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On Israeli Independence Day, Pondering the Legacy of Ze’ev Jabotinsky

Posted on May 10 2011 8:00 am
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The killing of Osama bin Laden and the subsequent debates by pundits on whether the Bush/Cheney administration was getting too much or too little credit for crafting the initial response to 9/11 and then creating the infrastructure necessary to remove the al-Qaeda leader is worth discussing as it relates to Israel.

As the state of Israel and her friends around the globe celebrate the 63rd anniversary of its founding, it is instructive to see how the left in Israel marginalized the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his students for generations. What the left in the U.S. did to malign President Bush and Vice-President Cheney while they were in office and since is nothing compared to the campaign of misinformation and outright oppression that the left in Israel conducted for decades against the right there.

Professor Daniel J. Elazar (1934-1999) was a scholar of the Jewish political tradition. Elazar was a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel and Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a prolific author.

In the May 15, 1981 edition of the Jewish journal Sh’ma, Elazar recalled Jabotinsky’s legacy and wrote:

“Would there be serious public commemoration of the 100th birthday of Zev Jabotinsky had it not been for the fact that the Likud won the election in Israel in 1977? Not likely. For thirty years and more, Jabotinsky was one of those non-persons in Israel and the Jewish world…. The ruling Labour Party made him a non-person for the same reasons that it portrayed Menachem Begin and his supporters as uncivilized fascists – it is easier to beat the opposition by painting it as irrelevant, intolerable and non-existent, until it is too strong to be dismissed.”

In the intervening elections the next generation of leaders including Ehud Olmert, Benny Begin, Tzipi Livni, Uzi Landau, Dan Meridor and many other central figures in Israel’s political life today (including both Binyamin Netanyahu and J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami) had a parent that was an active supporter of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and was involved with the Irgun paramilitary organization his followers created. It should be noted that Rahm Emanuel’s father too was an Irgunist.

What Jabotinsky would advocate given today’s current events is often debated in Israel.

It is a fair question to ask if Israel would even exist today if it were not for Jabotinsky and the sacrifices of the Irgun. That question would be impossible to ask, though, if Begin had never won power in 1977.

Since 1977 things have really changed in Israel: not only Menachem Begin’s Likud but also the National Union (HaIhud HaLeumi), Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) parties all connect themselves directly to the legacy of Jabotinsky.  No party claims to continue in the tradition of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. His secularism and socialism lost all its chic long ago. Perhaps Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party stated it best when it described itself as “a national movement with the clear vision to follow in the brave path of Ze’ev Jabotinsky.”

What is meant by this “brave path?”

Jabotinsky wrote his greatest novel about the Biblical champion Samson. In the most well-known passage of the book Samson declares: “Tell them [the Jewish People] three things in my name, and not two: they must get iron [i.e. weapons]; they must choose a king; and they must learn to laugh.” (See for more excerpts.)

What Jabotinsky meant in part by “learn to laugh” was the necessary development of confidence on a national level. With a rapidly changing Middle East that is comprised of a Hamas/Fatah pact, the killing of bin Laden and the so called “Arab-Spring” both Israelis and Americans need that message now more than ever.


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