Tuesday, May 01, 2012

On Jabotinsky, One Ideal and Two Netanyahus

Yossi Klein Halevi, in a piece analysing Benzion Netanyahu as the "last purist Revisionist", among many things, wrote this:-

The most profound debate between Revisionism and Labor concerned the nature of the Zionist transformation of the Jew. All Zionists agreed that the Jewish character had been distorted by exile; the question was what aspects of that personality needed to be changed. Labor advocated a total overhaul: a secular socialist Jew, freed of piety and economic marginality, a farmer and a worker. Revisionism, though, had only one demand on the new Jew: Become a soldier. Jabotinsky didn’t care whether Jews were Orthodox or atheist, workers or businessmen—so long as they knew how to defend themselves.

Only one demand?

In 1928, Jabotinsky published an article on the occasion of the memorial day, the yahrtzeit, of Yosef Trumpeldor. In it, we can read:

...Today, on the Jahrzeit of Trumpeldor, we must pose the same question. Among those commemorating this occasion we find the most bitter and fierce opponents of everything which has a connection with a sword, weapon and revolver.  But Trumpeldor's name is especially connected with these ugly instruments. True, he created the Hechalutz and that is a shining gem in his crown, but it would be foolish to deny that in the memory of the masses of our nation, Trumpeldor is primarily a soldier. The phrase, "hero of Tel-Hai" is familiar to them...They know three words: Trumpeldor, Legion and Tel-Hai.  Trumpeldor's legend which has been created by the masses is the legend of a Jewish soldier and not that of a party man. That is why his name is so popular with the masses. It is not true that "Jews do not like such things." That is a product of imagination. In the hearts of the simple Jew who belongs to the masses, there lives a tremendous excitement and amazement, perhaps even a yearning, for a strong hand, which will take up the cudgels on behalf of these grievances. This is apparent to everyone who has seen Hassidim with long beards attend a foot-ball match of the Viennese "Hakoah." This also pertains to woman. From the rebbitzin to the market dealer, all know the name of Breitbard [the "Jewish Strongman", "Der jüdische Schmied", Zishe Siegmund Breitbart (1883-1925)].

It is also incorrect to persuade oneself or others that the masses appreciate in Trumpeldor not the hero, but the victim, the man who died nobly and not the man who fought nobly. This is not true. We have had thousands of martyrs and sacrifices in our generation and not one of them has been enwrapped in Legend. Trumpeldor's greatness consists not in that the Arabs slew him, but that he defended the Yishuv and killed many murderers before he himself fell. Trumpeldor as a Jewish soldier, Tel Hai as a Jewish fortress, these are no errors but an example and a Torah for our young generation.

That the fashion of attacking and murdering Jews has not yet disappeared from the face of the earth cannot be disputed, even the blind can see this. Only one question remains – what is the best way of meeting this fashion?  That is why youth loved Trumpeldor so much. Not his hammer, not his shovel, not his plow, but his sword. To this youth, Tel Hai, is more precious as a fortress than as a commune...Tel Hai is the same as Port Arthur and Sebastopol for the Russians and Verdun for the French; a fortress which the enemy attacked with weapons and which the Jews defended with weapons. Trumpeldor' was the leader of Jews capable of defending themselves.

And as expressed in Betar's ideology:

The Betar is steadfast concerning Legionism: it demands of its members as well of the Jewish youth generally that they fully train in the technique of utilizing firearms, and that they be in readiness always to answer personally the call of self-defense or, time being opportune, of a new Jewish army. The Betar holds that a pioneer who did not prepare himself for this task is useless and unsuitable for Palestine and "Hachshara garin" (military training) is the first and most important of all other requisites.

Our rivals call this "militarism". We should not be afraid, however, of a Latin word. There was a time when the first Zionists too were threatened with Latinism: nationalism..... But those first Zionists too were undaunted and answered: There are two sorts of nationalism: If a nation dwells in its country but also desires to annex the land of its neighbors - that is bad nationalism. On the other hand, when a nation is entirely homeless and demands for itself a portion of G-d's earth, it is a good nationalism about with there is nothing to be ashamed of. The same applies to "Militarism". If a power, unharmed by anybody, begins to arm in order to attack its peaceful neighbors, it is a bad militarism. In, however, the case of Jews, who are being beaten everywhere, and even in Palestine are being threatened with destruction - it is certainly proof of good nationalism to arm for the defense of our lives, property and future.
Jabotinsky, however, despite his monism, was not a one-dimensional ideologue.  He also considered social problems:

The social dreamers (with one exception) have all fallen into the same error. They all planned how to change the entire economic structure of society, instead of considering the only important matter – how to eliminate poverty.
And how is that to be accomplished?  He wrote this and offered a solution:-
What is then your prescription for solving the social problem, according to your doctrine of equal rights for all the idlers?  My prescription consists of two brief and simple rules. Firstly, every person who demands it shall receive from the state a fixed minimum for his needs – a satisfactory minimum which is to be determined in a given country during a given state of technological progress. Secondly, to assure this minimum, the state shall have the right to recruit men and requisition materials according to the particular needs of the time, and that is all...I assume that what we term "elementary necessities" of the average person – the things for which he must now struggle and fight, and the lack of which makes him cry in despair – consists of five elements: food, shelter, clothing, the opportunity to educate his children and medical aid in case of illness. In Hebrew, they could be expressed briefly and euphoniously in five words, each beginning with the letter "mem" - mazon (food), maon (shelter), malbush (clothing), mora (education), and marpe (medical assistance)... The duty of the state, according to "my scheme", is to provide each needy person the "five mems". That is the first of my two laws...

Betar's ideology did not ignore other ideas even while highlighting the one ideal:

...the Betari must be open-eyed, clear minded and generous of heart. A Betari must be able to deal fairly and respectfully with all honest aspirations of his fellow men - especially because the best of these are derived from Jewish sources. Pacifism, for instance, and above all the war for social justice have their mainspring in the Bible. We also hope for a time to come when the Jewish state will show the world the right way of both eternal peace and social justice. First of all, however, the Jewish nation must build its state, this undertaking is so complicated and difficult that it demands the full strength of an entire generation, perhaps even more than one generation. Jewish youth must, therefore, devote itself completely to this sole task; all other ideas, though they be beautiful and humane, should influence us only in so far as they do not hinder the rebuilding of a Jewish state. When one of these ideas becomes, even if indirectly, an obstacle on the road to a Jewish state, it must be mercilessly sacrificed in favor of the one ideal. One should remember that one may have many ideas and respect them highly, but one can only have one ideal. To this ideal all other ideas must bow, and near it there should not and cannot exist a second ideal, for two ideals are as absurd as two gods; one can worship only one G-d and only one ideal. Everything else one may like is, and must, remain secondary importance.

And offered a form of socialism:-

...is it not conceivable that a time may arrive when a purely Betarian approach to the social problems shall evolve? This approach would be based upon Jewish sources...Socialist theory is inspired by Laws of Moses and the Prophets...Our Bible does offer a concrete plan of a social revolution, but it is the direct opposite of Socialism. I refer to the idea of a "Jubilee".

A "Socialist" order means such a social system which once and for all should regulate all class relationship; once and for all abolish the difference between rich and poor so that there will be no further necessity for additional social reforms. All this is good and well, but there is one great flaw in such a system: man thereby would cease to strive, to fight to seek for something better. Everybody's position would be automatically regulated; nothing could be changeable; dreams could be disposed with, the mind would not be exerted and there would vanish every individual's constructive impulse...The Jubilee idea is totally dissimilar: for it aims that society should periodically institute a great fundamental social revolution; that it should equalize all classes that it take from the wealthy and give to the destitute. The difference, however, is that the Jubilee idea infers that after such a revolution, every man is free to start anew his social battle, free again to aspire, to utilize his energies and talents according to his desire...Humanity must always be stormy and seething. Every man must see before himself an open road upwards; one will rise to the heights another will slide down a precipice. All will be lively. There will be competition and progress - until the new year of Jubilee, when everything will once more be equalized to be followed again with a new beginning.

But Yossi is correct in this:

Of all the divides separating Revisionism and Labor, the failure of the mainstream Zionist movement to sense the approaching abyss and attempt to rescue Europe’s Jews remained perhaps the most bitter.

There is an anachronistic error here:

members of Betar, the Revisionist youth movement, wore on their navy blue uniforms a patch of the old dream map, of both banks of the Jordan.

The uniform was brownish, the color of the soil of the Land of Israel.

Yossi emphasizes the positive aspects of wariness and sensibility but trips up in his conclusion

...that is what Benzion’s son has committed himself to do. Not to preserve greater Israel at all cost, but to negotiate a safe partition if that becomes possible. A partition without wishful thinking.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has forever changed Israel’s political map and, in so doing, helped prepare the way for an eventual agreement with the Palestinians. That is not the victory Benzion hoped for. But it is, in its painful way, a vindication of the politics of realism he taught his son.

I am not sure Bibi's commitment is a vindication or whether it is more than just a tactical positioning.  Is it a yielding of principles or a testing of the Arabs?

In any case, those words are but Yossi's wishful thinking.


No comments: