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Original rare Poster (Yiddish Version)
“Twenty-Five Years of the Betar Struggle” (Hebrew), illustrated poster. L. Poeller Printing Press, Munich 1948.
A poster printed to commemorate twenty-five years since the establisment of Betar – a Revisionist youth movement. A colorful illustration: a boy waving the flag of Israel, on the background of a silhouette depicting a map of the Greater Israel. Surrounding the central image are images depicting Jewish fighters, a concentration camp, gallows, British soldier with a whip, and more. Over the illustration appears the Hebrew text: “Twenty Five years of the Betar Struggle: for a Hebrew Army! For the Liberation of the Homeland!… the Betar Struggle goes on! Freedom of Citizens! For the Termination of the Exile! Jewish Youth – Join Betar!”
BETAR BEITAR ביתר ביית”ר בית”ר
Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky (1880 – 1940) was a Zionist leader – the founder of the Revisionist Movement and Betar, a writer, poet, publicist and translator. He was born in Odessa, Russia on October 18th, 1880 and was given a liberal education with little formal Jewish education. At the age of 18, he left to study law in Italy and Switzerland, while serving as a correspondent in these countries for notable Russian journals. His writings – some signed under the penname “Altalena” – granted him a reputation as an accomplished writer in the Russian language. While in Italy he leaned towards liberalism and hoped that in the future it will be adopted by all mankind.
Following the Kishinev Pogroms in 1903, Jabotinsky devoted himself to Zionist activity. He struggled for minority rights in Russia and was elected soon thereafter as a delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress, the last one attended by Theodore Herzl.
In his Zionist work, Jabotinsky requested to establish a chain of educational institutions that will teach in the Hebrew language. He envisioned that the revival of the Hebrew language will be fundamental in the recognition of a Hebraic culture and in the implementation of Zionism.
During the years 1908 – 1910, Jabotinsky dealt with, simultaneously to his work as a reporter, Zionist propaganda in Constantinople. At the outbreak of the First World War, he had foreseen the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. He demanded that the Zionist movement will not remain passive in the bloodshed and become active and join the great powers in their struggle against Turkey – thus setting an historical fact that the Jewish nation was involved in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael from the Turks. This led to an argument among Zionist leaders which was later incorporated in the differences of opinions between the Revisionist Movement and other Zionist parties. Jabotinsky was a keen supporter of activism in politics for achieving the goals of Zionism.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Jabotinsky served as a military correspondent and was stationed at different fronts. In Alexandria, Egypt, he met with Joseph Trumpeldor and became active in the formation of the Jewish Legion within the British Army. The first legion was established in August 1917 and he served in it, participating in battles in the Jordan Valley and in the conquest of As-Salt in Transjordan from the Turks.
Following the war, he settled in Jerusalem and until 1919 he served as head of the state department of the Delegate’s Committee. In this capacity he called for an immediate massive Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. In 1919 he referred to the historical right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
The Zionist aspiration to establish a state in Eretz Yisrael of Jewish majority and sovereignty was publicly and sincerely promoted by Jabotinsky. When he referred to the future constitution of the State of Israel he had asked to guarantee equal civil rights and cultural autonomy for the Arab minority.
In his article “On the Iron Wall” (1932), Jabotinsky established that the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael are a “living nation,” and that there are very few chances of them acknowledging the implementation of Zionism in Eretz Yisrael. For this reason, he had said, there is a need to establish an “iron wall” – a fortified military front – and to stubbornly defend the Zionist position.
Jabotinsky’s plan was based at first on collaboration with Great Britain, assuming that the latter will implement the mandate it supported in Balfour’s declaration. However, when Britain backed out from its support of the Zionist stand, Jabotinsky warned of a possible betrayal by the government of the British Mandate and advocated to rebel against it.
During Passover 1920, Jabotinsky led the defense forces in Jerusalem during Arab riots. He was arrested by the British for illegal possession of weaponry and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment and penal labor in the Acre Prison. The worldwide public reaction to his sentence gained him his parole.
In 1921 he was elected as member of the First Assembly of Representatives, but he had stayed in London for his political work. The same year he was also elected to the Executive of the Zionist Organization, taking part in the establishment of “Keren Hayesod” (United Israel Appeal). Two years later he retired from the Executive in protest against the policy of Chaim Weizmann, which he felt was not doing enough to promote the establishment of a Zionist state.
In 1923 he founded and headed the Betar Movement in Riga, Latvia – aimed to educate youth in a militant and national spirit. The movement’s basic guidelines were dedicated to the national idea and not to individual status (thereby separating between Zionism and socialism), to the glorification of the people and their way of life, and to the education in the spirit of pioneering and defense. Members of Betar were obligated to serve with the various legions of Betar (labor or defense) for two years after making Aliyah, as part of the plan to keep manual labor in Jewish hands and to maintain the lives and property of the Jewish people.
The Betar movement was active in “Aliyah Bet,” in the renewal of Jewish seamanship, and even in organizing training in aviation. Betar was also the core of the National Workers’ Union and of the Etzel underground movement.
In 1925, Jabotinsky formed the Revisionist Zionist Alliance – a movement which advocated the establishment of a Jewish state within the historical boundaries of Eretz Yisrael on both banks of the Jordan River, and promoted political activism. The Alliance was defined within the framework of the Zionist Organization and, as its head, Jabotinsky was once again part of the organization. However, repeated differences of opinion intensified between him and leaders of socialist Zionist parties on matter concerning foreign policy, social-economic issues, and the expansion of the Jewish Agency. As a result, Jabotinsky became a leading spokesman of the opposition within the Zionist Congress.
The social regime which Jabotinsky envisioned was one based on minimal control and dependent on the free will of its citizens. He had seen democracy as the regime that fit his vision of equal civil rights, despite his acknowledgment that it will not have the power to solve all problems that may arise. Though he considered democracy as the rule of the majority, he also believed its true essence lies in its protection over minorities.
Jabotinsky believed that taxes collected by the state should be used to provide its citizens with five necessities: Food, lodging, clothing, education, and well-being. He objected to a socialist regime as he believed that such rule was in contrast to human character, which is individualist in its nature. Objections were raised against his appreciation towards the bourgeoisie class.
His attitude toward religion and tradition was one of great respect and appreciation. In one of his articles he expressed his appreciation towards the great role fulfilled by religion in keeping the national uniqueness of the Jewish people. He had also seen observance of religion as a private matter reflecting personal beliefs, and expressed his protest towards attempts at religious coercion.
Jabotinsky was a keen supporter of women’s rights.
Jabotinsky returned to Eretz Yisrael in 1928 as editor of the daily newspaper “Doar HaYom,” and conducted a variety of political activities. In 1929 he was reelected to the Assembly of Representatives, remaining in the opposition. He had tried to awaken the Yishuv toward political action and demanded that it should have official representation in London and Geneva. Jabotinsky was supportive of aggressive acts to emphasize the sufferings of the Jewish people.
The 1929 riots in Palestine, in which the British stood by the Arab offenders, had brought Jabotinsky to ask that the British declare that the Jewish people have the right to ask for different partners in their land. At the end of that year he traveled abroad to hold a series of lectures, but his reentry to the country was denied by the British.
In 1932, after the 17th Zionist Congress held in Basel rejected the definition of Zionism as creation of a Jewish majority in Eretz Yisrael, Jabotinsky retired from the Zionist Organization. In 1933 he concentrated most of his time on clearing the names of his fellow movement members who were accused of murdering Chaim Arlozoroff. The following year in London, he and David Ben-Gurion signed three documents intended to reduce the tensions between the right-wing and left-wing factions in the Yishuv and the Diaspora. Despite their mutual agreement, the documents were not approved by the members of the Zionist Organization.
In April 1934, Betar and the Revisionist Zionist Alliance removed themselves from cooperating with the Histadrut and the national institutions and formed the National Labor Federation (NLF), which sponsored social compromise and cooperation between the social classes. These were to be achieved by national arbitration triggered by the classes themselves.
In 1935 the Zionist Organization issued an order forbidding its members to conduct independent political activities. Jabotinsky retired soon thereafter and in the same year he formed the New Zionist Organization (NZO) in Vienna and was elected as its president.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Jabotinsky warned that the Jewish people are facing destruction and called to the Diaspora Jewry to “exterminate the Diaspora before it exterminates them.” During this time he began to work in accordance with a “Policy of alliances” – befriending countries seeking to solve their “problem” of a Jewish minorities – even if their motive is anti-Semitic. With the help of the Polish Government he had hoped to arrange an organized evacuation of 1.5 million Jews from Eastern Europe to Eretz Yisrael. The Zionist and Jewish organizations fiercely objected to this plan, fearing that it will increase anti-Semitism in Poland and in other countries. From 1936 and onwards he worked to promote illegal immigration meant to save Jews from the hands of the Nazis. Under his leadership, the NZO and Betar were active in organizing the “Af Al Pi” Aliyah.
“There is only one solution to the misfortune of the Jewish people… On both sides of the Jordan River there is a territory in which we could – if we would only be permitted – house all of our refuges, from Germany and other countries, refuges of the past, present and the future – if we would only be permitted.”
During 1934 – 1935, Jabotinsky presented along with his movement a petition demanding that the Mandate Government abide to its commitments towards the Jewish people and provide shelter in Eretz Yisrael to every Jew who seeks it. The petition was referred to European governments, the League of Nations and to the King of the United Kingdom. Despite the objection of the Zionist Organization to the petition, it was signed by more than 600,000 Jews from 24 countries. However, it did not bring its anticipated turning point. Jabotinsky continued to protest against the inefficiency of the standard political means and claimed for a true political assault.
As the Nazi regime in Germany grew stronger, Jabotinsky despaired in his hopes that Britain, which issued the “White Paper of 1939,” will renew its partnership with the Jewish people. He turned to the only option left at that point: Objecting to the British Mandate and relying on the liberating forces of the Jewish youth.
The ETZEL – National Military Organization in the Land of Israel – was established in 1931 after a split with the Hagana branch in Jerusalem. Those who retired drew great criticism over the Hagana’s incompetence during the 1929 riots. During the first years of its formation Jabotinsky was barred from entering Eretz Yisrael, but he had great influence on its creation. In 1936 the Etzel became the militant branch of the Revisionist Zionist Alliance. Jabotinsky was supportive of its actions against the policy of restraint towards the Arab rioters against Jews (1936 – 1939). In 1937 he was named as the Supreme Commander of the Etzel – a title he held until his death. He was the initiator of the plan for an armed rebellion which he intended to head. His plan was to board a ship in October 1939 towards Eretz Yisrael with masses of armed young men, and upon their arrival to initiate a rebel against the British, as well as to declare a provisional government for the Jewish state. This plan was never implemented because the Second World War broke out on September 1st.
As the War broke out, Jabotinsky lobbied in the United States and Great Britain for establishment of a Jewish defense force to fight alongside the Allied Forces against Nazi Germany. In 1940, he left for the United States, where he passed away from a heart attack on August 4th 1940, during a visit to a Betar summer camp in New York. In his will he ordered that the removal of his remains for burial in Eretz Yisrael should only be executed by a Jewish government in Eretz Yisrael. This was fulfilled in 1964, when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, unlike his predecessor David Ben Gurion, ordered Jabotinsky to be brought for burial in Israel. The remains of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his wife Johanna were interred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Jabotinsky left an extensive literary legacy. His books, articles and speeches were his tools for spreading his beliefs and fighting for them, as well as the manifest of his movement. In his literary creations there are poems, stories, novels, translations, and an autobiography. Most of these were written in Russian and some in Hebrew. Jabotinsky’s writings and manuscripts, as well as all publications on him worldwide in different languages, are preserved in the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv.
On March 23rd 2005, the Jabotinsky Law was passed, setting a memorial day (29th of Tammuz) in his honor.