BORN JOHANNESBURG, DECEMBER 9, 1914. DIED TEL AVIV, MAY 9, 2008, AGED 93.
ONE OF the last surviving disciples of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the prophet of right-wing Revisionist Zionism, writer Shmuel Katz remained to the end an uncompromising advocate of the complete Land of Israel, writes Eric Silver.
He saw it as imperative to retain the whole of the biblical homeland under Jewish sovereignty. But in a long life of politics and polemic he was disappointed by the failure, as he saw it, of successive Likud leaders, Jabotinsky’s political heirs, to keep the faith.
He broke with Menachem Begin in 1978 when the first Likud prime minister ceded Sinai, captured in 1967, in return for peace with Egypt. For Katz the only valid formula was “Peace for Peace”, not “Territory for Peace”.
In a recent interview he revealed his despair that his old Irgun Zvai Leumi commander, Begin, turned out to be weak. (Known also by its initials as Etzel, standing for National Military Organisation, the Irgun was founded by Jabotinsky in 1931 and led by Begin from 1943-48.) “He [Begin] couldn’t stand up to the Americans.”
He was equally scathing of Binyamin Netanyahu as a man who “broke down under American pressure” to become “just another fat, third-rate politician”.
Katz joined the Irgun in 1936, when he left South Africa, after studying at Witwatersrand University and commercial school, for British mandate Palestine.
He had been captivated by Jabotinsky’s oratory in Johannesburg in 1930, with its vision of a Jewish state established and preserved through armed conquest. “Right then and there,” he recalled, “I decided that building a Jewish state would be my life’s work.”
On arrival he started writing, echoing Jabotinsky’s warnings about the growing Nazi threat to European Jew- ry. He travelled to Egypt on a five-day trip as Jabotinsky’s secretary. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Revisionist leader sent him to London to lobby for the creation of a Jewish army and rescue of the Jews.
Katz was one of the first writers to expose the allies’ failure to bomb Auschwitz. Using documents from British and Zionist archives for his 1966 book, Days of Fire, he denounced Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden for ignoring Jewish Agency appeals in July, 1944, to bomb the camp and its railway lines.
“It was 57 days before the British Foreign Office sent its reply,” he wrote, “a period during which the majority of the Jews of Hungary were exterminated.”
Jabotinsky’s sudden death in 1940 left Katz stranded in London. He wrote articles for a living and founded a Revisionist weekly, the Jewish Standard, before returning to Palestine in 1946 and joining the Irgun high command as spokesman and propagandist. He also helped organise Begin’s controversial 1948 arms shipment on the Altalena.
A co-founder in 1948 of Begin’s political party, Herut (later merged into Likud), he was elected to the first Knesset (1949-51) but, wearying of parliamentary politics, set up a publishing house. After the 1967 Six-Day War, he cofounded the Land of Israel movement.
When Begin won the 1977 election, he invited Katz to serve as adviser — which led to his disenchantment. He was expecting to be appointed Minister for Public Diplomacy, with a brief to correct Israel’s perceived failure to get across its message and answer its critics. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan vetoed the idea, and Katz resigned.
For the next two decades he contributed a trenchant weekly column to Ma’ariv and the Jerusalem Post. His many books included Battleground (1973), his ideological testament; Lone Wolf (1993), a two-volume biography of Jabotinsky; and The Aaronsohn Saga (2007), a study of the Nili spy ring which worked for British intelligence against the Turks in the First World War.
He is survived by a son.
Shmuel Katz: uncompromising advocate of biblical Israel