Jabotinsky MBE (born on October 18, 1880, died August 4,
1940) was a Revisionist Zionist leader, author, orator, soldier,
and founder of the Jewish Self-Defense Organization in Odessa.
He also helped form the Jewish Legion of the British army in
World War I, and was a founder and early leader of the militant
Zionist underground organization, Irgun.
Born Vladimir Jabotinsky in
Odessa, Russian Empire, he was raised in a Jewish middle-class
home and educated in Russian schools. While he took Hebrew
lessons as a child, Jabotinsky wrote in his autobiography that
his upbringing was divorced from Jewish faith and tradition.
Jabotinsky's talents as a
journalist became apparent even before he finished high school.
His first writings were published in Odessa newspapers when he
was 16. Upon graduation he was sent to Bern, Switzerland and
later to Italy as a reporter for the Russian press.
After the Kishinev pogrom of
1903, Jabotinsky joined the Zionist movement, where he soon
became known as a powerful speaker and an influential leader.
With more pogroms looming on the horizon, Jabotinsky established
the Jewish Self-Defense Organization, a Jewish militia, to
safeguard Jewish communities throughout Russia. Jabotinsky
became the source of great controversy in the Russian Jewish
community as a result of these actions. Around this time, he set
upon himself the goal of learning modern Hebrew, and took a
Hebrew name - Vladimir became Ze'ev ("wolf"). During the
pogroms, he organized self-defense units in Jewish communities
across Russia and fought for the civil rights of the Jewish
population as a whole. That year Jabotinsky was elected as a
Russian delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel,
Switzerland. After Herzl's death in 1904 he became the leader of
the right-wing Zionists.
During World War I, he conceived
the idea of establishing a Jewish Legion to fight alongside the
British against the Ottomans who then controlled Palestine. In
1915, together with Joseph Trumpeldor, a one-armed veteran of
the Russo-Japanese War, he created the Zion Mule Corps, which
consisted of several hundred Jewish men, mainly Russians, who
had been exiled from Palestine by the Turks and had settled in
Egypt. The unit served with distinction in the Battle of
Gallipoli. When the Zion Mule Corps was disbanded, Jabotinsky
traveled to London, where he continued his efforts to establish
Jewish units to fight in Palestine as part of the British Army.
Although Jabotinsky did not serve with the Zion Mule Corps,
Trumpeldor, Jabotinsky and 120 V.M.C. did serve in Platoon
16/20th Battalion of the London Regiment. In 1917, the
government agreed to establish three Jewish Battalions,
initiating the Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky soldiered in the Jordan
Valley in 1918 and was decorated for bravery. As an officer in
the 38th Royal Fusiliers, Jabotinsky fought with General Allenby
in 1917, and was decorated with the MBE for heading the first
company to cross the River Jordan into Palestine.
After Ze'ev Jabotinsky was
discharged from the British Army in September 1919, he openly
trained Jews in self-defense and the use of small arms. After
the 1920 Palestine riots, at the demand of the Arab leadership,
the British searched the offices and apartments of the Zionist
leadership, including Weizmann's and Jabotinsky's homes, for
arms. In Jabotinsky's house they found 3 rifles, 2 pistols, and
250 rounds of ammunition. Nineteen men were arrested, including
A committee of inquiry placed
responsibility for the riots on the Zionist Commission, for
provoking the Arabs. Jabotinsky was given a 15-year prison term
for possession of weapons. The court blamed 'Bolshevism,'
claiming that it 'flowed in Zionism's inner heart' and
ironically identified the fiercely anti-Socialist Jabotinsky
with the Socialist-aligned Poalei Zion ('Zionist Workers')
party, which it called 'a definite Bolshevist institution.'
Following the public outcry against the verdict, he received
amnesty and was released from Acre prison.
In 1921, Jabotinsky was elected
to the executive council of the World Zionist Organization. He
quit the latter group in 1923, however, due to differences of
opinion between him and its chairman, Chaim Weizmann, and
established the new revisionist party called Alliance of
Revisionists-Zionists and its youth movement, Betar (a Hebrew
acronym for the "League of Joseph Trumpeldor"). His new party
demanded that the Zionist movement recognize as its objective
the establishment of a Jewish state along both banks of the
Jordan River. His main goal was to establish a modern Jewish
state with the help and aid of the British Empire. His
philosophy contrasted with the socialist oriented Labor
Zionists, in that it focused its economic and social policy on
the ideal of the Jewish Middle class in Europe. An Anglophile,
his ideal for a Jewish state was a form of nation state based
loosely on the British imperial model, whose waning
self-confidence he deplored. His support base was mostly located
in Poland, and his activities focused on attaining British
support to help in the development of the Yishuv. Another area
of major support for Jabotinsky was Latvia, where his fiery
speeches in Russian made an impression on the largely
Russian-speaking Latvian Jewish community.
In 1930, when Jabotinsky was
visiting South Africa, he was informed by the British Colonial
Office that he would not be allowed to return to Palestine.
The movement he established was
not a monolithic entity, but contained three separate factions,
of which Jabotinsky's was the most moderate. Jabotinsky favored
cooperation with the British, while more irredentistically-minded
individuals like David Raziel, Abba Ahimeir, and Uri Zvi
Greenberg focused on independent action in Mandate Palestine,
fighting politically against Labor, the British Authorities, and
retaliating against Arab attacks. During his time in exile,
Jabotinsky started regarding Benito Mussolini as a potential
ally against the British, and contacts were made with Italy.
However, unlike the Maximalists, Jabotinsky never embraced
fascism, instead wanting Palestine to become a democratic state.
In 1938, Jabotinsky stated in a
speech that Polish Jews 'were living on the edge of the volcano'
and warned that a wave of bloody super-pogroms would be
happening in Poland sometime in the near future. Jabotinsky went
on to warn Jews in Europe that they should leave for Palestine
as soon as possible.
Jabotinsky died of a heart attack
in New York, on August 4, 1940, while visiting an armed Jewish
self-defense camp run by Betar. He was buried in New Montefiore
cemetery in New York rather than in Palestine, in accordance
with the statement in his will, "I want to be buried outside
Palestine, may NOT be transferred to Palestine unless by order
of that country's eventual Jewish government." After the State
of Israel was established, the governments headed by Prime
Minister David Ben-Gurion did not make such a decision. In 1964,
shortly after becoming prime minister, Levi Eshkol ordered the
reinterment of Jabotinsky and his wife in Jerusalem at Mount
Herzl Cemetery. A monument to Jabotinsky remains at his original
burial site in New York.
Ze'ev Jabotinsky's legacy is
carried on today by Israel's Herut party (merged with other
right wing parties to form the Likud in 1973), Herut – The
National Movement (a breakaway from Likud), Magshimey Herut
(young adult activist movement) and Betar (youth movement). In
the United States, his call for Jewish self defense has led to
the formation of Americans for a Safe Israel and the Jewish
Defense Organization. In Israel, there are more streets, parks
and squares named after Jabotinsky than any other figure in
Jewish or Israeli history.