Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Appreciation

From Colin Shindler in his The Triumph of Military Zionism on the debate between Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin on the technical issue of altering the wording of the 4th paragraph in Betar Oath at Third World Conference of Betar on September 15, 1938:

"Jabotinsky vehemently attacked Begin's advocacy of the policy of 'military Zionism'. While he likened Begin's rhetoric to the 'squeaking of a door', the delegates voted in favor of the policy.

The future course of Israeli history changed on that day."

The background:

[After the hanging of Shlomo Ben-Yosef in the summer of 1938, the Betar Movement convened for its Third World Conference] Menachem Begin, head of Betar Poland, was unsatisfied with [Jabotinsky's] words. He rose to the podium and began to address the congress.

“The important question that we must ask today in Betar is not what but how. In the last fifteen years that our movement has existed, we have taught ourselves and others to ask the first question. Betar wants a Jewish state. Betar wants to solve the Jewish problem. But when one arrives at this understanding, it creates the question of how. With what means will we succeed in achieving our aims? We were taught to use moral pressure on the Western powers, and that Britain will honor her commitments to our nation. But in reality, the British only need take the Arab demands into account. The Arabs receive 95% and do not agree. They fight with their blood. And we who receive only 5%, how are we fighting? It is obvious that the disproportion of strength and honor between Israel and the Arabs must force Britain to first of all consider the Arab demands over ours. Zionism is an eternal idea but its realization will be delayed by decades if we continue on this path. We must fight – to die or conquer the mountain! The Israeli national movement began with Practical Zionism. Then there was Political Zionism. And now we must create a new Zionism – Military Zionism. Our examples will be Camillo di Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi. Cavour would have never achieved victory for Italy without Garibaldi.”

Jabotinsky (interrupting Begin): “Do you know how many Italian soldiers there were? How will you bring all these Betarim to Israel without the approval of the nations?”

Begin: “I said we are at the beginning of Military Zionism, not in the middle. I want to begin to create this military force independent of the nations of the world. I am proposing an idea. To realize this idea, we must employ expert examination.”

Jabotinsky: “Do you understand the proportion between the Hebrew military forces in Palestine versus the military power of the Arabs?”

Begin: “We will win with our moral force. Without war, Zionism will be destroyed. I propose that we alter clause number four of the Betar Oath from ‘I will lift my arm to defend my nation’ to ‘I will lift my arm to defend my nation and conquer my homeland’. We must use the strength lying dormant in our people.”

The hall erupted in applause as Begin descended the podium and Jabotinsky took the floor to rebuke his longtime pupil.

“Permit me to say a few strong words. As your teacher it is my duty. There are many types of noises in this world. There is the whistle and the noise of heavy machines. But I cannot bear the squeak of an un-oiled door because that noise serves no purpose. You are implying that there is no conscience left in the world and there is no room for such useless chattering in Betar. It is pure despair. With a broom we must sweep away these futile ideas.”

Another young Betari from Poland, Israel Schieb (later Eldad), then rose to address the congress.

“As far as I am concerned, the squeaking of a door is a very important sound for it alerts us that thieves have entered the national movement. What you propose is surrender and appeasement. I do not understand diplomacy. Nor do I understand what right we in Betar have to speak in the name of Yehuda Maccabee and Shimon Bar Kochba if we do not understand the concept of the few against the many.”

Menachem Begin and Israel Schieb publicly challenged their mentor’s approach to diplomacy. Influenced behind the scenes by Yair Stern, the students won their debate with Jabotinsky and clause four of the Betar oath was altered. Until his death, Jabotinsky would never despair of Great Britain or the morality of the Western powers. He believed that by exerting moral pressure, civilized nations could be persuaded to honor their commitments to the Zionist endeavor. The problem, as he saw it, was that Jewish leaders refused to demand what was rightfully theirs, allowing Britain to behave with duplicity towards their national aspiration. While Jabotinsky differed from his counterparts in the Zionist establishment by openly demanding justice from the nations, his students would later take these demands a step further by initiating a violent war of liberation. Shlomo Ben-Yosef’s execution served as a catalyst to spread a new idea – in blood and fire the Hebrew state fell and in blood and fire it would soon be reborn. Both Begin and Schieb would soon migrate to Palestine and play active roles in the underground struggle against British occupation. Both would taste victory eight years after Jabotinsky’s death as the British flag would be lowered over the Land of Israel and a Hebrew commonwealth would arise in its stead.

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