Ze’ev Jabotinsky: Fighting for Jewish Freedom

Ze’ev Jabotinsky was the founder of the Revisionist Zionist movement and its offspring, the Betar Youth Movement and the Israeli Herut Party, which ultimately morphed into today’s Likud Party.

He was a stirring orator and inspired writer who had many disciples in the Jewish world, including former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He was also the founder of the Jewish Legion, which fought alongside the British during World War I.

Jabotinsky (born October 18, 1880; died August 4, 1940) was born as Vladimir into a middle-class Jewish family in the Russian city of Odessa. After legal studies in Italy and Switzerland, where he also served as a foreign correspondent for several well-known Russian newspapers, he returned to Odessa. A pogrom against the Jews of Kishinev in 1903 spurred Jabotinsky to undertake Zionist activity. Though he had no substantial contact with Jewish tradition or culture during his youth, Jabotinsky took a leadership role in organizing self-defense units and fought for Jewish minority rights in Russia.

Elected as a delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress, Jabotinsky became fascinated by Zionist leader Theodor Herzl and was totally taken by the fervor of Zionist activists.  Over the next few years, Jabotinsky was active in spreading the Hebrew language and culture throughout Russia and soon became the foremost Zionist lecturer and journalist in the country.

Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Jabotinsky left for the war front as a newspaper correspondent for a Moscow daily. While in Alexandria, he met Joseph Trumpeldor, and together they worked for the establishment of the Jewish Legion. Upon reaching London, Jabotinsky took energetic steps until the final confirmation was received in August 1917 of the creation of the first Jewish Legion within the framework of the British Army. Jabotinsky served as a lieutenant and participated in the campaign to free Eretz Israel (Palestine) from Turkish rule.

During Passover in 1920, Jabotinsky stood at the head of the Haganah self-defense forces in Jerusalem against Arab riots and was condemned by the British Mandatory Government to 15 years hard labor. Following the public outcry against the verdict, he received amnesty and was released from Acre prison.

After 1921, Jabotinsky served as a member of the Zionist Executive and was one of the founders of Keren Hayesod, the United Israel Appeal.  After a series of policy disagreements on the direction of the Zionist movement, he seceded and, in 1925, established the Union of Zionist Revisionists, which called for the immediate establishment of a Jewish State.

In 1923, the youth movement Betar was created. The new youth movement aimed at educating its members with a military and nationalistic spirit. Jabotinsky stood at its head. During the years 19281929, he resided in Palestine and edited the Hebrew daily Doar Hayom while, at the same time, undertaking increased political activity. In 1929, he left the country on a lecture tour after which the British mandatory administration denied him reentry into the country. From then onwards he lived in the diaspora until his death.

In 1935, after the Zionist Executive rejected his political program and refused to clearly define that “the aim of Zionism was the establishment of a Jewish state,” Jabotinsky decided to resign from the Zionist Movement. He founded the New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O) to conduct independent political activity for free immigration and the establishment of a Jewish state.

In 1937, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (I.Z.L) became the military arm of the Jabotinsky movement and he became its commander. The three bodies headed by Jabotinsky: The New Zionist Organization, the Betar youth movement and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi were three extensions of the same movement. These bodies cooperated in the organization of illegal immigration to the Land of Israel..

Throughout this period of intense political activity, Jabotinsky continued to write poetry, novels, short stories and articles on politics, social and economic problems. Jabotinsky was fluent in many languages and translated into Hebrew some of the best-known classics of world literature.

From 1939 to 1940, Jabotinsky was active in Britain and the United States in the hope of establishing a Jewish army to fight side by side with the Allies against Nazi Germany.

On August 4, 1940, while visiting the Betar youth camp in New York, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.. In his will he requested that his remains may only be interred in Eretz Israel at the express order of the government of the Jewish state to be. His will was fulfilled by Levi Eshkol, Israel’s third prime minister. In 1964, Jabotinsky’s remains and those of his wife Jeanne were reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

The nationalist spirit of Jabotinsky is still felt in Israel today. Many institutions and streets in Israel are named in his memory.