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The Lone Wolf


Relevant Links
A Few Words about Steadfastness  Shmuel Katz, Americans For A Safe Israel. His late biographer and faithful disciple recalls Jabotinsky on the 64th anniversary of his death.
Sacrifices  Hillel Halkin, New Republic. An appreciation of Jabotinsky’s life and of his 1936 novel, The Five.
The Jewish Legion is Established  Shmuel Katz, YouTube. Rare silent footage of Jabotinsky with Jewish Legion commanders in World War I. (Video)

The 70th yahrzeit of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) was marked on July 11, at Mount  Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. There was nary a mention of it in the Israeli media—an extraordinary omission given that Jabotinsky was not only a founder of the Haganah and the supreme commander of the Irgun but also a towering Zionist theoretician and leader.

Jabotinsky was born and raised in cosmopolitan Odessa, then a vibrant hub of Jewish intellectual and cultural life. Drawn to journalism, he became an accomplished feuilletonist. His life took a fateful turn in 1903, when, fearing the pogroms sweeping Russia would reach his city, he pulled together a Jewish self-defense group. In the same year, he attended the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basle, which rejected an anguished Theodor Herzl’s plea to consider settling for an autonomous Jewish sanctuary in East Africa.  

During World War I, while the Zionist establishment cautiously maintained its neutrality, Jabotinsky became the driving force behind the formation of a Jewish Legion to fight alongside the Allies. In the early 1920s, as the British mandatory authorities in Palestine capitulated regularly to Arab pressure, he organized defensive measures against Arab rioting, an activity for which he was at first imprisoned by the British and later amnestied and deported.

Jabotinsky was unwavering in his insistence that Zionism’s immediate and uncompromising goal had to be Herzl's original vision of an actual Jewish state. A rupture over the establishment's accommodationist approach toward Britain was inevitable. In 1925 he founded the Revisionist Zionist Organization, and ten years later led it out of the Congress. On Tisha b'Av 1938, he delivered a chillingly prophetic speech in Warsaw imploring the Jews of Poland to "see the volcano which will soon begin to spew forth its fires of destruction"—and to escape while they still could.

Two years later, at the age of fifty-nine, Jabotinsky died suddenly in upstate New York after inspecting an honor guard of his Betar youth movement. In Tel Aviv, the Labor newspaper Davar, which had opposed his every political move, graciously editorialized:  "Jabotinsky has died. That gifted violin has been shattered."  The reference was to his formidable powers as a polemicist and spellbinding speaker, capable of holding an audience in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, or German.

Jabotinsky's first biographer, Joseph B. Schechtman, described him as a "rebel, statesman, fighter, and prophet." To Shmuel Katz, his definitive biographer, "Jabo" was simply a "lone wolf." His emphasis on ethnic pride and regard for military discipline made liberals uncomfortable and led enemies to slur him as a fascist, an odd charge against a passionate 19th-century liberal and advocate of women's rights. Like others, Jabotinsky may not have fully fathomed nascent Arab nationalism; but he abhorred the idea that Arab and Jew could not live together peaceably.

Jabotinsky's multilingual journalism and literary output are keys, in their own way, to understanding his character and his take on life in general and Jewish life (and the Jewish imagination) in particular. Throughout his hectic political career, he somehow managed to write novels, poems, stories, patriotic songs, essays, and a regular column in New York's Yiddish-language Morning Journal. In reviewing an English translation of one of his novels, Hillel Halkin found a portrait of the author himself in a character inclined by nature to free-spiritedness but committed to a life of duty and self-sacrifice.

Do Jabotinsky's uncompromising views, including on the territorial integrity of the Land of Israel, enjoy a 21st-century constituency in the Jewish state? Not in the Likud, which claims his political legacy, and not in the mostly Orthodox-led settlement movement, which has its own heroes. Even in death, it seems, Jabo remains a lone wolf.


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lawrence kaplan on July 23, 2010 at 10:55 am (Reply)
Shmuel Katz's biography of J. is the most thorough, but cannot be seen as definitve. Aside from Katz's partisanship, Katz did not have access to the vast amount of material by and about the early J., now available from the former Soviet Union. See Michael Stanislawski's important, if rather unsympathetic, chapter on J. in his book Fin-de-Siecle Zionism. For a scrupulously balanced analysis of J.'s ideleology, see Gidon Shimoni's Zionist Ideology.

J.'s main mistake was his taking (not leading) the Revisionist Zionists out of the WZO. By his doing so, he condemned them to isolation and impotence. Jager's article, while properly appreciativee of J's achievements, neeeded a more critical edge.
Ira Stoll on July 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm (Reply)
Well, he certainly has a following here in New York. Americans for a Safe Israel sponsors a memorial lecture.
And Seth Lipsky, the editor of the Forward and the New York Sun, had painted a portrait of Jabotinsky that hung from time to time in his offices, where it inspired a lot of writers to learn more about Jabotinsky.

The other thing is that on the economic issues, where Jabotinsky was more free-market-oriented than the Labor Zionists were, Jabotinsky has really won out.
Lisa W on July 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm (Reply)
Readers of this article (and of epic Biblical films) may be interested to know that Jabotinsky wrote the treatment for Cecil B. DeMille's "Samson and Delilah (1949). Apparently DeMille was looking for more "meat" for his movie and came across a novel Jabotinsky wrote,"Judge and Fool, aka Samson the Nazarite, Samson & Prelude to Delilah."
The notes on the movie in Turner Classic Movies' website ()
add: "Onscreen credits give the following notation: "Based upon the history of Samson and Delilah in the Holy Bible, Judges 13-16." Vladimir Jabotinsky's onscreen credit reads: "From original treatments by Harold Lamb-Vladimir Jabotinsky." It appears, however, that Jabotinsky's "treatment" was his novel, The Judge and the Fool, as translated by Cyrus Brooks. The following information was taken from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library and various news items: Cecil B. DeMille first became interested in producing Samson and Delilah as early as 1935, when he commissioned writer Harold Lamb to write a screenplay based on the biblical story, from "The Book of Judges, 13-16," and bought the rights to Vladimir Jabotinsky's 1930 novel The Judge and the Fool, as translated from the German by Cyrus Brooks. Jeanie MacPherson and Sada Cowan were also hired to work on the script. At this time, DeMille also began a public campaign to find the ideal "Delilah," sending out a sketch of the sought-after look to cities around the country. In 1936, DeMille purchased the screen rights to the 1877 French opera Samson et Dalila, (music by Camille Saint-Saens, libretto by F. Lemaire). But the $5,000,000 production was shelved shortly thereafter. In 1946, DeMille renewed his plans for a film based on Jabotinsky's novel and the wealth of research he had accumulated on the topic."

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