Jabotinsky, Vladimir

views updated May 14 2018


JABOTINSKY, VLADIMIR (Ze'ev ; 1880–1940), Zionist activist, soldier, orator, writer and poet; founder of the *Jewish Legion during World War i. Jabotinsky greatly influenced a large section of the Jewish people and as head of the *Betar movement was the undisputed source of inspiration to masses of Jewish youth, particularly in Eastern Europe. His accomplished oratory – in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, Italian, and German – characterized by compelling logic and magnetic imagery, drew large audiences around the world and was often the climactic experience of Zionist congresses. Born in Odessa into a middle-class Jewish family, Jabotinsky was educated in Russian schools. Before his bar mitzvah he took Hebrew lessons from Y *Rawnitzki, but according to his autobiography, he had "no inner contact with Judaism," and never "breathed the atmosphere of Jewish cultural tradition" during his youth. In 1898 Jabotinsky went to Berne and Rome, where he studied law and served as foreign correspondent of two Odessa dailies (often under the pen name "Altalena"). Under the influence of his professors in Rome, he became a disciple of the economic doctrine of socialism, though he rejected Marxism as a mechanistic philosophy that disregarded the individual. Later on, especially after the Bolshevik Revolution, he radically revised his attitude toward socialism as an economic conception as well. Throughout – individualism was a dominant feature of his thinking.

Jabotinsky returned to Odessa and in 1901 joined the editorial staff of Odesskiya Novosti, his brilliant daily feuilletons becoming widely popular. In the spring of 1903, when the danger of a pogrom in Odessa seemed imminent, he joined the initiators of a Jewish self-defense group. He then traveled the length and breadth of Russia urging self-defense on the Jewish communities. After the pogrom in Kishinev in the same year, he immersed himself in Zionist activities. As a delegate to the Sixth *Zionist Congress, he was fascinated by *Herzl's personality, but he nonetheless voted against Herzl on the *Uganda project. He became the foremost Zionist lecturer and journalist in Russia in the period before 1914. As a member of the editorial board of the Zionist journal *Raszvet, he played a leading role in the evolution of Zionist ideology in Russia and was an architect of the *Helsingfors Program of "synthetic" Zionism (1906), which advocated both settlement in Ereẓ Israel and political and educational activities in the Diaspora. Jabotinsky also crusaded in Russia against antisemitism, Jewish assimilation, and the quasi-nationalism of the *Bund.

In 1909, after the revolution of the Young Turks, the World Zionist Organization appointed Jabotinsky editor of four publications in Constantinople (in French, Hebrew, and Ladino) and entrusted him with political work in Ottoman circles until a disagreement with David *Wolffsohn, the president of the World Zionist Organization, on questions of tactics led to his resignation. His stay in Turkey gave him a deep insight into the weaknesses of the regime.

At the outbreak of World War i, Jabotinsky was sent to Western Europe as a roving correspondent by the Moscow liberal daily Russkiya Vedomosti. In Turkey's declaration of war on the Allied Powers, he foresaw at once her defeat and the inevitable dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. It was essential, he decided, that the Zionist movement should abandon its neutral stand in order to achieve its aims in Palestine at the end of the war. While in Alexandria, where thousands of Jewish deportees from Ereẓ Israel were concentrated, Jabotinsky, joined by Joseph *Trumpeldor, advanced the idea among them of raising a *Jewish Legion to join the Allies in liberating Ereẓ Israel from Ottoman rule. The British military authorities in Egypt, however, rejected the idea, explaining that Britain did not intend opening a front in Palestine at all. But the approach to the British bore unexpected fruit: the Zion Mule Corps, which took part in the Gallipoli campaign. It was led by Col. John Henry Patterson and his deputy was Trumpeldor. Jabotinsky, however, went to Rome, Paris, and London to plead before the Allied statesmen the case for a full-fledged Jewish Legion to fight in Palestine, but met with opposition on all sides. The official Zionist leadership, which insisted on remaining neutral in the war, also condemned Jabotinsky's "legionist" propaganda and actually forced him to leave the Zionist Organization. The only public figures who cooperated with him were Pinhas *Rutenberg, Meir *Grossman, and Joseph *Cowan, while Chaim *Weizmann gave him discreet support. By 1916 Jabotinsky's lonely but energetic campaign had won him substantial support in Britain, but it was only after the death in June 1916 of War Minister Kitchener, who had determinedly opposed any "eastern front," that the winds began to favor his efforts. In 1917 the British government consented to the formation of Jewish units. The first to be established was the "38th Battalion of Royal Fusiliers" under Patterson's command in England, which was joined in 1918 by the 39th (American) and 40th (Palestinian) Battalions. These were later consolidated into the "First Judean Regiment" with the menorah as its insignia. At the time, the British considered this an adequate solution to the problem of Jewish immigrants in East London, who were Russian nationals who could not be drafted into the British Army and refused to return to antisemitic Russia and serve in the Czar's army. Jabotinsky himself joined the 38th Battalion as a lieutenant and was decorated for heading the first company to cross the Jordan. His book The Story of the Jewish Legion (1945), first published in Russian (1928), is a monument to this chapter in Jewish history.

After the war, Jabotinsky insisted on the need to maintain the Jewish Legion in Palestine as a guarantee against the outbreak of Arab hostility, which was encouraged by the anti-Zionist policy of the British military administration. In spite of Patterson's efforts and Jabotinsky's unrelenting demands, Weizmann and the other official Zionist leaders ultimately accommodated themselves to the British policy, and the demobilization of the Jewish Legion took place without strong Jewish opposition. Anticipating anti-Jewish violence by Arab extremists, in the spring of 1920 Jabotinsky organized the *Haganah in Jerusalem, openly leading it to confront the incited Arab masses during the Passover riots of that year. He was immediately arrested by the British authorities, together with other members of the Haganah, and sentenced by a military court to 15 years hard labor. 19 of his young comrades were sentenced to three years each. A storm of indignation broke out in Palestine, England, and America among Jews and gentiles, and the sentences were radically reduced. In July 1920 Sir Herbert *Samuel, the newly appointed first High Commissioner for Palestine, granted amnesty to all those – Jews and Arabs alike – imprisoned in connection with the Jerusalem riots. Jabotinsky left Acre prison acclaimed a hero by all sections of the yishuv, including the Labor parties. Jabotinsky went to London in September 1920 and succeeded in having the whole case quashed, the sentences expunged, and a stinging rebuke handed to the Palestine judiciary by the Army's Advocate General. While in London he was urged by Weizmann to join the Board of Directors of the newly established *Keren Hayesod and, afterwards, the Zionist Executive. Together with Weizmann, he constructed a program that included demands for the restoration of the Jewish Legion and for consultation between the British government and the Zionist Organization on the appointment of the High Commissioner for Palestine. At the Twelfth Zionist Congress (1921), Jabotinsky defended the incumbent leadership against the attacks of the opposition (consisting mainly of the *Brandeis group) and was reelected to the Zionist Executive. He was a member of the first Keren Hayesod delegation to the U.S. Though he opposed Churchill's 1922 White Paper on Palestine which gave a restricted definition of the phrase "a Jewish National Home in Palestine," he did not then resign, and so formally shared with Weizmann the responsibility for the Executive's acquiescence in it.

During the 12th Zionist Congress, Jabotinsky, who was always a sympathizer of the Ukrainian national movement, met Maxim Slavinsky, the representative of *Petlyura's Ukrainian government-in-exile, which was at the time preparing to march into the Bolshevik-held Ukraine. They concluded an agreement providing for a Jewish gendarmerie to follow in the rear of Petlyura's army and protect the Jewish population against pogroms. At this juncture the Ukrainians gave up the struggle, so the project came to naught.

In the second half of 1922, Jabotinsky became increasingly critical of Herbert Samuel's rule in Palestine and of what he considered to be Zionist accommodation with Great Britain's disregard of her obligations. His urging to make public Britain's breaches of her undertaking was rejected by Weizmann. In January 1923 the combination of his acute differences with Weizmann and his other colleagues led to his resignation from the Executive and his decision to leave the Zionist Organization. For a while thereafter his sole contributions to Zionist political life were articles in the Russian weekly Razsvet. Later in 1923, during a lecture tour to the Baltic States, however, he met a lively response from Jewish youth and decided to form a new activist movement to revise Zionist policies. In his lectures he demanded a return to Herzl's concept of the Jewish State, the restoration of the Jewish Legion, and a widespread political offensive for the achievement of a radical change in British policy, which should have as its avowed aim facilitating a Jewish majority in Palestine – including Transjordan – by means of rapid mass immigration. Transjordan had originally been included by Britain in the projected National Home.

In 1925 a convention of his followers in Paris proclaimed the formation of the World Union of Zionist *Revisionists in which Vladimir Tiomkin was elected president. He lived in Paris and made it the headquarters of his movement until 1936, except for a brief period from 1928 through 1929 during which he lived in Jerusalem as director of the Judaea Insurance Company and editor of the daily Do'ar ha-Yom. In 1930, when he was on a lecture tour in South Africa, the British administration, impressed by his growing influence on the Jewish youth, prevented his return to Palestine by canceling his return visa. He resumed residence in Paris, but was constantly on the move throughout Europe, actively collaborating in dozens of publications in many languages and drawing attention to the shortcomings of Zionist political policies and economic methods in Palestine – all of which widened the chasm between him and the Zionist leadership. His relations with the Labor movement in Palestine and in the Zionist movement grew increasingly strained as they charged him with "enmity to labor," militarism, and even "fascism." The establishment of the "enlarged" *Jewish Agency in 1929, with half of the seats allocated to unelected non-Zionist "notables," and the refusal of the Seventeenth Zionist Congress (1931) to accept his proposal to define the aim of Zionism as "the establishment of the Jewish State," induced Jabotinsky to press more and more for the secession of his movement from the Zionist Organization and the formation of an independent instrument of Zionist policy and economic activity.

After Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Jabotinsky espoused the total boycott of Nazi Germany by the Jewish people and opposed the Jewish Agency's *Haavara agreement with the Berlin regime. In the same year, he vigorously defended the two young Revisionists in Palestine, Avraham Stavski and Zevi Rosenblatt, who were accused of assassinating the labor leader Chaim *Arlosoroff. In 1934, through the mediation of Pinhas Rutenberg, Jabotinsky and David *Ben-Gurion concluded a series of agreements intended to ease internal Zionist conflicts, to regularize the relationship between the *Histadrut and the Revisionist workers, and to lead eventually to political understanding and cooperation between Labor Zionism and Revisionism. The scheme fell through, however, when the draft agreement on labor relations was rejected by the majority in a Histadrut plebiscite (1935), dominated by the far Left Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir. These events increasingly alienated Jabotinsky from the Zionist Organization. In 1935, when the Zionist General Council introduced a "discipline clause" prohibiting further "independent political activities" by the Zionist parties, a Congress in Vienna, representing 713,000 voters, mostly from Eastern Europe, founded the New Zionist Organization (nzo), with Jabotinsky as president (nasi) and headquarters in London. Jabotinsky's 1937 testimony before the Royal Commission on Palestine was a dramatic "J'accuse" against British policy and a stirring description of the "frozen stampede" of Jewish masses in Central and Eastern Europe. He simultaneously inaugurated his "policy of alliances" with European governments interested in solving the problem of their Jewish minorities through emigration. His scheme provided for an internationally sponsored ten-year plan for the "evacuation" of 1,500,000 East European Jews to Palestine. This policy was violently opposed by most sections of the Jewish public, who feared that it might be interpreted as Jewish recognition of the antisemitic contention that Jews are essentially aliens in the countries of their residence, and they refused to believe in his repeated warnings of the coming catastrophe. But Jabotinsky achieved a measure of understanding for his scheme in Polish government circles, who were prepared to exert pressure on Great Britain and defend the policy in the League of Nations. Intent on breaking the prohibitive British regulations on immigration to Palestine, Jabotinsky, starting in 1932, launched a campaign, and an organization named Af-Al-Pi ("in-spite-of ") for "illegal" immigration, which, between 1936 and 1942, became a major activity of his movement. Jabotinsky's attitude toward Jewish defense in Palestine also underwent a transformation that paralleled his disenchantment with British rule. In the 1920s he still advanced the idea of a legion of official Jewish units serving as part of the British garrison of Palestine to prevent Arab opposition from deteriorating into anti-Jewish violence. By the end of the 1920s the hope of a resuscitation of the Legion had faded and the Zionist leadership had presided over the development of the Haganah. After the Arab riots of 1929, dissatisfaction with the political leadership of the Haganah led to a split and the creation of the Haganah "b" – which was subsequently renamed "Ha-Irgun ha-Ẓeva'i ha-Leummi" (the National Military Organization). Its members saw Jabotinsky as their inspirer and natural leader. After the Arab riots broke out in 1936, he accepted his position as the head of the Irgun, but due to his enforced absence from the country he could influence iẒl's activities only in very general terms. Differences of opinion between Jabotinsky and the iẒl leadership were ironed out in 1939 at a clandestine conference in Paris, at which David *Raziel, the commander of iẒl, unreservedly accepted Jabotinsky's authority. But opposition to Jabotinsky and his policies inside iẒl resulted in the organization's second split immediately after his death (1940), when Avraham *Stern formed his own group, Loḥamei Ḥerut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel). With the outbreak of World War ii, Jabotinsky demanded the creation of a Jewish army to fight the Nazis alongside the Allied armies, and a united Jewish representation at the future peace conference. In his book The Jewish War Front, published in London in 1940, he formulated what he believed should be the attitude of the Jewish people to the war and its probable aftermath. His proposal for a Jewish army was rejected by British Prime Minister Chamberlain. Jabotinsky did not abandon the idea, and in February 1940 he sailed for the U.S. to enlist Jewish and non-Jewish support for a Jewish army. At the same time he urged the U.S. to join in the war against the Nazis. His stirring addresses gave rise to considerable enthusiasm, and he enlisted the support of British Ambassador Lord Lothian, who saw the value, at this critical stage of the war, of Jabotinsky's vigorous pro-British message. But on August 4, 1940, during a visit to the Betar summer camp near New York City, he died suddenly of a heart attack. In his will, written in the late 1930s, Jabotinsky said: "My remains will be transferred [to Ereẓ Israel] only on the instructions of a Jewish Government." Twenty-four years after his death, his remains, together with those of his wife, Johanna, were taken to Israel by a government decision and buried in a State funeral on Mount Herzl.

The Hebraist, Writer, and Poet

Jabotinsky took the idea of the renaissance of Hebrew as the living language of the Jewish people very seriously. Intensive study quickly made him an outstanding Hebraist. In 1910 he translated The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe into Hebrew and delivered his first Hebrew address in public. Before World War i he toured the Jewish communities of Russia lecturing on "The Language of Our Culture" and advocating the establishment of Hebrew day schools with Hebrew as the language of instruction in all subjects. This idea met with opposition not only in assimilationist and Yiddishist circles, but also among some Zionists, who considered it utopian. Jabotinsky's contribution to Hebrew language and literature was manifold. His translation of ten cantos of Dante's Inferno is a masterpiece. In 1924 he published Targumim, a collection of translations of French, English, and Italian poetry based on Sephardi prosody. He was the first Hebrew poet to write in Sephardi prosody. The literary "Establishment" whose poetry was conceived in Ashkenazi pronunciation finally accepted the change. Jabotinsky moreover is credited with influencing the whole gamut of modern Hebrew poetry. He collaborated with S. Perlman to edit the first Hebrew geographical atlas (1925). Ha-Mivta ha-Ivri, an essay on the phonetics of Hebrew, appeared in Tel Aviv in 1930. An advocate of writing modern Hebrew in Latin characters, Jabotinsky prepared a textbook of "latinized" Hebrew (Taryag Millim), which was published in South Africa in 1949 and in Israel in 1950. He also wrote several patriotic songs that became an inspiration for Zionist youth, particularly of the Betar movement. "Shir Asirei Akko" ("The Song of the Prisoners of Acre"), "Minni Dan," "Kullah Shelli," "Shir Betar," and "Semol ha-Yarden." His fragmentary autobiography Sippur Yamai ("The Story of My Life") is written in elegant Hebrew prose. But his main contributions to belles lettres were in Russian. Two verse plays, "Krov" ("Blood") and "Ladno" ("All Right"), were staged in 1901 and 1902 in the Odessa Municipal Theater; "Bednaya Sharlotta" ("Poor Charlotte": a poem about Charlotte Corday) and a masterly Russian translation of Bialik's "Massa Nemirov" appeared in 1904; a satirical play on Jewish life in Russia "Chuzhbina" ("On Foreign Soil"), written in 1908, was suppressed by Czarist censorship and published in Berlin only in 1922. Bialik's "Songs and Poems" in Jabotinsky's Russian translation (1910) was a best-seller (seven printings within two years), becoming a classic in its own right and making a deep impression not only on Jewish youth but on Russian intellectual circles as well. A collection of his short stories, translated from Russian into English (A Pocket Edition of Several Stories Mostly Reactionary) appeared in Paris in 1925.

Jabotinsky's major literary achievement, the biblical novel Samson the Nazarite, written and first published in Russian (1926) and later translated into Hebrew, English, and German, reflects much of his philosophy of Jewish history and life in general. Chaim Nachman Bialik described it as the only Jewish "national myth." In 1930, on his 50th birthday, his friends published a limited edition of three volumes of his poems, short stories, and essays in Russian. The novel "Pyatero" ("The Five"), which appeared in Russian in 1936, is a largely autobiographical picture of assimilating Jewish circles in Odessa. From the late 1920s until his death, he published articles in Yiddish almost weekly in the Warsaw Jewish press (first in Haynt and later in Der Moment) and in the New York Jewish Morning Journal. For years this was his only stable source of income and the chief vehicle for the propagation of his thoughts. Jabotinsky was an unusually gifted linguist, amassing a knowledge of some 20 languages. He had an intense interest in languages and a precious ability to grasp their spirit. A comprehensive, annotated collection of his writings, including speeches and letters, was published in 18 volumes in Hebrew (Tel Aviv, 1947–59) by his son Eri.

In the 1990s the Israeli Bureau of Statistics revealed that Jabotinsky was, after Herzl, the most frequently used name given to streets in Israel. The moshav Nahalat Jabotinsky, which merged with Binyaminah, and the *Ḥerut headquarters in Tel Aviv – Meẓudat Ze'ev – were named after him. The Jabotinsky Institute, located there, contains his personal archives, a comprehensive collection of manuscripts and letters as well as a museum of photographs and personal effects. His only son Eri (1910–1969), engineer and mathematician, was born in Odessa and educated mainly in Paris. In the middle and late 1930s he headed the Betar movement in Palestine and was an initiator of its aeronautic section, being himself a trained glider pilot. He was also active in the organization of "illegal" immigration from Europe on a mass scale. He was arrested several times by the British authorities and learned of his father's death while imprisoned in a detention camp. During World War ii he was in the U.S. where he became a member of the Hebrew National Liberation Committee headed by Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook). The newly founded *Ḥerut party in Israel included him in its faction in the First Knesset. In 1952 Eri Jabotinsky joined the faculty of the Technion where he became, in 1967, professor of mathematics. He published mathematical studies in scientific journals in Israel and abroad and contributed also to the Revisionist and general Israel press.

[Joseph B. Schechtman]

The first volume of a digest of, and index to, the letters of Jabotinsky between the years 1904 and 1924 was published in 1972, but the project was not continued. However, the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv, together with the Zionist Library, undertook the task of publishing in Hebrew all his letters written in their various languages. Under the editorship of Professor Daniel Carpi seven volumes were published through 2005 covering the period up to 1931.

The centenary of Jabotinsky's birth was celebrated in Israel and elsewhere. A new 100-shekel banknote, the largest denomination to that date in the new currency, bearing his portrait, was issued at the time. In 2000, commemorating his 120th birthday and 60thYahrzeit, symposia and lectures were organized in all of Israel's universities and by many public organizations. In a special session of the Knesset, spokesmen from all sides of the House paid tribute to his memory.


J.B. Schechtman, The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story, 2 vols (1956–61); O.K. Rabinowicz, Vladimir Jabotinsky's Conception of a Nation (1946). add. bibliography: R. Bielsky Ben-Hur, Every Individual a King, (1993); Sh. Katz, Lone Wolf, 2 vols (1996).

Vladimir Evgenevich Jabotinsky

views updated Jun 27 2018

Vladimir Evgenevich Jabotinsky

Vladimir Evgenevich Jabotinsky (1880-1940) led the Revisionist Zionist party. He fought for a Jewish state extending on both sides of the Jordan River.

Vladimir Jabotinsky was born on Oct. 18, 1880, in Odessa, the Jewish cultural center of southern Russia. He received his elementary and secondary education in Russian schools and showed special gifts in languages and literature. He learned Russian, English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Yiddish. He started his literary career at the age of 18 as a foreign correspondent of Odessky Listok in Bern and Rome. In 1901 he returned to Russia and, after the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev, became an active member of the Zionist movement. Under his influence Jewish defense groups started to organize in Russia to avoid repetition of the earlier pogroms. In 1904 he was a delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress, and in 1906 he was active in the conference of Russian Jewry at Helsinki. In 1909 he represented the Executive of the World Zionist Organization in Constantinople to establish contact with a new Turkish regime. With his mission completed in 1910, he returned to Russia and devoted himself to the fight against assimilation and for Hebrew as the language of instruction in Jewish schools.

When World War I started, Jabotinsky was in western Europe as a correspondent of Russkiya Vyedomosti. In opposition to the official Zionist leaders, who remained neutral, he insisted on active Jewish participation in the Allied conquest of Palestine. As a result of his agitation, the first Jewish military unit, the Zion Mule Corps, was accepted by the British and sent to the Gallipoli front. In 1917 Jabotinsky succeeded in forming three Jewish battalions, which were sent to Palestine and participated, as the Jewish Legion, in the conquest of Palestine.

With the establishment of the British administration in Palestine, in 1920 Jabotinsky directed underground Jewish activity against Arab rioters. He was sentenced by the British authorities to 15 years at hard labor; the sentence was commuted to a year, however, and he was banished from Palestine. In 1921 Jabotinsky joined the Executive of the World Zionist Organization. In opposition to Chaim Weizmann, Jabotinsky demanded a militant Jewish stand against the British policy in Palestine and the Churchill White Paper. He resigned in 1923 from the Executive and devoted himself entirely to the organization of the Union of the Revisionist Zionists, whose goal was transformation of Palestine, by unlimited immigration, into a Jewish state. Becoming convinced that the Executive was destroying Zionism, he later left the World Zionist Organization; the majority of the Revisionists followed him and organized the New Zionist Organization in 1935. He settled in London, where he fought against the partition plan of the Peel Commission of Palestine, against compromise with the mandatory authorities, and against the policy of self-restraint of the Haganah in the face of growing Arab violence.

At the beginning of World War II, Jabotinsky went to the United States, where he was active on behalf of the Jewish communities under Hitler. He died suddenly on Aug. 3, 1940. He was buried in New York but, according to his wishes, his body was later buried in Israel.

In addition to being a statesman, Jabotinsky was also a linguist, orator, editor, and journalist. He wrote several books, among them War and the Jew, in which he claimed that the only solution for the Jewish problem is the liquidation of the Jewish communities outside Palestine and mass immigration to Palestine.

Further Reading

A full-length study of Jabotinsky is Joseph B. Schechtman, The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story (2 vols., 1956-1961).

Additional Sources

Katz, Shmuel, Lone wolf: a biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky, New York: Barricade Books, 1995.

Nedava, Joseph, Vladimir Jabotinsky, the man and his struggles, Tel Aviv: Jabotinsky Institute of Israel, 1986.

Schechtman, Joseph B., The life and times of Vladimar Jabotinsky, Silver Spring, MD: Eshel Books, 1986. □