The Zionist Imagination | The Nation


The Zionist Imagination

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In his autobiography, Jabotinsky cites his first "Zionist" speech, delivered in Bern in 1898: "I am a Zionist, without a doubt, since the Jews are a very terrible people, its neighbors justly hate them" (not surprisingly, it was received as anti-Semitic). According to Schechtman, Count Michael Lubiensky once said to him: "You know that I hold Jabotinsky in highest regard and that my opinion of Weizmann is trimmed accordingly.... Dr. Weizmann has all the chances to retain the allegiance of the majority of the Jewish people. Because his entire mentality is identical with that of an average ghetto Jew, while the mentality of Jabotinsky is spiritually nearer to me, a Gentile. I understand him better; he evokes in me a kindred response." Jabotinsky turned to the assimilated Jews of Russia in 1935 because he still belonged to them. As with his Odessa, so with his Zionism, there was no trace of Pale or ghetto.

About the Author

Jacqueline Rose
Jacqueline Rose teaches at Queen Mary, University of London. Her books include On Not Being Able to Sleep:...

If The Five tells the other story of Jabotinsky's official Zionism, to read this novel is nonetheless to be struck by how closely these seemingly contrary visions are intertwined, not just in the sense that the failure of assimilation was in some sense the cause of Zionism but rather because the question of assimilation was carried over to the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples, which Zionism was confronting in relation to the Arabs of Palestine. It is often asked how a people who suffered such persecution could become the oppressors of another people. Faced with Lika's exile, her father, Ignats Albertovich, "found many quotations in Heine and Borne to prove that it's more shameful to be an oppressor than a victim." But despite the barely concealed irony at Albertovich's expense, Jabotinsky showed his own awareness of the link when he proposed for the Arabs the same minority rights that he had promoted at the Helsingfors Third All-Russian Zionist Convention of 1906 for Russian Jews: Zionism was ready "to grant the Arab minority in Eretz Israel every possible right that the Jews claimed for themselves, but had never achieved in other countries."

For Jabotinsky Arab national aspirations, like those of the Zionists, were legitimate. Hence his acknowledgment of the inevitable violence of the struggle. Antagonism between Jew and Arab therefore veiled a latent identification. Unlike those Zionists who blithely predicted, with a barely concealed racism, that the Arabs would relinquish their land when they saw how the Jewish pioneers made the desert bloom, he insisted that they were a people of dignity who would not be bought: "The entire country is full of Arab memories." National groupings cannot, therefore, but be at war with each other. In The War and the Jew, he makes a key distinction between the "Anti-Semitism of Men," based on irrational, visceral hatred ("a subjective repulsion, strong enough and permanent enough to become anything from a hobby to a religion," "a constant urge to harm the hated race"), and the "Anti-Semitism of Things" ("steady, constant and immutable, and therefore much more formidable"), which follows from the natural desire to protect, and foster, the interests of one's own kind: "an instinct which cannot be criticized because, after all, it is as natural as preferring one's own children to one's neighbor's offspring." Zionist and Arab therefore share a natural hostility to each other. Once again the fiction tells another story. "It is a good thing that you should live for a time among the Philistines," Samson says to one of his followers. "They are our neighbors, and if men come to know each other, there is no more enmity between them."

In Jabotinsky's future, Arab and Jew would not be neighbors so much as carefully differentiated groupings within the body politic of the new state. We are a far cry from The Five's "good-natured fraternization of nationalities," the "Babylonian diversity of our common forum" in which the narrator took such naïve but wholesome delight. Arabs might be citizens, they might even participate in government (once they had submitted, there could even be an Arab vice president), but only the Jews would fully belong to the nation. Behind the apparently liberal demand for Arab minority rights lies a plea for the separation of peoples. Jabotinsky has transposed to Palestine the exact arrangement whose utter nonviability for the Jews he knew only too well: "every possible right that the Jews...had never achieved in other countries." "The Helsingfors utopia has, of course, never been attained either in Russia or anywhere else," he wrote in his 1930 essay "Binational Palestine." "I trust that the first country where they will, some day, be fully applied will be our own Palestine--that is, when we Jews shall have become its masters."

If there is an affinity between Arab and Jew, such a form of recognition shows its darker side. The line from Odessa to Tel Aviv, from failed assimilation to national identity, can be run more ways than one. For if there can only be one sovereign people, why would the Arabs, any more than the Jews in Russia, want to stay? Slowly, as Jewish emigration to Palestine from Europe increased throughout the 1930s, Jabotinsky's vision turned toward the transfer of peoples. Not forcibly--he was outspoken against forcible transfer--but nonetheless as the consequence, ironically, of his own belief in Arab nationhood. As Shavit points out, there was an inherent contradiction in the official Revisionist position, which rejected the idea of a pan-Arab nation while maintaining that the Palestinian Arabs could be effortlessly absorbed into the larger Arab world (a contradiction all the more intense in that they refused to recognize the Hashemite regime in Transjordan, and hence the Transjordanian nation that was meant to receive them). Somewhat at odds with his own movement, Jabotinsky had no such problem with the larger pan-Arab vision--and, if there was a greater Arab nation, why should they not leave? According to Edward Norman, recording a conversation about a possible transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq, Jabotinsky made the truly "original suggestion" that

it would be wise to have the Zionist Organization openly oppose Arab emigration from Palestine, and then the Arabs would be sure the scheme was not Jewish and that the Jews wanted them to stay in Palestine only to exploit them, and they would want very much to go away to Iraq.

This is a deadly repetition of Freud's famous joke of two Jews at the railway station: "If you say you're going to Krakow, you want me to believe you're going to Lemberg. But I know in fact you're going to Krakow! So why are you lying to me?" (The standard edition of Freud's works indexes this joke as "Truth a lie.")

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