Saturday, October 30, 2021

Responding to the Jabotinsky Fascist Claim

I see that in the new issue, my letter does not appear (not that I expected it).

An extract from a review of Tom Segev's biography of David Ben-Gurion in the New York Review of Books:

Segev consistently opts for the less charitable interpretation...A more significant example is the conflict with the Revisionists, a militant, nationalist faction of the Zionist movement, which later evolved into the Likud party. Ben-Gurion described them as an enemy and the fight against them as a war. He called the Revisionist party “a Jewish Nazi party” and its leader, the Odessa-born writer Vladimir Jabotinsky, “Vladimir Hitler.” For Segev, this was all “verbal acrobatics.” In November 1944, following a series of terrorist attacks by the Revisionist underground organizations against British targets, Ben-Gurion ordered Haganah forces to crack down on them. Surrendering Jewish fighters to the resented Mandate authorities was no more popular among his ranks than restraint in the face of Arab violence had been a decade earlier. But he insisted: “The two are incompatible—either the way of the terrorists or the way of Zionism.”

According to Segev, this too was merely a political power play, “a struggle over who would rule the Jewish state that would be born after the war.” The differences between them—differences that arguably shape the political landscape in Israel to this day—are in his account negligible:

Jabotinsky was not a fascist any more than Ben-Gurion was a Marxist. Ben-Gurion was no less nationalist or militarist than Jabotinsky. The right-left divide in the Zionist movement was largely a matter of style and modes of operation, not of fundamental values. In the large picture, it was a fight over power more than it was over ideas.

It is true that Labor Zionists and Revisionists had the same goal: an independent state with a Jewish majority in historic Palestine. (Though arguably they had very different ideas about the character this state should have; the sympathy expressed by prominent Revisionists for fascism—saluting their leader as “Duce” and their unscrupulous targeting of civilians—might plausibly be taken to indicate differences in “fundamental values.”) Indeed, both parties were opposed to binationalism—the creation of a single state for both Jews and Arabs in Palestine—which was advocated in one form by the Communists and in another by a group of utopian intellectuals known as Brit Shalom. But the ideological conflicts in the Zionist movement cannot be reduced to the question of binationalism (a fanciful idea even by Segev’s account).

At a high enough altitude all differences disappear. For Segev, it seems, ideas belong to the sublime realm of fundamental values or goals. Everything else is just power, by which he means the struggle for personal gain and position. But between values and egos lies the domain of what is to be done—the domain of politics. That is where Ben-Gurion excelled.

I sent this letter to the editor:

In Assaf Sharon's review of Tom Segev's biography of David Ben-Gurion (‘This Obstinate Little Man’, Nov. 4), he refers to the clash between Ben-Gurion and Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. Sharon notes Segev's opinion that "Jabotinsky was not a fascist any more than Ben-Gurion was a Marxist" yet adds his own view that Jabotinsky's followers were "saluting their leader as 'Duce'" and engaged in "unscrupulous targeting of civilians".

Only one member of Jabotinsky's Revisionist Party, Dr. Abba Ahimeir, suggested such behavior but Jabotinsky rejected the idea. Only amongst members in the Italian branch of his movement was he called 'Duce' due to the political atmosphere in that country. As Avishai Margalit explained in these pages (NYRB, "The Spell of Jabotinsky", Nov. 6, 2014), Jabotinsky repudiated fascism. He refused to meet Mussolini (although Chaim Weizmann did so, four times).

It need also be clarified that the "civilians" targeted were Arabs during the 1937-1939 years of the Arab Revolt when, after Arab terror gangs attacked Jewish civilians in their homes, in marketplaces and on public transportation, the Revisionist militia, the Irgun, retaliated in kind.



Joe in Australia said...

I’m not at all sure that your mitigation is a defense. Civilians are civilians.

YMedad said...

Er, I put civilians in quotation marks and indicated they weren't what one would think real civilians are. You missed that?

Joe in Australia said...

Perhaps what you wrote doesn't express your intent? Because you literally say
"the "civilians" targeted were Arabs during the 1937-1939 years of the Arab Revolt when, after Arab terror gangs attacked Jewish civilians in their homes, in marketplaces and on public transportation, the Revisionist militia, the Irgun, retaliated in kind."

I take "retaliated in kind" to mean that the Arabs attacked by the Irgun were actual civilians, just as the Jews attacked by Arab terrorists were actual civilians.