top of page

Ze'ev Jabotinsky

1880 - 1940.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky was a Zionist leader, writer, orator, soldier, and journalist. He strongly advocated for the creation of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.

Zeev Jabotinsky in 1925. Source: Wikipedia, public domain.

The impact he had on the State of Israel was profound, and his legacy is still considered within the current political framework.

He grew up in a traditional Jewish family. He considered himself a Zionist atheist and said that the question of Jews in the Land of Israel must be resolved before they end in a massacre in the Diaspora. He studied law and spoke Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Italian. He served as a correspondent for several Russian newspapers and wrote under the name Altalena.

In 1903, before witnessing the Russian pogroms, Ze'ev enlisted in the Zionist cause and became an influential leader.

Around this time, Vladimir Yevgenyevich Zhabotinsky changed his name to Ze'ev ("Wolf") and joined self-defense units in Jewish communities across the Russian Empire. Together with Meir Dizengoff, he worked to obtain large sums of money to purchase weapons for the unit.

That same year, he was elected a Russian delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. It was the last congress in which Herzl participated. During this brief meeting, Jabotinsky was deeply impressed by Herzl, and he adhered to his teachings from that day on. Jabotinsky saw his path and the political movement he later headed for as a continuation of Herzl's path.

Still in 1903, after moving from Odessa to Saint Petersburg, he became the leader of the right-wing Zionists. As a right-wing writer and journalist, Ze'ev Jabotinsky fiercely condemned supporters of assimilation and advocated for the establishment of Hebrew schools. His articles placed him as one of the first political Jewish writers in Russia and also had significant success as a poet.

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War 1, Jabotinsky served as a military correspondent for a Russian newspaper and traveled on several fronts in Western Europe and North Africa.

In Egypt, he met with Joseph Trumpeldor and became active in the formation of the Jewish Legion within the British Army. Trumpeldor commanded the battalion.

The first Jewish legion was created in 1917, after intense diplomatic negotiations with the British government and army officials in London.

In 1918, he enlisted in the British Army's first Jewish legion and participated in the battalion's first attacks in the Jordan Valley.

The year after, the remnants of the three battalions that were formed were united into one battalion called "First Judaeans". The menorah was established as the battalion's symbol.

These armed forces existed while other self-defense organizations were active in the Land of Israel, such as the Haganah.

He was arrested by the British during the Arab riots of 1920, after organizing Jerusalem's defense. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released due to public reaction.

You can see in this YouTube video Zeev Jabotinsky in the Acre Prison, and after his release, walking with his mother in Jerusalem towards the Hurva Synagogue.

In August 1921, Jabotinsky was elected to the 12th Zionist Congress Executive Committee. He was attached to the political department alongside Weizmann and Nahum Sokolov and continued his efforts to establish a Jewish military force in the Land of Israel. He led the opposition to the establishment of an Arab-Jewish military force proposed by the British.

On June 3, 1922, the British submitted Churchill's White Paper draft to the Zionist leadership. Weizmann voted in favor of accepting the paper, and Jabotinsky opposed it. In the end, Jabotinsky also signed the White Paper and it was accepted by Zionist leadership.

On July 1, 1922, the White Paper was published, restricting the Yishuv's development.

In November 1922 he traveled to London and presented his claims to the Zionist leadership. At the end of that year, he resigned from the Zionist Congress.

In 1923, Jabotinsky also published the article "On the Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)", in Berlin in a Russian-language Zionist newspaper.

In "On the Iron Wall" Jabotinsky debates the leadership of the Zionist movement and with the moderate factions in the Zionist movement who call for the establishment of a bi-national state. In the article, he presents his concept of Zionist policy. His policy includes two pillars: conflict is the basis of relations between national groups, and the protection of minority rights. Palestinian Arabs in the Jewish state will receive full political and cultural rights despite being a minority. However, they would not accept their status as a minority, without resistance, and therefore Jabotinsky threatened to subdue them through military force - the Iron Wall. This force would be Jewish regiments under British command as part of the British colonial force in the Middle East, which would form a fortified front in terms of military power and uncompromising adherence to Zionist positions. Once they realize that they cannot rule, they will assume their status as a minority with rights.

This article was part of Jabotinsky's view that there is no revival of the Zionist idea except as part of British imperialism. It is considered one of the pillars of the nascent Jabotinsky camp.

In 1923, he founded the Betar Movement in Riga (Latvia), aimed at educating Jewish youth in a national and militant spirit. Members were required to serve in Betar legions for two years after making Aliyah. "Betar" is the abbreviation for Brit Yosef Trumpeldor (Brit named after Joseph Trumpeldor).

In 1925, Jabotinsky formed the Revisionist Zionist Alliance, which promoted the establishment of a Jewish state within Eretz Israel's historical boundaries (Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan) and political activism. Revisionist Zionism has strongly influenced modern right-wing Israeli parties, principally Herut and its successor Likud. This ideology advocated a "revision" of the "practical Zionism" of David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann.

Jabotinsky was the head of the Alliance, defined within the framework of the Zionist Organization. However, he had differences of opinion with leaders of socialist Zionist parties on foreign policy, social-economic issues, and the expansion of the Jewish Agency. This led to him becoming a leading spokesman of the opposition within the Zionist Congress. From that moment, his relationship with socialist movements deteriorated.

In July 1929, he participated in the 16th Zionist Congress. In his speech at the Congress, he called for the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. He demanded that the British government cancel the White Paper of 1922, ignore Arab opposition to Zionism's ambitions, and actively assist in the implementation of the Balfour Declaration. After the 1929 riots in which the British stood by the Arab offenders, he called for the British to recognize Jews' rights to live in their historical land.

Overall, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Jabotinsky was a strong political figure in the Yishuv and was involved in many activities.

In 1932, he retired from the Zionist Organization after the Congress (especially the Mizrahi and the workers movements, and the Hagannah) rejected his definition of Zionism (which was the creation of a Jewish majority state in Eretz Israel).

He formed the New Zionist Organization in 1935 and became its president. In London, he opened the main office.

He warned of the impending danger to Jews during the lead-up to World War II and worked to promote illegal immigration to save Jews from the Nazis. He said "If you won't eliminate the Diaspora – the Diaspora will eliminate you.''*

He also presented a petition demanding that the mandate government provide shelter in the Land of Israel to every Jew who seeks it. Despite this petition being signed by over 600,000 Jews from 24 countries, it did not bring the desired change.

As the Nazi regime in Germany grew stronger, Jabotinsky lost hope in Britain, which had released the "White Paper of 1939". He was left with no choice but to challenge the British mandate and place his faith in the power of young Jewish people to bring about liberation.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky was a key figure in the establishment of Etzel (Ergun Tsvai Leumi, also called Irgun), a military organization in the Land of Israel. It originated from the Haganah Branch in Jerusalem and is ideologically closed to the Revisionist Party.

In 1936, the Etzel became the militant branch of the Revisionist Zionist Alliance. Jabotinsky supported its actions against the policy of restraint towards Arab rioters and the British Mandate government.

In 1937, he was named Supreme Commander of the Etzel and planned an armed rebellion. However, it was never implemented due to the outbreak of World War II.

During the war, Jabotinsky lobbied in the United States and Great Britain for a Jewish defense force to fight alongside the Allies against Nazi Germany. He passed away in the United States in 1940 while visiting a Betar summer camp in New York.

He ordered in his will for his remains to be buried in Israel by a Jewish government. This was fulfilled in 1964 when Levi Eshkol ordered his burial on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.



bottom of page