Netanyahu and Jabotinsky: What is the Connection
What America Needs to Know: Netanyahu’s Zionist Inheritance
Regarding Benjamin Netanyahu’s misspoken statement that there is no room at the present for a Palestinian state, we should reexamine how and why Israel’s prime minister has arrived at this position. Netanyahu himself said it was because of the geo-political conditions in the Middle East at the present moment, but some beg to differ. Those who know Netanyahu’s ideological origins in the Zionist Revisionist movement recall that his positions on a number of issues strikingly reflect a closeness to Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionism.
The Zionist Revisionist party was established in Paris in 1925 by Vladimir Jabotinsky in large part as a response to the Socialist domination of the Jewish settlement in Palestine and the weakness of Chaim Weizmann’s leadership internationally. As the English watered down their commitment to Zionists, Jabotinsky’s protest gained credence. He called for more immigration, more resources for the purchase of land, expanded water rights, the promotion of Jewish schools, and similar practical measures to increase the size and power of the Jewish population in Palestine. Equally important, he questioned the primacy of the Zionist organization’s Jewish Agency; he maintained that Jews would come when there was employment and only the private sector could produce jobs in sufficient quantity.
Viable nations need an army to defend themselves, he claimed, and that conviction was doubly true for Jews who had been the object of pogroms in Russia and then in Palestine in 1920, 1921 and 1929. He maintained that anti-Semitism was real and could not be eradicated by Jewish self-effacement or integration. In Palestine peace would occur only after Arabs had lost all hope of removing Jews, he wrote in his 1923 article, “The Iron Wall.” He was nonetheless an expansionist, an apologist for “greater Israel.” One of his slogans was “The east bank of the Jordan River is ours, and the west bank too.” The idea was to have enough land to provide for the Jews around the world and their descendents.
Regarding the Palestinian Arabs, Jabotinsky argued that they would surely oppose the transformation of a Jewish Palestine. Nonetheless, he assumed that as members of the great Arab people, the natives of Palestine could join their brethren in any of the countries where Arabs were a majority. If they decided to stay in Palestine, he insisted that they be treated with full tolerance and permitted a number of institutions of self-rule, including in religion, education, and the courts. However, they would always be a minority because in this single minuscule land a Jewish majority would gain sovereignty and control the destiny of the Jewish people.
In many ways the current realities in Europe were all foreseen by Jabotinsly and what is going on today is not something new with the exception that Muslims have marked the Jew in Europe as the infidel. That Jabotinsky would not have expected, but their use of antisemitism within the European tradition would not be a surprise. Jabotinsky had said in the 1930s that Jews should either get out of Europe or learn to use a gun; or preferably both. Netanyahu therefore is not coming from some extreme position, but from an inheritance that is a century old and with the darkest vision of European honesty and integrity and carried over to the Muslim world. Thus Netanyahu's obsession with Iran is within the Jabotinsky conception of doing everything to protect oneself. A Jabotinsky heir would not let one hair of Israel's existence be threatened without carefully planning the destruction of the enemy whether he hail from Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah. In Netanyahu’s universe standing up to Obama on Iran is as logical today as was Jabotinsky’s confrontation with Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s.
Many on the American left, such as J Street, maintain that Netanyahu’s intransigence on Iran and settlements on the Westbank (Judea and Samaria) constitute a reelection strategy to satisfy his conservative and radical-rightist base. They see him above all as calculating and tactical. However, most observers, having watched Netanyahu pursue a consistent strategy over two decades, would likely agree with us.
Although for many years after the state’s founding the Zionist left tried to erase the contributions of Revisionism and especially Jabotinsky, the political right has had as large a role in developing modern Israel as the left. In fact, the political right, so long maligned, now monopolizes the economic, political and social discourse, including the political language of Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab, and Israeli-American relations. At least for the last decade Netanyahu has been at the center of this conservative revolution.