Fighting Hitler with cartoons
These compilations of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's writings present the many talents of a leader whose life did not revolve around politics alone.
"Igrot Ze'ev Jabotinsky 1934" ("Letters of Ze'ev Jabotinsky 1934"), Vol. 9, edited by Moshe Halevy, Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, 365 pages; "Kitvei Ze'ev Jabotinsky / Bibliografia 1897-1940" ("Writings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky / Bibliography 1897-1940"), edited by Mina Graur, Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, 922 pages
On January 28, 1934, Ze'ev Jabotinsky wrote from Paris to Shlomo Jacobi, a friend in London, and told him that he and his son, Eri, had decided to start a business: "a workshop for propaganda and advertising films for commercial purposes." The films would be in part animated, but would not, at the outset, be as complex as the Mickey Mouse cartoons. Jabotinsky elaborated on his plan and said that his role would be to devise the plots.
A reader might ask - Is this what the leader of the Revisionist movement was focusing on in early 1934, one year after the Nazi rise to power in Germany, and, not to equate the two, in the midst of the tempest stirred up by the trial of members of his movement for the murder of Labor Zionist leader Chaim Arlosoroff in Tel Aviv? (In a letter to Stephen Wise on May 11, Jabotinsky compared that trial with the Reichstag Fire Trial after the burning of the German parliament on February 27, 1933.) From the few letters relating to the events in Germany (he was worried that the Saar region might be returned to Germany, because of the threat to the region's Jews), the reader of this volume of letters might conclude that despite the blacker than black horizon, as he put it, there was time for other matters, such as cartoons (which were intended primarily as propaganda against Hitler and his regime). Is this what one would expect of a national leader at such a fateful moment?
It is probably this aspect of Jabotinsky that has converted him from a leader of one camp in the Zionist movement into a transnational figure and imbued him with the image of a politician "of a different stripe." If at the outset of the confrontation between the Labor movement and the Revisionist movement Jabotinsky was described as an "exotic butterfly," whose array of colors reflects a plethora of characters and covers up "the absence of a single character," more than 70 years later it is precisely this diversity for which he is admired.
Here is a political leader for whom politics was not his vital essence; a prodigiously talented person who always found time to write prose and poetry, and therefore was unable to concentrate on the political power struggles and become the nation's leader. It has to be said that there is no connection between the fact that Jabotinsky had "a life outside politics" and his failure to become the head of the Zionist movement; the reasons for that were not necessarily related to his personality. Education Minister Yuli Tamir, in her official capacity, contributed to his new status when she wrote, "Jabotinsky's writings were for me a moral, social and human guide."
The most outstanding and most serious expression of Jabotinsky's new portrait is the collection of essays and research articles "Ish Be'se'ara" ("Iyunim Bitkumat Israel: In the Eye of the Storm," 2004), published jointly by the Ben-Gurion Research Institute, the Jabotinsky Institute and other research institutions. Similarly, the list of Jabotinsky's writings on a range of subjects cannot but provoke amazement. The new and updated bibliography, edited in exemplary fashion by Mina Graur (it was preceded by a bibliography edited 30 years ago by Israel Yevrovitz) contains 2,467 items: books, poems, plays, speeches, articles, pamphlets and translations published in 20 languages. This is an unprecedented oeuvre, not only in quantity but also in its broad range of subjects, many of which - even those written after 1925, when Jabotinsky became the leader of the Revisionist movement - have nothing to do with politics or statesmanship. In 1934 he wrote approximately 100 articles, most on the political issues of Zionism and the unfolding events, but also pieces in memory of Chaim Nahman Bialik, the "national poet"; in honor of the 60th birthday of Prof. Joseph Klausner; on the essence of democracy and "the socialist redemption," among others. There are far fewer non-political articles than in previous years.
The collection of letters might mislead a reader who is looking not for the political man but for the artist and intellectual, as it documents only part of Jabotinsky's activity in 1934 in the Zionist arena, the general Jewish arena and the international sphere. In that year he was completely immersed in, among other projects, the "petition movement" - a petition addressed to the British monarch, urging a change in Britain's policy regarding immigration to Palestine - and in organizing a boycott of merchandise exported from Germany. Toward the end of the year (October-November) he conducted intensive negotiations with David Ben-Gurion, which concluded in great frustration. In 1934 he was also deeply involved in the struggle over Britain's method of distributing certificates of immigration to Palestine, as well as in other intensive activity, which involved crisscrossing Europe.
The letters in the new volume do not contain many new revelations either about his activity or his views. One can read in them, among other subjects, about his reservations concerning the "maximalist" stream of Zionism led by Abba Achimeir; about his struggle to "Hebraize" the movement, from the higher institutions to the youngest Betar member in the remotest branch; about his attitude toward socialism (on October 1 he wrote that the "leftist fashion" has ended in defeat) in general and the Labor movement in the Yishuv - the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine - in particular. (Revisionism, he wrote, would liberate the despicable and cowardly bourgeois Yishuv and rescue it from "humiliating slavery").
A private letter sometimes allows the pen to write with far greater ferocity than what an article or a speech obliges one to hide, and the letters illustrate this. However, there is not much here about Jabotinsky's "private world," so a reading of them is insufficient for understanding this year's role in his biography. The publication of Jabotinsky's letters, of which the first nine volumes were edited by the late Prof. Daniel Carpi, is an immensely valuable contribution to creating a complete portrait of Jabotinsky the man and to expanding our knowledge about the movement he founded and led. One can only hope that the day will come when everything he wrote, not only selected writings, is published.
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