Zionist Revisionist Movement

views updated


The political party that represented the revisionist oppositional trend in Zionism; led by Ze ʾev Jabotinsky from the 1920s through the 1940s.

The Zionist Revisionist Movement sometimes referred only to the political party (Ha-Zohar; Union of Zionist-Revisionists) and sometimes to various subsidiary bodies and institutions that expressed the revisionist ideology and accepted the leadership of Vladimir Zeʾev Jabotinsky, in particular the Betar youth movement, an avant-garde mass movement of youth and incipient army founded in 1923. Hence, a distinction must be made between, on the one hand, any discussion of the political history of the union and, on the other hand, the history of Betar, the National Labor Federation, and Brit haHayyal (a union of Polish army veterans)all of which were part of the Revisionist Movement (although they preferred to regard themselves as belonging to the "national movement" or to the "Jabotinsky movement").

The union itself was founded in 1925 in Paris by a group of veteran Zionists, most of them Russians, to propose a "revision" in the aims of Zionism, which basically meant a return to the principles of political Zionism espoused by Theodor Herzl. It found its greatest support among the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe (Poland and the Baltic states), but it had branches worldwide. It grew rapidly; in the elections for the 1927 Zionist Congress, it drew 8,446 votes and in the 1933 elections, 99,729 votes. Consequently, its representation grew at the Zionist Congress and in the Asefat haNivharim (the parliament of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine), and it became the major opposition party, taking on the image of the Zionist Right or even Zionist fascism, from the end of the 1920s. This electoral growth and development of revision-ist institutions led to a number of controversies between the revisionists and the labor movement and the "official" Zionism. This division was often expressed in acts of violence, leaving a deep imprint on the political history and political culture of Zionism and the Yishuv. An internal conflict also existed between moderate elements that wanted to remain within the Zionist Federation and those that demanded that the union break away. It was resolved in 1933 when the moderates seceded from the union %
and founded a small independent party called the Jewish State Party.

A specific point of controversy with official Zionism was the union's "independent diplomacy." This was expressed in various activities, primarily in attempts to obtain the support of European countries, in particular of Poland, to pressure Britain in the Mandate Council of the League of Nations in Geneva. In 1934 the union organized a mass petition denouncing British policy, and after the rise of the Nazis to power, it organized a boycott against German goods. From the mid-1930s, it began disseminating propaganda (and engaging in clandestine activity) to encourage a mass emigration of 700,000 to 1.5 million Jews from Europe to Palestine within a ten-year period (the Evacuation Plan and the Ten-Year Plan). It also was active in organizing illegal immigration to Palestine.

In 1935, the union broke away from the Zionist Federation and set up the New Zionist Federation (NZO) that met with wide popular support. In 1945, it rejoined the Zionist Federation. The union maintained an extensive organizational system with centers in Paris, London, and Warsaw. In Palestine, the Ha-Zohar was the second-largest political party. After establishment of the state, the Irgun Zvaʾi Leʾumi (IZL) founded an independent party while veteran members of the union had their own Revisionist Party, which never attained any representation, so most of its members finally joined the new party.

The movement's platform reflected Jabotinsky's program and ideology: the future establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan river under Jewish sovereignty. As an interim measure, a colonization regime would be set up to create the conditions necessary to achieve a demographic Jewish majoritya prerequisite for a state. For this purpose, it called on the mandatory government to adopt an economic and settlement policy that would foster Jewish immigration and settlement. It also demanded that the Jewish Legion be reinstated, i.e., that Jewish military units be activated as an integral part of the British garrison in Palestine.

The official program relating to socioeconomic matters was a combination of etatism (state socialism) and liberalism: on the one hand, support for the private sector and on the other a demand for involvement by the mandatory government and the Jewish Agency in the creation of infrastructure, in providing assistance to the private sector, and in setting up legal arrangements to prevent strikes. The union viewed Palestinian Arabs as citizens with equal rights, on condition that they do nothing to impair the national character of the Jewish state. The revisionists believed that cooperation with the mandatory government and with Britain was essential. But to prevent Britain from reneging on its commitments, they thought it necessary to bring political and propaganda pressure to bear on Britain. In their view, the strategic cooperation in Palestine and Britain's readiness to help Europe's Jews in their distress were the basis for such cooperation. The party was not monolithic, and various views came to the fore. In the 1930s, its dominant mood was that of the "radical nationalists," who called for a more activist policy toward the British, beginning in 1930 but in particular after the events of 1936 (the revisionists opposed the partition plan recommended by the Peel Commission Report in July 1937).

As a result of the internal disputes, there was a great deal of tension in the movement, particularly between the union and Betar and various maximal-ist groups. This internal strife led to the creation of new organizations, weakly linked organizationally to the union (in particular, the IZL).

see also herzl, theodor; irgun zvaʾi leʾumi (izl); jabotinsky, vladimir zeʾev; jewish agency for palestine; jewish legion; peel commission report (1937); yishuv; zionism.


Jabotinsky, Vladimir. The Political and Social Philosophy of Ze ʾev Jabotinsky: Selected Writings, edited by Mordechai Sarig; translated by Shimshon Feder. Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998.

Katz, Shmuel. Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir (Ze ʾev) Jabotinsky. New York: Barricade Books, 1996.

Schechtman, J., and Ben Ari, Y. History of the Revisionist Movement, Vol. 1. Tel Aviv: Hadar, 1970.

Shavit, Yaakov. Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement, 19251948. London, U.K., and Totawa, NJ: Frank Cass, 1988.

yaakov shavit