I must state two caveats upfront: firstly, my Hebrew is practically non-existent and I have no Russian at all, making much material inaccessible to me; secondly, the more I researched Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the more indispensable material I found. I had to stop reading to get this post out; it has been delayed long enough. Jabotinsky's essay, "Islam," that appeared in PACCBET (Rassvyet), in Russian, on 23 October 1923 (I think) still eludes me. It might contradict much of what I have to say below. Any pointers to where I might find it would be greatly appreciated.
My purpose here (and in Parts 4 and 5) is to draw attention to what appears to me an Islamic deficiency in Jabotinsky's treatment of the Jewish national question vis-à-vis that of the Palestinian Arabs. I am just at the beginning of exploring this incredible man's life story, and sharing my current perspective. I would gratefully receive readers' feedback on where I got things wrong.
Two years before the Nazis invaded Poland, Ze'ev Jabotinsky addressed the Great Synagogue of Warsaw:
It has been three years now that I have been talking to you, Polish Jewry, the crown of world Jewry. I have been warning you without respite that a catastrophe is approaching. My hair has gone white and my heart is bleeding blood because you, my dear brothers, do not see the tremendous volcano ready to emit lava in your midst. I see a terrible vision today. Time is short but you can still save yourselves. I know you are busy with your everyday concerns but listen to my words at the twelfth hour! Let each of you save your own soul while there is time. One last thing I wish to say today on Tisha B’Av – those who will succeed in escaping this catastrophe will merit to experience the exalted moment of great celebration – the rebirth and rise of an independent Hebrew state. I do not know if I will be privileged to see it, but my son will! I believe in this, as I am sure that tomorrow the sun will shine. Liquidate the exile or the exile will certainly liquidate you!
What was the response of the Jewish elites? The Zionist Freedom Alliance entry just quoted continues:
Local Jewish leaders began to fiercely denounce him, calling him “Adolph Jabotinsky”. They charged him with assisting anti-Semites by undermining the unique Jewish existence in Europe built up over centuries. They accused him of having a political interest in stirring up trouble as it was well known that he strove for a Hebrew majority in Eretz Yisrael. They reasoned that his fiery speeches of doom throughout Europe were designed to frighten people into migrating to Palestine. Because their hearts were numb to their reality surrounding them, these leaders could not recognize the truth in Jabotinsky’s emotional message. They were cynical of his sensitivity and perceived him as a threat to their communal prestige. Utilizing impressive rationale, they justified their continued presence in Poland and dissuaded other Jews from heeding Jabotinsky’s warning. This irresponsible leadership would share eventual accountability in the loss of six million.
That fantastic tragedy is now almost a hundred years behind us, and to this day, with all that has come to pass, it is still possible for learned and influential Jews to glibly dispense with Jabotinsky as "far-Right," some even condemn him as "fascist." In the little space available to me here, let me do my small part in rehabilitating this great man and hope that I might thereby help to alert those who will be alerted to the next Holocaust bearing down on the Jews. A Holocaust that boldly, publicly and repeatedly sounds its own alarm, "Death to Israel!" and this time, its architects will have a nuclear bomb before they start, and most of the world, including very possibly most of the Jews in Israel, will have let it happen.
Ze'ev (formerly Vladimir) Jabotinsky, 1880 - 1940, was born in Odessa in the then Russian Empire. A man of letters with acclaimed novels, plays and poetry to his name, a speaker of several languages, a brutally-honest social critic and an accomplished journalist, "His writings reflected an individualistic tendency and strong liberal trend antagonistic towards excessive state authority."
So horrified was Jabotinsky witnessing the 1903 Kishinev (present-day Chișinău) Pogrom, that it changed the course of his life completely. Overcome with the urge to fight back so as never to be attacked again, he threw himself wholeheartedly into Zionism. His first priority was to organise Jews into self-defence units, which was when he immediately collided head-on with two thousand years of submissiveness: self-defence had become inconceivable to the Jew.
There were thousands of Jews in the ghetto of Goshen who saw hundreds of times "an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew." But in none of them did this familiar sight provoke the urge to react by "slaying the Egyptian." They had been reared in the slavish mentality of the Goshen ghetto, in fear and submissiveness. ...Jabotinsky's mind and soul were likewise formed outside the spiritual ghetto, in which the overwhelming majority of Russian Jewry still lived. He was deeply influenced by the proud philosophy of the Italian national Risorgimento: Italia fará da se - Italy will be liberated by herself.
The honour and self-respect of the Jew had been completely destroyed. If Jews were ever to reclaim their place in the world as a nation, their Hadar was going to have to be rebuilt from scratch. Over the following almost four decades, Jabotinsky expended much ink on confronting Jews with what they did not want to hear: that hiding, fleeing and submitting to extortion was what they do, and that for them, too little was always enough.
One is reminded of Ehud Olmert, who had offered Mahmoud Abbas more than 100% of the area he had demanded for his "Palestinian state," only to have Abbas walk out of the talks. Olmert saw this as a positive outcome. When it was pointed out to him that Abbas had not said Yes, Olmert insisted that "Abu Mazen" (only those close to Mahmoud Abbas call him that) did not say No. More recently, the depths to which the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz government sank must stand out as the most complete negation of Hadar. Their conduct, and other such lack of "majesty", continue to occur more than a century after Jabotinsky had first identified the problem at the heart of the Jewish sense of self. "Liquidate the exile or the exile will certainly liquidate you!" Jabotinsky was set on a career of Jews hating him for showing them what they have become. Millennia of submissiveness is not rectified in one lifetime, even in an extraordinary one, such as Ze'ev Jabotinsky's.
In 1921, Jabotinsky became a member of the World Zionist Executive, headed by the future first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, and helped found the Jewish National Fund, for which he, together with Albert Einstein and others, raised funds in the United States. In 1922, Britain banned Jewish settlement from 77% of its Mandate territory, the part of the "national home for the Jewish people" that lay east of the Jordan River, leaving only the remaining 23% west of the Jordan for Jews. Jabotinsky condemned the Labour Zionists' shtadlanut, their timid, cap-in-hand intercession on behalf of the poor helpless Jews before their non-Jewish overlords. Chaim Weizmann's readiness to accept whatever scrap of Palestine the Western Powers saw fit to leave to the Jews disgusted Jabotinsky, prompting him to resign from the World Zionist Executive.
Those Jews who oppose Jabotinsky today, frequently site Jabotinsky's insistence on getting all that was promised as "extreme" and "maximalist," meaning that he was unwilling to share the land with the Arabs. But their supposed magnanimity betrays only their tragic history in exile. In order to survive millennia of oppression, Jews have had to give up their self-respect, something that would propel Hadar, Hebrew for all of elevation, fulfilment, self-respect, dignity, and more, to the heart of Jabotinsky's legacy, especially as espoused by such leaders such as Menachim Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, who had both come through Jabotinsky's youth movement, Betar, and today, by Jews and their leaders in Judea and Samaria.
On 23 December 1923—yes, there is a major centenary just around the corner—Ze'ev Jabotinsky resolved to tackle the problem at source and founded the youth movement, Betar in Riga, Latvia. Betar went on to become the incubator of strong Israeli leadership, with an impressive string of national leaders passing through it, not all of whom were destined to become Jabotinskys. Self-respect, elevation and the quest for the highest personal fulfilment, in short, Hadar, became the driving force of Betar.
If “Hadar” is important to every man generally, it is doubly so to us Jews. We have already stated that life in the Diaspora has greatly weakened many of our soundest normal instincts: The outward form of our life has, however, been still more neglected. We all know, we often deplore the fact that to the average Jews, manners of appearance are of no consequence whatsoever, this is not a “trifle” it is an important problem of self-respect. A man must care of his bodily cleanliness not because he fears his fellow men, but simply by reason of self-respect. He should also accustom himself to speech and gestures in which there must be discerned an equal esteem of his own “Majesty,” for every man has majesty of a kind; a Jew especially.
One of the good methods of Hadar education is, in fact, the Betarian discipline, but is not sufficient. Every individual must examine and weigh and measure his personal habit. Hadar consists of a thousand trifles which collectively form every day life: Eat noiselessly and slowly, do not protrude your elbows at meals, do not sip your soup loudly: walking upstairs at night, do not talk - you awaken the neighbors; in the street, give right of way to a lady, to an elderly person, to a child; to every man - let him be rude, be not so yourself. All these, as well as an endless row of other trifles, make up the Hadar Betari.
Recalling Terence's "Nothing human is alien to me," Ze'ev Jabotinsky's “Majesty,” stands tall in his tireless exertions for the Jews in their restored state to attain the highest levels of education. Not only did he set up an office in St Peterburg from which to raise both interest and funds for such an endeavour, he, along with Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, Martin Buber, Sigmund Freud, Otto Warburg and others, were active in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded in July 1918, before the Ottoman Empire was even properly dead. It is the same idea as establishing a yeshiva on an unpromising hilltop outpost under hostile conditions.
Ze'ev Jabotinsky understood, or, one should say, had the courage to understand and the honesty to accept, that only by rearming themselves and re-engendering the will to fight, will the downtrodden and the kicked of two millennia be able to defend themselves without recourse to abject intercession, and thereby rebuild their dignity. Jabotinsky was instrumental in setting up, in the teeth of bitter Jewish opposition, "The first Hebrew military forces since the Bar Kochba Revolt," of 132 - 136 CE. His units helped the British defeat the Turks in Palestine, for which he was decorated by the British for his courage. It escaped Jabotinsky that Palestinian Arabs, so opposed to Jewish colonisation, seemed to have had no problem with Turkish colonisation, an important clue that he was missing something.
In an episode absolutely overflowing with symbolism, the final battles of the moribund Ottoman Empire were fought on the banks of the River Jordan, centred around the Battle of Magiddon (yes, as in Armageddon) from 16 to 19 September 1918, precipitating the end of the Ottoman world five weeks later. The Allied forces were led by General Sir Edmund Allenby, under whom, three levels down, served Ze'ev Jabotinsky, with Lawrence of Arabia leading his Hejaz Camel Corps battalion into the fray. Across the frontlines, pawing Palestine for the last time, was none other than Mustafa Kemal himself, commanding the Ottoman Seventh Army. Two of the 20th century's greatest nation-builders faced each other in battle, one an enlightened liberal, the other a fascist; Lone Wolf versus Grey Wolf; either could kill the other at any moment. As Klinger remarked, "Only a conflict, with Turkey on the losing side and the Jews on the victorious side, would change the future of Zionism."
This was Je'ev Jabotinsky's moment of destiny. The despised Russian Jew was about to personally help make it happen. For Mustafa Kemal Pasha, likewise, this was his moment of destiny. The overall commander of the Yildirim Army Group, Imperial German Army General Otto Liman von Sanders, observing protocol to the letter, ceded command to Mustafa Kemal, who did not hesitate to order all the Ottoman forces to disengage and retreat to Aleppo:
He himself went ahead and prepared a new line ten miles north of Aleppo. It covered the only road by the one difficult pass through the great mountains of the Taurus into Turkey itself. Its flanks were secure. Neither deserters nor the enemy could get past unchallenged. Arabia, Palestine, Syria were Arab countries which the Turks held as conquerors and rulers only. These were lost. But here on this new line he would make his Turks, with their backs to the wall, fight to keep the enemy out of their own Turkey itself. Here they would fight to the last gasp for their mother-country. (My emphasis) 
The dark side, too, had its Jabotinsky. Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Mustafa Kemal were, in their honour, mirror analogues of each other. The latter, a brutal fascist dictator, was a far better man than Benny Gantz, Ya'ir Lapid or Naftali Bennett, as the following passage from Armstrong illustrates:
From Lawrence, through the Arabs, came suggestions that Mustafa Kemal should use his influence to persuade the Turkish Government to open pourparlers for a separate peace-treaty. This he refused. He would fight. He was no craven to run like the rest as soon as threatened. He worked unceasingly to make his position impregnable. (My emphasis)
If there were a single moment when the Ottoman Empire turned into the Republic of Turkey, and the future State of Israel was conceived, that moment has to be when Kemal took his stand on what would become the border of his "mother-country." The British managed to hang onto their honour up until that point, but only just.
The Arab riots of 1920-21, encouraged by the British who were by this time backing out of the Balfour Declaration, provided Jabotinsky with important lessons. Jabotinsky led the Haganah in defending the Jerusalem's Jews from Arabs out to kill them, but the Jewish leaders of the Old City refused his forces entry, "Because of a misguided faith in their friendly relations with local Arabs." The Old City was the only part that suffered casualties during the riots. Jabotinsky concluded, “As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up this hope.” What Jabotinsky then goes on to say demonstrates his lack of appreciation of Islam and its hold over the Muslim mind, leaving him still to hope that, with the iron wall in place long enough, the Palestinian Arabs will eventually have to see the futility of their stance. "Not till then will they drop their extremist leaders whose watchword is 'Never!'" Then:
The leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions. Then we may expect them to discuss honestly practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizen, or Arab national integrity.
No iron wall is required to prove the exact opposite to be true. The Muslim Arab response to Yasser Arafat’s signing of the Oslo Accords proves that it is not the leaders, but the led who are "extremist," constantly on their guard for any sign of the leaders turning "moderate." The same people who dance in the streets every time an "extremist" murders a Jew, hauled Arafat over the coals for seemingly giving up on "Drive them out from where they drove you out," reaching an agreement with Jews. Arafat only managed to restore quiet once he had assured them that he had no intention of abiding by the Accords he had just signed, and invoking the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, an episode, whether history or myth, that informs every Muslim “negotiation” with Jews.
Had Jabotinsky understood the significance of Hudaybiyyah to Muslims – that there can never be peace between Muslim and non-Muslim, only temporary truces to lull the non-Muslim into a false sense of security – and that Muslims, all Muslims, are under religious obligation to lie to protect and advance Islam, and that no agreement, treaty, accord, contract, etc., between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is ever binding on the Muslim, but always binding on the non-Muslim, he would never have written, "Then we may expect them to discuss honestly practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizen, or Arab national integrity." Since Jabotinsky seems not to have seen any need for an Arab guarantee against Jewish displacement, are we to assume that he intended the iron wall to stay up for good, or was his thinking that the "moderate groups'" proposal that both sides agree to mutual concessions, automatically obviates the need for an iron wall? The latter would be far worse, but I fear the more likely.
It is unfortunate that such incisive thinkers as George Orwell and Ze’ev Jabotinsky seem to have had no significant encounter with Islam, though they could have had, especially Jabotinsky. If they had, then one could expect their insights would have reflected this. One can say with confidence that had Jabotinsky appreciated the gravity of what was unfolding in the Ottoman Empire and its shed periphery, his famous essay, The Iron Wall, might have been less presumptive of eventual Arab acquiescence to Zionism.
The likelihood of Ze'ev Jabotinsky having studied Islam recedes, since he appears not to have known that Arabs, rather than Jews, were colonists to Eretz Israel. A week after publishing The Iron Wall, Jabotinsky published his essay’s second part, The Ethics of the Iron Wall, which he opens by taking his readers back to the outcome of the Third Conference of Russian Zionists, held in Helsinki 4-10 December 1906, the Helsingfors Programme:
Let us go back to the Helsingfores (sic) Programme. Since I am one of those who helped to draft it, I am naturally not disposed to question the justice of the principles advocated there. The programme guarantees citizenship equality, and national self-determination. I am firmly convinced that any impartial judge will accept this programme as the ideal basis for peaceful and neighbourly collaboration between two nations.
Despite “not disposed to question the justice of the principles,” Jabotinsky is, nonetheless critical of himself. He continues,
But it is absurd to expect the Arabs to have the mentality of an impartial judge; for in this conflict they are not the judges; but one of the contending parties. And after all, our chief question is whether the Arabs, even if they believed in peaceful collaboration, they would agree to have any “neighbours”, even good neighbours, in the country which they regard as their own.
Jabotinsky realistically wonders why the Arabs should be expected to even entertain the idea of sharing their country when examples of refusal of others to do so abound.
[Arab] intellectuals would know that a minority always suffers everywhere: the Christians in Turkey, the Moslems in India, the Irish under the British, the Poles and Czechs under the Germans, now the Germans under the Poles and Czechs, and so forth, without end. So that one must be intoxicated with rhetoric to expect the Arabs to believe that the Jews, of all the people in the world, will alone prove able, or will, at least, honestly intend to realise an idea that has not succeeded with other nations.
It is instructive that amongst Jabotinsky’s examples of failed experiments in coexistence, he cites “the Christians in Turkey, the Moslems in India,” as if: (i) either of these, Christians or Muslims, constitute nations in the sense of the Irish, the British, the Poles, the Czechs or the Germans; (ii) Turkey had existed as a nation-state all along, when in fact, the Turkish nation-state was barely a year old, having up till then been a tri-continental, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional empire built around a caliphate; and (iii) the Muslims in India constituted reliable evidence that “a minority always suffers everywhere.”
History does not bear out the idea that “a minority always suffers everywhere.” Jabotinsky’s own examples suffice to illustrate this: the British were the minority in Ireland, India and all their other colonies (with the exception of Australia after circa 1850, and perhaps New Zealand).
Keeping all this in mind, in The Iron Wall Jabotinsky makes three fatal assumptions: firstly, all peoples seek citizenship equality; secondly, all struggles for self-determination are national; and thirdly, all nations are interested in peaceful and neighbourly collaboration. He does recognise the contrary, but does not see this as applicable to the Arabs. 1923 was a strange time to be examining the national question without any reference to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire a year earlier, the wars of national independence from Muslim rule in the Balkans during the decades leading up to the First World War, or the jihad wars against various colonial intrusions up to and during this time.
More importantly for our discussion, throughout the nation-states newly liberated from Ottoman, i.e., Muslim, rule, the period was characterised by widespread retribution against Muslims for two centuries of imposing their Dhimma, jizya and a vast array of other doctrinal abuses on Jews and Christians. Reminiscent of the Reconquista, almost everywhere during and after the Balkan Wars, as well as during and after the earlier Circassian Genocide in the Russian Empire, Muslims fled or were expelled, many to what remained of the rapidly-shrinking Ottoman Empire. Jabotinsky the journalist will have had to know about these.
Muslims exacted not only "revenge" for what they saw as unprovoked kafir attacks on them (Muslim are doctrinally always innocent). Their real revenge was for the ending of their status as lords over the infidels, the natural order of things. The genocide of Armenians, Greeks and other Christians was the Ottoman Caliphate’s last, and particularly vengeful, jihad as the Ottoman Empire, the petri dish for the Ottoman Caliphate, was losing WWI. In response to Western outrage at the genocides, Muslims were totally sincere in objecting, "We've done nothing wrong."
- Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, Zionist Freedom Alliance, 2006, http://www.zfa.org.il/articles/jabotinsky.html
- Joseph B. Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story - The Early Years, Thomas Yoseloff Inc., New York, 1956, p76.
- For a brilliant takedown of the willingness to accept whatever scraps are given, see Michael Koplow's satirical piece, "If Moses had Benny Gantz’s negotiating skills," Times of Israel, 14 April 2020. https://njjewishnews.timesofisrael.com/if-moses-had-benny-gantzs-negotiating-skills/
- Hadar is very much in play in the dynamic between Benjamin Netanyahu and Bezalel Smotrich, as shown again in the latter's recent letter to the Prime Minister, urging a more robust Israeli stance. The same may be said of the Netanyahu's periodic differences with Itamar Ben-Gvir, of which their latest spat over Jewish "close settlement of the land" is a good example.
Smotrich and Ben-Givr are Netanyahu's Hadar. One suspects that Netanyahu knows it, moreover, that he is grateful for it. They keep him on his toes, continually giving him the nudge that he wants and knows he needs. Despite appearances, Netanyahu welcomes this service that Smotrich and Ben-Givr render him. They are helping to ensure that Netanyahu will retire closer to Jabotinsky than he might have done without them, thereby securing his legacy.
For the moment, Netanyahu is far more adept on the world stage than the other two men, and it is correct that Netanyahu leads the war against Iran, but as the Prime Minister himself admits, he has left it far too late. Had Netanyahu formed a government with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir much earlier, Iran might not have reached its present level of threat.
- Ze'ev Jabotinsky, The Ideology Of Betar, 1929. http://www.betar.org/pubs/ideology.htm Compare this, Jabotinsky's address to Jewish youth, to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's address to Turkish Youth.
- "In the late 19th century, great thinkers came together to envision what a Hebrew university could look like. A university of the Jewish people. It was a thought, a dream, to establish an exceptional institution of higher learning in Israel – Well before statehood was assured." —Hebrew University of Jerusalem, https://en.huji.ac.il/history
- Colonel John Henry Patterson was the commanding officer of the 38th Royal Fusiliers, the first unit of the Jewish Legion. Encountering a prominent British Jewish leader bitterly against the Legion Patterson wrote later:
"I happened by chance one day to meet a prominent member of the Sanballat deputation to the War Office, and, in the course of conversation, I asked him why he objected so strongly to the formation of a Jewish Regiment. He replied that he had no faith in the Russian Jews, and feared they would bring discredit on Jewry. I said that, from what I have seen in Gallipoli of the Jew from Russia, I had more faith in him than he had, and that I felt confident I could make him into a good soldier. He was kind enough to remark, "Well, perhaps under you they will turn out to be good soldiers, but then they might win Palestine, and I don't want to be sent there to live." —Denis Brian, The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson, Syracuse University Press, 2008, pg. 125 quoted in https://jewishmag.com/148mag/jewish_legion/jewish_legion.htm
- James Hanafin, "Order of Battle of Egyptian Expeditionary Force," September 1918. https://web.archive.org/web/20150109153754/http://orbat.com/site/history/open4/uk_eygptianexpeditionaryforce1918.pdf
- H. C. Armstrong, Grey Wolf: Mustafa Kemal - An Intimate Study of a Dictator, Arthur Baker, Ltd., p107-8.
- To this day, Israeli leaders plead for Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist.
- Ze'ev Jabotinsky, The Ethics of The Iron Wall, 11 November 1923.
- The same might be said of other white minorities in colonial Africa and Asia, and Russian minorities in Asia. One can safely assume that Jabotinsky uses “minority” in its proper English meaning of the group of lesser number, rather than the postmodern Orwellian meaning of the group of lesser power, which would make black South Africans, 85% of the population at the time, a minority under apartheid! Rather, I would suggest that Jabotinsky was, quite naturally, overwhelmingly pre-occupied with saving his people from the genocide he saw coming, and unable to give these questions the attention they warranted.
Screenshot from "Shir Betar ¤ שיר בית''ר", Zionism48, YouTube, 6 July 2020. https://youtu.be/nv3WJFGjOD0
Herman S. Shapiro. "Kishinever shekhita, elegie" [Kishinev Massacre Elegy]. New York: Asna Goldberg, 1904. Irene Heskes Collection.source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1492558
The Education Center of the National Library of Israel - The National Library of Israel Collections, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39222295
לשכת העיתונות הממשלתית - This is available from National Photo Collection of Israel, Photography dept. Government Press Office, under the digital ID D247-011. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59284414
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=535654
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3228145