Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jacqueline Rose Reviews Jabotinsky

Jabotinsky's book, The Five, in an English translation is reviewed in The Nation by Jacqueline Rose.

Her bottom line:-

The end of The Five suggests that the question of how to respond to suffering was something Jabotinsky was never able to answer. It is as if the only options he could imagine were impotent, humiliating self-sacrifice or militant, invincible rage. But unless this deadlock can be broken, with all its dire consequences for Palestinian Arabs and Israel as a nation, the conflict in the Middle East has no chance of being resolved. To recall, finally, Weizmann's letter to Jabotinsky of 1915, in which Weizmann asked him how he could bear to be so hated: Jabotinsky seems to have thrived on such hatred, risen to it, as we might say. The Five tells the other story. It allows us to watch his love traveling elsewhere--back to Odessa, in a last fleeting gesture to a world that he helped put the seal on for all time.

In Jabotinsky's writing, Zionism both affirms and doubts itself. What would Israel look like today if the modern leaders who have claimed to take their inspiration from him--Begin, Netanyahu, Sharon and now Olmert, who referred to Jabotinsky in his speech to the first session of the new Knesset at the beginning of May--had shown themselves capable of such radical self-questioning?

And here's a good section:-

For Jabotinsky Arab national aspirations, like those of the Zionists, were legitimate. Hence his acknowledgment of the inevitable violence of the struggle. Antagonism between Jew and Arab therefore veiled a latent identification. Unlike those Zionists who blithely predicted, with a barely concealed racism, that the Arabs would relinquish their land when they saw how the Jewish pioneers made the desert bloom, he insisted that they were a people of dignity who would not be bought: "The entire country is full of Arab memories." National groupings cannot, therefore, but be at war with each other. In The War and the Jew, he makes a key distinction between the "Anti-Semitism of Men," based on irrational, visceral hatred ("a subjective repulsion, strong enough and permanent enough to become anything from a hobby to a religion," "a constant urge to harm the hated race"), and the "Anti-Semitism of Things" ("steady, constant and immutable, and therefore much more formidable"), which follows from the natural desire to protect, and foster, the interests of one's own kind: "an instinct which cannot be criticized because, after all, it is as natural as preferring one's own children to one's neighbor's offspring." Zionist and Arab therefore share a natural hostility to each other. Once again the fiction tells another story. "It is a good thing that you should live for a time among the Philistines," Samson says to one of his followers. "They are our neighbors, and if men come to know each other, there is no more enmity between them."

In Jabotinsky's future, Arab and Jew would not be neighbors so much as carefully differentiated groupings within the body politic of the new state. We are a far cry from The Five's "good-natured fraternization of nationalities," the "Babylonian diversity of our common forum" in which the narrator took such naïve but wholesome delight. Arabs might be citizens, they might even participate in government (once they had submitted, there could even be an Arab vice president), but only the Jews would fully belong to the nation. Behind the apparently liberal demand for Arab minority rights lies a plea for the separation of peoples. Jabotinsky has transposed to Palestine the exact arrangement whose utter nonviability for the Jews he knew only too well: "every possible right that the Jews...had never achieved in other countries." "The Helsingfors utopia has, of course, never been attained either in Russia or anywhere else," he wrote in his 1930 essay "Binational Palestine." "I trust that the first country where they will, some day, be fully applied will be our own Palestine--that is, when we Jews shall have become its masters."

If there is an affinity between Arab and Jew, such a form of recognition shows its darker side. The line from Odessa to Tel Aviv, from failed assimilation to national identity, can be run more ways than one. For if there can only be one sovereign people, why would the Arabs, any more than the Jews in Russia, want to stay? Slowly, as Jewish emigration to Palestine from Europe increased throughout the 1930s, Jabotinsky's vision turned toward the transfer of peoples. Not forcibly--he was outspoken against forcible transfer--but nonetheless as the consequence, ironically, of his own belief in Arab nationhood. As Shavit points out, there was an inherent contradiction in the official Revisionist position, which rejected the idea of a pan-Arab nation while maintaining that the Palestinian Arabs could be effortlessly absorbed into the larger Arab world (a contradiction all the more intense in that they refused to recognize the Hashemite regime in Transjordan, and hence the Transjordanian nation that was meant to receive them). Somewhat at odds with his own movement, Jabotinsky had no such problem with the larger pan-Arab vision--and, if there was a greater Arab nation, why should they not leave? According to Edward Norman, recording a conversation about a possible transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq, Jabotinsky made the truly "original suggestion" that it would be wise to have the Zionist Organization openly oppose Arab emigration from Palestine, and then the Arabs would be sure the scheme was not Jewish and that the Jews wanted them to stay in Palestine only to exploit them, and they would want very much to go away to Iraq.

1 comment:

Joe in Australia said...

Jacqueline Rose's review has disappeared from The Nation's website, but a copy can be found here: The Zionist Imagination.