Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Zionist leader and founder of the Zionist Revisionist movement.

Print this page Print this page

While socialist Zionists encouraged Jews to fight for their civil rights as Jews within the countries of their origin, Jabotinsky was skeptical of this avenue of emancipation, proclaiming that salvation for Jews--both on a personal level and as a national entity--lay only in the Land of Israel.

Jewish Self-Defense

Jewish self-defense was at the epicenter of Jabotinsky's socio-political philosophy, both as a physical imperative and as a wellspring of pride and self-confidence, capable of "ennobling" the Jewish spirit.

With the outbreak of the World War I in 1914, Jabotinsky found himself in disagreement over strategy with prevailing opinion within the Zionist camp. Unconvinced that the Turks or the Arabs would accommodate the aims of Zionism, he advocated bolder tactics. As he was convinced of an ultimate Allied victory, Jabotinsky, together with Joseph Trumpeldor, called for the establishment of a Jewish fighting force to join the Allies in liberating Palestine from Ottoman rule. Thus they could earn a place at the peace table, with the right to demand establishment of an independent Jewish state in Palestine.

While both the Allied powers and mainstream Zionists were at first reluctant, the Zion Mule Corps was formed in 1915. The corps fought in Gallipoli, but was later disbanded. Despite objections by the official Zionist leadership, which favored neutrality in order not to jeopardize the Jews of Palestine, Jabotinsky convinced the British government to permit the formation of three Jewish battalions. A man of action as well as words, Jabotinsky became an officer in the 38th Royal Fusiliers, which fought with General Allenby in 1917, and was decorated for heading the first company to cross the River Jordan into Palestine. After the war, Jabotinsky wanted to maintain a Jewish unit as defense against growing Arab hostility to Zionism, but the unit was disbanded by the British.

Settling with his wife and two children in Palestine, Jabotinsky became editor of the Hebrew newspaper, Hadoar. During the Arab riots in Jerusalem in 1920, he organized Jewish defense. Subsequently, Jabotinsky was arrested and sentenced by a British military court to 15 years in jail, for illegal possession of arms. He was released several months later.

In the same year, he again became active within the Zionist establishment. However, since WWI, during which he had championed alignment with England, he had became disenchanted when Great Britain severed almost 80% of Mandate Palestine originally designated for a Jewish Homeland to create Transjordan (1922). Disillusioned with Britain and angry at Zionist acquiescence to British reversals, Jabotinsky resigned in 1923 from the Zionist Organization.

The Revisionist Movement

He set about establishing a separate Zionist federation based on "revision" of the relationship between the Zionist movement and Great Britain. This federation would actively challenge British policy and openly demand self-determination--Jewish statehood. The goals of the Revisionist movement he founded included restoration of a Jewish Brigade to protect the Jewish community and mass immigration to Palestine--of up to 40,000 Jews a year.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.