June 25, 2006

Jabotinsky's zionist antisemitism?

Here's a fascinating essay in the Nation by Jacqueline Rose. It's titled The Zionist Imagination and it's about Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of so-called Zionist Revisionism. I have to say that I haven't done it justice with my headline because it is the antisemitic overtones that I want to focus on but first up let's just look at the first paragraph.
In 1917, after the British conquest of Palestine, the Jewish Battalion, which Vladimir Jabotinsky had campaigned for since the outbreak of World War I and which had participated in several of the battles, was allowed to rename itself the Judean Regiment. The regiment chose as its insignia a menorah with the Hebrew word "kadima," meaning "forward" or "eastward." This was not the first time Jabotinsky had used the word. Kadima was also the name of the Zionist publishing house he had founded with a group of friends in Odessa in 1904, which marked the beginning of Zionist activity throughout Russia. When, at the end of last year, Ariel Sharon left Likud to form a new party of the center-right, Kadima, a move widely welcomed as creating a fresh middle ground in Israeli politics, he was therefore paying the profoundest tribute to Jabotinsky - Likud's forefather, founder of militant Revisionist Zionism, visionary of the Jewish radical right.
Anyway, now to the antisemitism bit:
But Jabotinsky did not believe in the veracity of the Bible and, as Ya'acov Shavit has related, in all his writings there is not one reference to God's covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai or indeed the conquering of Eretz Israel by the Israelites. Jabotinsky's Zionism is shorn of Jewishness even when he appeals to sacred tradition as having a part to play in the forging of the national (racial) mind. To this extent it is arguable whether the demise of the Milgroms in The Five can be traced to their betrayal of their Jewish identity and spiritual legacy, or whether Zionism itself--or rather Jabotinsky's Zionism--arose at least partially not just out of the desire to be free of an increasingly violent anti-Semitism but paradoxically also from a longing to leave the Jewish legacy and world behind. Better get out, if a family as beautiful and talented as the Milgroms--carrying the forlorn hope for the Jews of a civilized European life--cannot survive. The novel does not judge; it laments. Seen in these terms, Jabotinsky's Odessa is less a prelude to Zion than its rival--as the publication of this novel in the year he founds the New Zionist Organization suggests--one that persists in his mind even when its world has vanished. The city rises up as a counter-utopia to his own chosen destiny, a lost paradise rather than a mistake. This gives an added dimension to the acknowledged role in Zionism of contempt for the Diaspora Jew, as it does to the Zionist fantasy of creating an outpost of Western civilization in the East. It was because the Jews could not fulfill the true dream--to assimilate in Europe--that they were so determined to travel as Europeans to Palestine.

Might there be inside Jabotinsky's project, therefore, a core of hatred, as much as love, for the Jews? ("We will exaggerate our hatred to make it help our love.") When the narrator takes up a career in public service ("Secretary in the Temporary Administration of the Society of Sanatorium Colonies and Other Hygienic-Dietary Institutions for the Treatment and Education of Students Suffering From Bad Health From the Indigent Jewish Population in the City of Odessa and Its Surrounding Areas"), Marusya offers to accompany him to visit these impoverished, indigent Jews. "Would you like to get away from all these Jews?" she asks at the end of a visit that has at once dismayed and exhilarated her, "both rich and poor?" And accompanying her sister Lika into exile in Volgoda, she writes home to the narrator: "Don't forget to remind me when I return to join some political party or other, just as long as there are no Jews in it" (remember, she is the best woman he has ever known). Slezkine tells the story of Esther Ulanovskaia, who came to Odessa from a shtetl in the Ukraine and joined the Young Revolutionary International: "The Jews represented the world I wanted to get away from."

In his autobiography, Jabotinsky cites his first "Zionist" speech, delivered in Bern in 1898: "I am a Zionist, without a doubt, since the Jews are a very terrible people, its neighbors justly hate them" (not surprisingly, it was received as anti-Semitic). According to Schechtman, Count Michael Lubiensky once said to him: "You know that I hold Jabotinsky in highest regard and that my opinion of Weizmann is trimmed accordingly.... Dr. Weizmann has all the chances to retain the allegiance of the majority of the Jewish people. Because his entire mentality is identical with that of an average ghetto Jew, while the mentality of Jabotinsky is spiritually nearer to me, a Gentile. I understand him better; he evokes in me a kindred response." Jabotinsky turned to the assimilated Jews of Russia in 1935 because he still belonged to them. As with his Odessa, so with his Zionism, there was no trace of Pale or ghetto.
As I suggest above, I haven't done justice to a lengthy essay so please read the whole thing.

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