Hillel Halkin brings to life in a short and very readable biography, the story of Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), the founder of Revisionist Zionism. Jabotinsky was far from the prototypical Zionist of the early 20th Century. Being born in the cosmopolitan port city of Odessa, he was far from the shtetls of Poland and Russia. He was far from religious and didn’t really like living in the Palestine of the 1920s.
Nevertheless he was extraordinarily clear-eyed about the future of Zionism. Jabotinsky understood:
· * The real need for Jewish Legion to assist in the British invasion of Ottoman Palestine thereby establishing the first organized Jewish fighting force in nearly 2000 years.
· * The local Arab population would not be passive to a surge in Jewish immigration. He leads in the formation of the Haganah out of the remnants of the Jewish Legion. The Haganah was the forerunner of today’s Israel Defense Forces.
· * The Nazi nightmare would wipe out European Jewry and urged the Jewish community to pack up and leave. He supplied chartered steamers to illegally transport Jews to Palestine.
· *The Israeli economy organized along the socialist lines of Labor Zionism would not be viable and urged more market oriented policies.
Halkin discusses in great detail Jabotinsky’s long time and very acrid rivalry with David Ben Gurion. They fought each other for control of the Zionist Organization in the 1930s. To put it mildly they did not like each other and Ben Gurion prevented Jabotinsky’s reburial in Israel until after he stepped down as prime minister in 1964.
A failing of the book is that Halkin expends too many words on Jabotinsky the journalist and the writer and not enough on his leading his Revisionist Zionist group and his founding of Betar, its youth group. Menachem Begin was so inspired by Jabotinsky that he joined and became a leader of Betar. Nevertheless I would recommend “Jabotinsky” for those readers who want to go beyond the standard Labor Zionist version of the founding of the State of Israel. A great companion piece would be Daniel Gordis’, “Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul.”
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