The Jerusalem Post

Jabotinsky, Arabs and the Jewish homeland


There are several good reasons to return to a review of the outlook and proposed policies on the matter of Arabs and the Jewish homeland of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionis­t wing in Zionism whose memorial ceremony last week was addressed by President Isaac Herzog.

Among the good reasons are Benjamin Netanyahu deliberati­ng whether to include Ra’am, the political wing of the Southern Branch of the Islamic movement, in his future coalition. Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid eventually did include the party in their current government coalition. There were outbreaks of severe violent and murderous riots by Arabs in mixed towns such as Lod, Acre and the northern Negev in May and June, as well as yet another round with Hamas in Gaza despite the 2005 territoria­l disengagem­ent.

One bad reason is reading Prof. Elie Podeh, who teaches Islamic studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a board member of Mitvim Institute, a think tank funded by left-wing philanthro­pies, whose “mission is to... promote Israel’s regional belonging... and advance Israeli-Palestinia­n peace.” He published in these pages “Netanyahu’s legacy of falsehoods” on July 2.

Accusing Netanyahu of stigmatizi­ng the Left, who employs the term “the Left” as “a pejorative code word for anyone who was not ‘one of us,’” Podeh then railed against Netanyahu (and Ehud Barak) for speaking of Israel as “a villa in the jungle.”

Podeh then reached back a century and asserted that the term, not only “reflects [on] both men’s perception of Israel’s place in the Middle East” but that “in many respects, it also echoes Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s 1920s concept of the ‘Iron Wall’ which should separate the Jews from their Arab neighbors.”

This is either a complete misreading of Jabotinsky’s article, a total ignorance of Jabotinsky’s writing on the subject in general, or possibly an intended subversion with the intent of misleading his readers.

Back in 2013, Mordechai Kremnitzer and Amir Fuchs published a booklet at the left-of-center Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) on Jabotinsky’s views on democracy, equality and individual rights, including his attitude toward the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael.

He could have read there that Jabotinsky’s “firm stance” was that Israel’s Arabs have “the right to full civil, cultural and collective equality including absolute [political] parity and in the allocation of state benefits.” But what, to return to his 1923 “Iron Wall” and the second part, “The Ethics of the Iron Wall” articles, was Jabotinsky’s thinking on “separation,” as asserted by Podeh?

There was none. Quite simply, Podeh is acting with no little charlatanr­y.

FOLLOWING ARAB riots in April 1920, May and November 1921, Jabotinsky responded to the new reality and wrote, “As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up this hope.” Yet Jabotinsky expressed his own hope that “the [extremist] leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concession­s.” Note: “mutual”; no dictating of conditions.

To reach that stage, Jabotinsky wrote that the Jews in the Mandate territory required a wall. Was that wall, a la Podeh, one of a separation of population­s? One of apartheid? One of suppressio­n? No. He explained, “The only way to obtain such an agreement is the iron wall, which is to say a strong power in Palestine that is not amenable to any Arab pressure.”

Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall was part of a defensive mechanism that would convince Arabs engaged in a terrorist campaign that they would fail. A century later, they have not yet surrendere­d their campaign of violence, negation and rejection of Jewish national identity.

Jabotinsky’s outlook on the Arabs in Mandate Palestine was based on his early promotion, from 1906, on behalf of national rights of minorities in Europe’s multi-ethnic empires. His dissertati­on was on Karl Renner’s concept of national cultural autonomy.

His 1929 poem, Two Banks has the Jordan, contains the line, “There the son of Arabia, of Nazareth and my son will find fulfillmen­t”. In a 1930 essay, he wrote, “He can produce documentar­y evidence of always having been a staunch adherent of the binational, even the multi-national state idea.”

Gil Rubin, in his 2019 study, notes that Jabotinsky, despite writing in 1937, “From a Jewish perspectiv­e it [population transfers] is a crime,” did consider the idea of a transfer proposal of Arabs out of Palestine in an outline of an article jotted down in November 1939. His thinking was influenced by the Peel Commission’s recommenda­tion to relocate 300,000 Arabs, and also based on his belief that no ethnic minorities would remain in Eastern Europe after the war. Up to twenty million minority peoples, he foresaw, would be forced to leave their homes or assimilate into the majority population.

Neverthele­ss, as Jabotinsky’s “The Arab Angle Undramatiz­ed” proposal shows, he believed once a firm Jewish majority was in place, it would convince the Arab residents that Jewish primacy was the reality and normalcy. The article outlined in detail his view that wide-ranging autonomy rights could be then granted. His thinking formed the basis of Menachem Begin’s 1977 autonomy proposal.

It is unfortunat­e that we are a witness to Elie Podeh’s own legacy of falsehood.

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