intelligence.343″

“The swift collapse of resistance in Jaffa’s rural hinterland and the flight
of the villages’ inhabitants was attributed by the IZL and the Haganah in
large measure to the IZL assault on Manshiya and the demoralisation
and exodus of Jaffa’s inhabitants. In turn, however, the fall of these
villages further undermined the morale of the 15,000–25,000 inhabitants
still left in the town;375 it was completely cut off and any possibility of
Arab military relief had vanished. The rural hinterland that had supplied
the town’s food was no more.376″

The “Zionist Movement” in fact was not the initiator of the return to Zion… The movement of the Choveve’ Tsion, for instance, or the Yementite Jews who returned to Erets Israel en masse in the 1860′s-1870′s and established themselves just a few meters from the Western Wall in ‘Ir Dawidh (Silwan), were NOT SECULAR ZIONISTS, but observant Jews…
SecularIST Zionism wanted TO REPLACE JUDAISM; not so the masses of Jews, nor Ben Gurion himself, who had always a TaNa”Kh on his desk until he died, in spite of not being observant: he was NOT a secularIST.

As long as we’re clear. Being a genocidal racist maniac is AOK because it’s applied generally over a wide swath of people. But pointing out the individuals who espouse it isn’t done in polite company and will be sanctioned appropriately. Thank you for clearing that up. 

This article so mischaracterizes Bibi Netanyhau as to be absurd! He has made major concessions for peace with the PA, recognizing Palestinian rights to land, … How can the author ignore this?

Geoffrey Dennis says:

Look, Jabotinsky is just the secular I.A. Kook. Kook wasn’t a rabid Arab-hating settler bigot, but the people who claim to be his followers find justification in his teachings for these  attitudes. Same for Jabotinsky and his ultra-rightwing “disciples”. Seems something in their ideas breed right-wing madness, if unintentionally. 

harold11 says:

I wish your words were accurate, but missiles have continued to fall on Israeli civilians since March 13.  Two more fell this morning (Monday, April 23), in fact.
 
Occasionally succeeding in killing some missile-firers, while knowing that others will easily replace them, is not the protection that the Israeli government — like every government — owes its citizens.

wishnitz says:

Amazing. According to this writer, only the Israelies are dastardly….cruel and murderous in their military acts…mmm…I seem to remember Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagsasaki, My Lai, carpet bomibng in WWII, multiple rapes and murders by our good “allies”, the Russians…where is the criticism of these acts by s0-called responsible readers? In fact, war is ugly, filthy, immoral and people get killed…..in Jaffa and elsewhere.

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Bibi’s Political Forefather?

When Andrew Sullivan and Roger Cohen link the prime minister’s policies to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, they’re getting the early Zionist leader all wrong

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