Independent scholar and “Self-Hating Gentile” blogger Thomas G. Mitchell, Ph.D., has provided us with the following review article:
Jabotinsky: the Forgotten Zionist
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright, Alfred Knopf, 368 pages, Hardcover $18.98, Paperback $12.60; Jabotinsky by Hillel Halkin, Yale University Press, 246 pages, $25.
Last year, former Carter administration communications director Jerry Rafshoon commissioned journalist Lawrence Wright (author of previous books on Al Qaeda and Scientology) to write a play about the Camp David Summit of 1978. The resulting work received rave reviews with “The Waltons” TV series star, Richard Thomas, playing the role of Jimmy Carter.
Wright became so immersed in the subject that he was not content merely writing a play. He went on to write Thirteen Days in September about the summit, also to favorable reviews. This was the last time that Washington successfully mediated a peace settlement in the Middle East between Arabs and Israel.
Each day of the summit receives its own chapter. Wright bounces back & forth in time to tell the back stories of the main participants, which several reviewers at the Amazon site found distracting. From my reading, it seems written with drama rather than analysis being its main purpose. For those who desire a more detailed analysis of the Arab-Israeli peacemaking policy of the Carter administration and the reasons for its success, I recommend two previous books written on the subject.
In 1981, former Carter administration National Security Council Middle East staffer William Quandt published Camp David, a lengthy account of the Carter administration’s Arab-Israeli policy from 1977 to 1980. It is short on drama, but long on narrative. Also on the subject is University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami’s Power and Leadership in International Bargaining, which uses realist theory to explain why both Egypt and Israel made the bargain that they did at Camp David and later in Cairo and Jerusalem in 1979.
The connecting thread between accounts of Camp David in 1978 and Hillel Halkin’s book on Jabotinsky is the personage of Menachem Begin. Anyone who has read a biography of Begin, the first Israeli prime minister from the Right, is familiar with the name of Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky.
Jabotinsky was an early Zionist leader, a generation younger than the founders of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau. Like Herzl and Nordau, Jabotinsky was a talented journalist and literary figure who gave up a future career in belles lettres for a “career” as a Zionist leader. Until now, those interested in Jabotinsky have had a choice between very lengthy and expensive multi-volume biographies by Joseph Schechtman, a former close aide, and Shmuel Katz, a former Begin associate who split with him over Camp David, or the official interpretation of Jabotinsky that one finds in Begin biographies or in analyses of his thought written by Revisionist Zionists. Yale University Press wisely chose a leading Israeli translator of Hebrew and Yiddish literature into English to write the first short single-volume biography of Jabotinsky.
Jabotinsky’s main importance to those interested in Israeli politics today is that he is the originator of the ideology of the Israeli secular Right—Revisionist Zionism—as well as its main structures: the Revisionist Party, Betar youth movement, and the Irgun Zvai Leumi paramilitary organization. Jabotinsky spent the 1920s putting these institutions together and working out the ideology of the movement. He then spent his final decade, from 1930 to August 1940, trying unsuccessfully to mediate disagreements among these institutions while trying to save European Jewry from the coming Holocaust.
He did this all with a weak popular base in Palestine and in America. He led the movement first from Paris and then London while traveling across Europe by train, spending most of his time in Poland and the Baltic states. The one impression that I was left with after reading Halkin’s conclusion was of a magnificent waste of literary talent sacrificed to the service of an impossible mission.
But why bother with the biography of a figure who was a failure? Until recently Jabotinsky’s ideology in Herut (Begin’s original Revisionist party) and the Likud had been filtered through Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Nearly all the Revisionist “princes” (as second-generation Revisionist leaders are known) were sons or daughters (in the case of Tzipi Livni) of members of the Etzel and Lehi paramilitary groups. But the most successful prince of all, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, is the son of a close Jabotinsky aide who was shunned by Begin because he spent the 1940s in America organizing the Jewish Right rather than fighting the British occupation in Palestine. Since Netanyahu’s ideology comes from Jabotinsky through his father, those interested in understanding Netanyahu should read not only a summary of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist ideology, but an account of Revisionist foreign policy and diplomacy as practiced by Jabotinsky during the desperate 1930s.
For the casual reader, this book fills a big gap in the literature. Those who want to read more after reading Halkin’s biography should turn to Colin Shindler’s The Triumph of Military Zionism (2009), which tells the story of the changing of the guard from Jabotinsky to the paramilitary organizations in the late 1930s.