Thursday, April 18, 2024

On Jabotinsky's Views on Arabs

From here, Shlomo Avineri:

"In connection with the central position of national existence in Jabotinsky’s theoretical concept, his approach to the position of Zionism in the Arab question is especially interesting. And we repeat, we are not interested in tactical positions, but in the question of principle, and here Jabotinsky inevitably faces a very difficult problem.

On the one hand, one might believe that a person like Jabotinsky, who saw in nationalism, in national characteristics, in the national desire to separate from others and in national pride, the focus of state and historical development, would be attentive to the aspirations of Arab-Palestinian nationalism. One who did not shy away from Ukrainian nationalism with its anti-Semitic manifestations, as we saw above, who was intellectually interested in Serbs, Croats and Albanians with their national rights, who believed that Estonian choirs testify to the strength of the national feeling seething in the Estonian people , - from such a person one could expect that, having come to analyze the Middle Eastern reality, he would try to find a place for Arab nationalism - in Palestine and in neighboring countries - in the overall picture of his worldview.

But that did not happen. Anyone who wants to find in Jabotinsky an attempt to resolve this issue will be disappointed. The fundamental decision here was not easy for any of the Zionist thinkers, but perhaps it could have been expected from such a thinker as Jabotinsky, in whose philosophy nationalism, as a universal phenomenon, occupied such a central place. However, Arab nationalism is discussed infrequently and in passing in his writings, and anyone who detects a considerable amount of disdain for the Arabs in this limited material would be right.

True, Jabotinsky, with his moral conviction, stood for the fact that in the future Jewish state, where the Arabs would be a minority, they would receive full civil rights as individuals. But a continuous thread runs through all of Jabotinsky’s literary and political activities: he does not seem to notice the Arabs as a serious political, social or cultural factor.

Once again, this seems to be driven not by tactical considerations or an attempt to evade a question that may be difficult to answer, but by something deeper: at the heart of this position is Jabotinsky's concept of the superiority of European culture; therefore, he views Zionism as an expression of this cultural power of Europe. In his writings, he resolutely rejects the idealization of the East or the Arab world, and in the article “Fashion for Arabesques” (1927) he argues with those participants in the Zionist movement who strive to see in the return to Zion also a return of the Jewish people to their origins - to the East. The Jewish people, Jabotinsky argues, are a European people, their culture took root in Europe, European culture itself is based on elements to which the people of Israel contributed from the best of their heritage, and there, in the West, and not in the East, the place of Israel as a people . According to Jabotinsky, this also applies to the Sephardi community: “Our origins from Asia, of course, are not proof. All of Central Europe is filled with races that also came from Asia - and much later than us.

All Ashkenazi Jews and perhaps half of the Sephardic Jews have lived in Europe for almost two thousand years. Enough time to take root spiritually.

Even more important is the other side of the issue: we not only lived in Europe for many centuries, we not only learned from Europe: we, the Jews, are one of those peoples who created European culture, and one of the most important among them...

The spiritual atmosphere in Europe is ours, we have the same right to it as the Germans, English, Italians and French: the “copyright” right. And in Eretz Israel this creativity of ours will continue... Nordau said it well: we are going to Palestine to push the moral limits of Europe to the Euphrates River" [5] .

In the same year (1927), Jabotinsky wrote a long article entitled “Merchants of the Spirit,” in which he tries to prove that the Arab medieval culture was, in essence, not Arab, and not even Muslim, and that most of the famous names in the field of thought in the Arab world of the Middle Ages belongs to the Syrians, Jews, Persians, etc. - and not to the Arabs themselves. It is clear that the main question here is not the historical correctness of such a definition, which itself is historical and conditioned by time; It is interesting that the same thinker who, when discussing Ukrainian nationalism, carefully emphasizes the element of difference between Ukrainians and Great Russians, does the opposite when discussing Arab culture [6] .

The same question finds artistic expression in the story “Zhidenok”, which appeared in a collection in Russian published by Zhabotinsky in 1930.

Jabotinsky himself is aware that the story can be called “obviously chauvinistic.” The main story is a detailed story about a Jewish teenager in one of the settlements of Eretz Israel, proving how much better he knows Arab culture and the geography of the Middle East than all the students of the village Arab school, which is known as “an amazing school: six classes, geographical maps and teacher from students of Cairo Al-Azgar University.” The story may be trivial, but the lesson that Jabotinsky wants to draw from it is clear, especially since the Jewish teenager in the story sums up the goals of this education in a very simple form: “The students must learn two branches of knowledge: to speak Hebrew and to beat face."

Jabotinsky gives this assessment not only to the Arabs, but also to Islam in general. In the article “Islam” (1924), Jabotinsky points out a number of cases in which a handful of European soldiers managed to defeat vastly superior Arab or Muslim forces. The Italian victory over the Senu Sith in 1911 in Tripoli, the victory of the French expeditionary force over Faisal in Damascus in 1920 - all this serves as decisive proof for Jabotinsky of the significant superiority of the West.

“I am not writing this to humiliate or ridicule the Arabs; I have no doubt about their military valor... In our time, war is a scientific and financial matter; backward peoples cannot do it.”

This backwardness is not only a matter of time, according to Jabotinsky, as far as the Muslim world is concerned. “Its real power in the future will be even less than before,” he says, objecting in particular to those who believed that Britain was forced to reckon with the Arab and Muslim factor in its Middle East policy. The Muslim world does not represent—and will not represent—a political force, as Jabotinsky says in the same article: “220 million people or even more profess Islam; but “Islam” as an integral factor in international relations does not exist... in the same way it is possible now, as it was possible a hundred years ago, to bring a conflict with any Muslim people to any end, without risking any complications of a pan-Islamic nature... As a political fist … Islam does not exist.”

If this concept defines Jabotinsky's position in assessing Arab nationalism, then it is clear that his conclusions regarding the demands of the “Palestinian” Arabs are unambiguous. Testifying before the British Royal Commission on Palestine (Peel Commission) in 1937, Jabotinsky demands the establishment of a Jewish state throughout the land of Israel in accordance with the basic principles of the revisionist movement and continues: “We unanimously affirm that the economic situation of the Arabs in the country is in the period of Jewish settlement, and thanks to Jewish settlement, is the envy of neighboring Arab countries to such an extent that Arabs from these countries show a clear tendency to migrate to Palestine. And I have already shown you that, in our opinion, there is no need to oust the Arabs. On the contrary, we mean that Palestine on both sides of the Jordan will accommodate both the Arabs and their descendants and many millions of Jews. I do not deny that in the course of this process the Arabs will inevitably become a minority in Palestine. However, I deny that this will cause them suffering. This is not a misery for any race or nation if it already has so many nation-states and many more nation-states will be added to them in the future. One part, one branch of this race, and by no means the most significant, will join the state belonging to others in order to live in it... This is a completely normal thing, and there is no “suffering” in it.”

Note that Jabotinsky does not argue that, compared with the Jewish claims to Eretz Israel, the Arab claims are less valid or that, compared with the possibility of the Jews remaining in the minority, the situation in which part of the Arab nation will be a minority in the Jewish state will be a lesser disaster and will entail less hardship.

For him, turning the Arabs in Palestine into a minority will not cause them any trouble at all. Personal rights, of course, will be granted to them - but on a national level they have no claims. Here the right is not opposed to the right and 13* 387 claims - claims, as Weizmann and his like-minded people saw it. From Jabotinsky’s point of view, everything that was once said about Jews in the Diaspora can also be said about Arabs in Palestine: the Arabs of this country as individuals have everything, but as a collective nothing."


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