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Zionism in the Age of the Dictators

Lenni Brenner

Zionism in the Age of the Dictators

10. Zionist-Revisionism and Italian Fascism

Menachem Begin’s surprising rise to power in 1977, after a lifetime of opposition within the Zionist movement, quite naturally created considerable interest in his personal career. However, Begin himself, for all his present fame and power, would still refer to himself as nothing more than a disciple of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of his tendency and the man he considers the greatest Jew since Herzl.

The creator of the Jewish Legion and the founder of the Haganah (Defence), Jabotinsky is the Revisionists’ acclaimed hero. Yet at his death in New York’s Catskills in August 1940, he was the most despised ideological thinker in the Jewish political world. Typical of the style of the man was the extraordinary Ukrainian pact he engineered in a hotel room in Prague in August 1921. He had travelled to Prague for a World Zionist Congress, and he had a visitor there, an old friend, Maxim Slavinsky, Simon Petliura’s ambassador. The regime in the Ukraine had collapsed. Petliura, caught between Polish imperialism and Bolshevism, had let Poland take Ukrainian lands in return for arms against the Red Army, but the aid was to no avail and the remnants of his army had to flee into Polish-occupied Galicia. Slavinsky told Jabotinsky of the latest plan: the 15,000 remaining troops would attack the Soviet Ukraine in 1922. The ambassador of the notorious pogromist Petliura government and the organiser of the Haganah worked out a secret agreement. Jabotinsky, on his own, without reference to the WZO, pledged to work within his movement to organise Zionist police to accompany Petliura’s troops in their raid. They were not to fight the Red Army, but would guard the Jews of the towns captured by the very soldiers that would bring them into the region.

The pact was disclosed by the Ukrainians to prove that they had changed their ways. The WZO was aghast, and Jabotinsky had to defend himself against all Jewish opinion, which could not stomach any association with the discredited murderer. In the end the incursion never came off; France withdrew its subsidy, and the nationalist force disintegrated. Jewry divided between those who regarded Jabotinsky as a fool or a villain; everywhere the Communists used the pact to discredit Zionism among Jews, but Jabotinsky was unrepentant. He would have done the same for the Leninists, if only they had asked:

A Jewish gendarmerie with the White Army, a Jewish gendarmerie with the Red Army, a Jewish gendarmerie with the Lilac and Peagreen Army, if any; let them settle their quarrels, we shall police the towns and see to it that the Jewish population should not be molested. [1]

The Poale Zionists demanded an investigation, as they claimed the agreement had endangered the legality of their own barely tolerated organisation in the Soviet Union, but Jabotinsky had travelled to the United States on a seven-month lecturing tour and the investigating panel could not be scheduled until 18 January 1923. In the end the hearing was never held, as Jabotinsky suddenly resigned from the WZO the night before he was to testify. He always claimed that his resignation had nothing to do with the pending inquiry, and insisted that he resigned due to a running dispute concerning relations with Britain, but few believed him. He re-entered the ranks shortly after, but his opponents saw no further point in officially pursuing the matter as he no longer had any position within the movement. When he began to organise his new tendency the attacks resumed, and for the rest of his life he had to defend his escapade. But throughout his career Jabotinsky was noted for his imperious contempt for his critics; he simply told the hostile world that “When I die you can write as my epitaph – ‘This was the man who made the pact with Petliura’.” [2]

“We Want a Jewish Empire”

Jabotinsky returned to the now wary WZO in 1923 as the far-right opponent of the leadership, determined to “revise” their stance; he denounced Weizmann for not demanding the reconstitution of the Jewish Legion. He had also seen Churchill separate Trans-Jordan from the Jewish “National Home” in Palestine, and when the WZO reluctantly accepted Churchill’s decision he had only gone along out of a sense of discipline but thenceforward the claim that Jordan was eternally Jewish became the idée fixe of his new programme: “One side of the Jordan is ours-and so is the other”. So goes Shtei Gadot, the song still most commonly identified with the Revisionist movement.

Jabotinsky never shared the naive illusion that the Palestinians would some day welcome foreign domination of their country. At a time when Ben-Gurion and his friends still thought they could convince the Palestinian masses to accept Zionism as in their own interest, Jabotinsky developed his own blunt thesis in an article, The Iron War (We and the Arabs), written in 1923:

Zionist colonisation must be either terminated or carried out against the wishes of the native population. This colonisation can, therefore, be continued and make progress only under the protection of a power independent of the native population – an iron wall, which will be in a position to resist the pressure to the native population. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs ... A voluntary reconciliation with the Arabs is out of the question either now or in the near future. [3]

He had nothing but ridicule for the Zionist leaders who mouthed peace while demanding that the British Army protect them; or their hope of an Arab ruler (the favoured candidate was Faisal of Iraq) who would deal with them over the heads of the Palestinians and impose them on the natives with an Arab bayonet. He repeated over and over that there could be only one way to a Zionist state:

If you wish to colonise a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison for the land, or find some “rich man” or benefactor who will provide a garrison on your behalf. Or else – or else, give up your colonisation, for without an armed force which will render physically impossible any attempt to destroy or prevent this colonisation, colonisation is impossible, not “difficult”, not “dangerous”, but IMPOSSIBLE! ... Zionism is a colonising adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important ... to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot – or else I am through with playing at colonisation. [4]

Jabotinsky understood that, for the moment, the Zionists were too weak to hold off the Arabs without the backing of the British, and Revisionism became loudly Empire loyalist. In 1930 Abba Achimeir, the ideologue of their Palestinian branch, proclaimed their interest lay “in expanding the British empire even further than intended by the British themselves”. [5] However, they had no intention of hiding behind the British any longer than necessary. In 1935 a Jewish Communist journalist encountered Jabotinsky on board an ocean liner on his way to the United States and obtained an interview with him. Robert Gessner’s article in the New Masses became the talk of Jewish America.

He announced he would speak frankly, so that Revisionism would be made clear ... “Revisionism”, he began, “is naive, brutal and primitive. It is savage. You go out into the street and pick any man – a Chinaman – and ask him what he wants and he will say one hundred per cent of everything. That’s us. We want a Jewish Empire. Just like there is the Italian or French on the Mediterranean, we want a Jewish Empire.” [6]


“He had caught a glimpse of the great secret of politically minded peoples”

Despite its members’ enthusiasm for the British Empire, eventually Revisionism had to look elsewhere for a new imperial protector. Britain was not willing to do more than guard the Zionists, and not too effectively at that, and the Zionists had to buy land inch by inch. Nor could anyone seriously believe that Britain would ever give Trans-Jordan to the Zionists. The Revisionists therefore began to look for a new Mandatory firmly committed to a more ruthless policy towards the Arabs and therefore willing to back the construction of a Zionist garrison-state. Italy seemed the obvious answer, not because of any sympathy for Fascism, but because of Italy’s own imperial aspirations. Jabotinsky had been a student in Italy and he loved the old liberal-aristocratic order. In his own mind he was the Jewish Mazzini, Cavour and Garibaldi all rolled into one, and he could not see anything wrong with the liberal traditions that Mussolini so thoroughly repudiated. In fact he sneered at Fascism. In 1926 he wrote:

There is today a country where “programs” have been replaced by the word of one man ... Italy; the system is called Fascism: to give their prophet a title, they had to coin a new term – “Duce” – which is a translation of that most absurd of all English words – “leader”. Buffaloes follow a leader. Civilised men have no leaders. [7]

Yet, despite Jabotinsky’s broad-mindedness, his own style came to mimic the militarism of Mussolini and Hitler. His novel Samson, published in 1926, remains one of the classics of totalitarian literature.

One day, he was present at a festival at the temple of Gaza. Outside in the square a multitude of young men and girls were gathered for the festive dances ... A beardless priest led the dances. He stood on the topmost step of the temple, holding an ivory baton in his hand. When the music began the vast concourse stood immobile ... The beardless priest turned pale and seemed to submerge his eyes in those of the dancers, which were fixed responsively on his. He grew paler and paler; all the repressed fervour of the crowd seemed to concentrate within his breast till it threatened to choke him. Samson felt the blood stream to his heart; he himself would have choked if the suspense had lasted a few moments longer. Suddenly, with a rapid, almost inconspicuous movement, the priest raised his baton, and all the white figures in the square sank down on the left knee and threw the right arm towards heaven – a single movement, a single, abrupt, murmurous harmony. The tens of thousands of onlookers gave utterance to a moaning sigh. Samson staggered; there was blood on his lips, so tightly had he pressed them together ... Samson left the place profoundly thoughtful. He could not have given words to his thought, but he had a feeling that here, in this spectacle of thousands obeying a single will, he had caught a glimpse of the great secret of politically minded peoples. [8]

The wish for a more determined Mandatory easily overcame Jabotinsky’s distaste for Italy’s internal regime, and many of his recruits had never had any difficulties with Fascism’s domestic style. By the mid-1920s he had attracted several ex-Labour Zionists who turned savagely on their former comrades and Mussolini became their hero. In August 1932, at the Fifth Revisionist World Conference, Abba Achimeir and Wolfgang von Weisl, the leaders of Palestine’s Revisionists, proposed Jabotinsky as Duce of their one faction of the WZO. He flatly refused, but any contradiction between himself and the increasingly pro-Fascist ranks was resolved by his moving closer to them. Without abandoning his previous liberal rhetoric, he incorporated Mussolini’s concepts into his own ideology and rarely publicly criticised his own followers for Fascist-style assaults, defending them against the Labour Zionists and the British.

The argument has been made that Revisionism as such was not Fascist because there were legitimate differences within the ranks and that ultimately decisions were made by vote at conventions or by means of the plebiscite. In reality, it is difficult to think of how much more undemocratic the movement could have been without it formally becoming a proper Fascist grouping. By 1932-3 Jabotinsky had decided that it was time for them to withdraw from the WZO, but most of the Executive of their world union were opposed as they saw nothing to be gained by splitting. He suddenly cut the debate off by arbitrarily taking personal control over the movement and letting the ranks choose between him and the superseded Executive in a plebiscite. A letter written in December 1932 demonstrates that he knew full well in what direction he was leading the organisation: “The time has apparently come when there must be a single, principal controller in the movement, a ‘leader’, though I still hate the word. All right, if there must be one, there will be one.” [9]

Jabotinsky knew he could not lose the vote; to the tens of thousands of youthful Betar brownshirts he represented the militarism they wanted against an Executive of the same genteel bourgeoisie as the Weizmann clique. It was always the Betar youth group that was the central component of Diaspora Revisionism. The semi-official History of the Revisionist Movement declares that, after a discussion of whether to set up on a democratic basis, the decision was taken for a “hierarchic structure of a military type”. [10] In its classic form the Betar chose its Rosh Betar (High Betar), always Jabotinsky, by a 75 per cent majority vote, he picked the leaders of the national units; they, in turn, selected the next lower leaders. Opposition was allowed, but after the purge of the moderates in the early 1930s the only serious internal critics were sundry “maximalists”, extremists who would complain, at various times, that Jabotinsky was not a Fascist, or was too pro-British or was insufficiently anti-Arab. When the average Betari put on his brownshirt he could be forgiven if he thought he was a member of a Fascist movement, and that Jabotinsky was his Duce.

The Jewish Bourgeoisie – the Only Source of our Constructive Capital

From the beginning the Revisionists saw the middle class as their clientele and they had a long hatred of the left. In 1933 a youth wrote to Jabotinsky asking why he had become so vehemently anti-Marxist; Jabotinsky wrote a remarkable article, Zionism and Communism, explaining their total incompatibility. In terms of Jewry, “Communism strives to annihilate the only source of our constructive capital – the Jewish bourgeoisie – because their foundation is our root, and its principle is the class struggle against the bourgeoisie.” In Palestine Marxism, by definition, meant the sharpest opposition to Zionism:

the essence of Communism consists in that it agitates and must incite the Eastern Nations against European dominance. This dominance in its eyes is “imperialistic” and exploitative. I believe otherwise and think that European dominance makes them civilised, but that is an incidental question and does not belong to the matter. One thing is clear: Communism incites and must incite the Eastern Nations and this it can do only in the name of national freedom. It tells them and must tell them: your lands belong to you and not to any strangers. This is how it must speak to the Arabs and the Arabs of Palestine ... For our Zionist lungs, Communism is suffocating gas and this is how you must deal with it. [11]

Typically for him, he jumped from a correct premise to an incorrect conclusion. In logic, Zionism and Marxism are indeed incompatible, but it did not follow in life that those who did try to mix the two were really in the enemy camp. In practice, the Socialist-Zionist sacrifices socialism to Zionism, not the other way around, but Jabotinsky maintained that there was no substantive difference between the Communists and the Poale Zionists:

I do not believe that there is any difference between Communism and other forms of Socialism based on class views ... The only difference between these two camps is one of temperament – the one rushes ahead, the other is slightly slower: such a difference is not worth the value of the ink-drop necessary to describe it in writing. [12]

Jabotinsky’s mind always ran to the linear. The capitalist class was the main force of Zionism; it followed, logically, that strikes repelled investment in Palestine. They might be acceptable in advanced industrial countries, their economies could take them, but not where the foundations of Zion were still being laid brick by brick. In exact imitation of the Italian Fascists, the Revisionists opposed “both” strikes and lock-outs, with strikes being seen as the highest of crimes:

And by “obligatory” arbitration we mean this: after the election of such a permanent board, recourse to it should be proclaimed as the only legitimate way of settling industrial conflicts, its verdicts should be final, and both strike and lockout (as well as boycott of Jewish labour) should be declared treasonable to the interest of Zionism and repressed by every legal and moral means at the nation’s disposal. [13]

The Revisionists were not about to wait until they took state power to break their Labour rivals. Achimeir, their leader in Palestine (Jabotinsky had been barred from Palestine by the High Commissioner after Revisionist provocations had triggered the 1929 Arab explosion) flagrantly ran his Yomen shel Fascisti (Diary of a Fascist) in their paper. He had his equivalent of the Italian squadristi, the Brith HaBiryonim (Union of Terrorists), so styled after the ancient Sicarii – the dagger-wielding Zealot assassins active during the Judaean revolt against Rome – and he whipped up the Revisionist youth for a final showdown with the Labour Zionists:

We must create groups for action; to exterminate the Histadrut physically; they are worse than Arabs ... You’re no students; you’re just so much molasses ... There isn’t one among you capable of committing murder after the fashion of those German students who murdered Rathenau. You are not possessed of the nationalist spirit that dominated the Germans ... Not one of you is capable of murder after the manner in which Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered. [14]

Palestine now witnessed the Zionists, in the shape of the Histadrut, driving thousands of Arabs out of their seasonal jobs in the Jewish orange groves and the Revisionist Fascists descending upon the Histadrut. But although the Arab workers still lacked the leadership to defend themselves the Histadrut was well organised. After a series of sharp clashes, including a decisive battle in Haifa, on 17 October 1934, when 1,500 Labour Zionists stormed the Revisionist headquarters and injured dozens of the Fascists, the Revisionist campaign withered away. The Histadrut ranks were quite willing to respond to the Fascist onslaught by carrying the fight to the enemy and crushing them, but the Labour Zionist leadership was as unwilling to fight Fascism in Palestine as anywhere else and let them escape their defeat out of fear that a serious battle would alienate Diaspora Zionism’s middle-class following.

The Revisionists’ Relations with the Italian Fascists

In the early 1930s Jabotinsky decided to set up a party school in Italy and the local Revisionists, who openly identified themselves as Fascists, lobbied Rome. He knew well enough that picking Italy as the locale for a party school would only confirm their Fascist image, but he had moved so far to the right that he had lost all concern for what his “enemies” might think and he even emphasised to one of his Italian followers that they could set up their proposed school elsewhere but “we ... prefer to have it established in Italy”. [15] By 1934 the Italians had decided that, for all their friendliness to them, Sokolow and Weizmann and the WZO leadership had not the least thought of breaking with London. Nor were the Italians pleased at the growing ascendancy within the WZO of the Social Democratic Labour Zionists who were affiliated, however distantly, to their own underground socialist enemies. They were therefore quite willing to show support for the Revisionists who were evidently the Fascists of Zion. In November 1934 Mussolini allowed the Betar to set up a squadron at the maritime academy at Civitavecchia run by the Blackshirts.

Even after the Arlosoroff assassination in 1933 and the strike-breaking campaign organised by Achimeir against the Histadrut, Ben-Gurion still worked out a peace agreement with Jabotinsky in October 1934, but the Histadrut ranks rejected it and the Revisionists finally set up their own New Zionist Organisation (NZO). Jabotinsky asked his Italian supporters to arrange to have the first NZO world congress in Trieste in 1935, flaunting the fact that he did not care what people would think of his movement holding its foundation congress in Fascist Italy. [16] In the end the event was held in Vienna, but Jabotinsky visited the Civitavecchia academy after the Congress. Curiously, he never met Mussolini – perhaps he was concerned to prove he still was not just another “head buffalo”.

Although there is not one statement by Jabotinsky in which he called himself a Fascist, and innumerable proclamations of his Gladstonian credentials, every other major political tendency saw the Revisionists as Zionism’s Fascists. Weizmann privately attributed Arlosoroff’s murder to their Fascist style; Ben-Gurion routinely referred to “Vladimir Hitler” and even went so far as to call the Nazis the “German Revisionists”. [17] Von Mildenstein told his readers of his encounter on board a ship with “ein jüdischer Faschist”, a Betari; he described the youths as “the Fascist group among the Jews. Radical Nationalists, they are adverse to any kind of compromise on the questions of Jewish nationalism. Their political party is the Revisionists.” [18]

The highest such accolade was from Mussolini who, in 1935, told David Prato, later to become chief rabbi of Rome, that: “For Zionism to succeed you need to have a Jewish state, with a Jewish flag and a Jewish language. The person who really understands that is your fascist, Jabotinsky.” [19]

The majority of the movement thought of themselves as opponents of democracy and as Fascists or near sympathisers. Jacob de Haas, an intimate of Herzl’s, had converted to Revisionism in the mid-1930s and, to show that they were not “just Jabotinsky”, he had presided at the Vienna NZO Congress. When he returned to America he gave his impressions of the gathering in his column in Chicago’s Jewish Chronicle. After hastily reassuring his readers that he really was not defending Fascism, he told them they had to:

realise that democracy is a dead issue in most of Europe. Its chief exhibition in the common mind is the bluster and contrivance of endless parties and subparties ... The delegates were not fascists, but having lost all faith in democracy they were not anti-fascist. They were however very anti-Communistic. [20]

If de Haas, in America, had to ease his sceptical readers into awareness that the majority of his movement had nothing but contempt for democracy, Wolfgang von Weisl, the financial director of the Revisionists, had no such hesitation about telling a diplomatic newspaper in Bucharest that “although opinions among the Revisionists varied, in general they sympathised with Fascism”. He was positively eager to let the world know that “He personally was a supporter of Fascism, and he rejoiced at the victory of Fascist Italy in Abyssinia as a triumph of the White races against the Black.” [21] In 1980 Shmuel Merlin described his own feelings toward Mussolini in the mid-1930s, when he was the young Secretary-General of the New Zionist Organisation.

I admired him but I was not a fascist. He idealised war. I felt war was necessary, but to me it was always a tragedy ... I did regret that Achimeir titled his column Diary of a Fascist, it just gave an excuse for our enemies to attack us, but it certainly did not break up our friendship. [22]

Whatever Jabotinsky might have thought he was leading, there can be no doubt that these three prominent members of the Revisionist movement were talking about a Fascist grouping. Von Weisl’s evaluation seems quite reasonable; the Fascist component within the leadership was massive and it was they, not Jabotinsky, who ran the movement in Palestine, Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Latvia and Manchuria, at least. At the very best Jabotinsky must be thought of as a liberal-imperialist head on a Fascist body. Present-day Revisionists do not deny the presence of avowed Fascists in their movement in the 1930s; instead they overemphasise the distinctions between Jabotinsky and the Fascists. The academy at Civitavecchia, they allege, was but mere Mazzinism. Nationalists are allowed, they claim, to seek the aid of an imperialist rival of their own oppressor; surely, they insist, that does not therefore imply endorsement of the internal regime of their patron. They then point to Jabotinsky’s admonition to the Betarim at Civitavecchia:

Do not intervene in any party discussions concerning Italy. Do not express any opinions about Italian politics. Do not criticise the present regime in Italy – nor the former regime. If you are asked about your political and social beliefs answer: I am a Zionist. My greatest desire is the Jewish state, and in our country I oppose class warfare. This is the whole of my creed. [23]

This most diplomatic formula was calculated to please the Italian Fascists without antagonising any conservative supporters of the old regime whom a Betari might chance to encounter. Opposition to the class struggle was the litmus test for Mussolini, who was never particularly concerned whether his foreign admirers specifically thought of themselves as pure Fascists. However, Jabotinsky’s letter to the Betarim was not the end of the story. His apologists omit the actual situation at the school where his strictures were ignored. The March 1936 issue of L’Idea Sionistica, the magazine of the Revisionists’ Italian branch, described the ceremonies attendant to the inauguration of the Betar squad’s new headquarters:

The order – “Attention!” A triple chant ordered by the squad’s commanding officer – “Viva L’Italia! Viva Il Re! Viva Il Duce!” resounded, followed by the benediction which rabbi Aldo Lattes invoked in Italian and in Hebrew for God, for the king and for Il Duce ... Giovinezza [the Fascist Party’s anthem] was sung with much enthusiasm by the Betarim. [24]

We may be sure that the same chants were cried when Mussolini himself reviewed the Betarim in 1936. [25] Jabotinsky knew that his Italian followers were admirers of Mussolini, but when he was sent a copy of Mussolini’s Dottrina del fascismo all he could say in rebuke was a mild: “I am permitted to hope that we have the capacity to create a doctrine of our own, without copying others.” [26] And, for all his personal reservations about Fascism, he definitely wanted Mussolini as the Mandatory for Palestine, writing to a friend in 1936 that his choices ran to:

Italy or some condominium of less anti-Semitic states interested in Jewish immigration, or a direct Geneva [League of Nations] Mandate ... Before June 30-July 15 I sounded alternative no.1. Result: not yet ripe, not by a long shot. [27]

Jabotinsky became Mussolini’s defence attorney within the Jewish world. While he was visiting America in 1935 on a lecture tour he wrote a series of articles for New York’s Jewish Daily Bulletin, a short-lived English-language Zionist paper devoted exclusively to Jewish affairs. In the 1930s, most Jews followed the common usage and referred to the fight against Hitler as part of the “anti-Fascist struggle”; Jabotinsky was determined to put a stop to that, since he understood too well that as long as the Jews saw Hitler as another Fascist, they would never approve of the Revisionist orientation towards Mussolini. His brief for the Italian Fascist regime shows us exactly how he put his personal objections to the politics of a “buffalo herd” far behind his growing commitment to his hoped-for Italian Mandatory:

Whatever any few think of Fascism’s other points, there is no doubt that the Italian brand of Fascist ideology is at least an ideology of racial equality. Let us not be so humble as to pretend that this does not matter – that racial equality is too insignificant an idea to outbalance the absence of civic freedom. For it is not true. I am a journalist who would choke without freedom of the press, but I affirm it is simply blasphemous to say that in the scale of civic rights, even the freedom of the press comes before the equality of all men. Equality comes first, always first, super first; and Jews should remember it, and hold that a regime maintaining that principle in a world turned cannibal does, partly, but considerably, atone for its other short-comings: it may be criticised, it should not be kicked at. There are enough other terms for cussing use – Nazism, Hitlerism, Polizeistaat, etc. – but the word “fascismo” is Italy’s copyright and should therefore be reserved only for the correct kind of discussion, not for exercises in Billingsgate. Especially as it may yet prove very harmful. That government of the copy right is a very powerful factor, whose sympathy may yet ward off many a blow, for instance in the League of Nations councils. Incidentally, the Permanent Mandate Commission which supervises Palestinian affairs has an Italian chairman. In short – though I don’t expect street-urchins (irrespective of age) to follow advise of caution – responsible leaders ought to take care. [28]


The Revisionists rationalise their links with the fascists

The orientation towards Mussolini ended in total debacle. Blindly groping for a hammer against their Arab, British and Jewish foes, the Revisionists were the only ones who did not see what was coming. A photostat of a letter from Emir Shekib Arslan to the Mufti, concerning the spreading of pro-Italian propaganda, had appeared in the Palestine press in 1935 and by 1936 Radio Bari was blaring anti-British broadcasts at the Arabs. By then the Revisionists were so used to defending Mussolini that they simply would not acknowledge his collaboration with the Mufti and the Palestinian cause. As late as 1938 William Ziff, an advertising executive who headed American Revisionism, tried to play down the Italian involvement with the Mufti in his book, The Rape of Palestine.

In beautifully chosen words which inferred an anti-Jewish as well as an anti-British plot, the British Foreign Secretary pinned the whole blame on the Italians. The entire liberal press rose to the bait so dexterously flicked upon the water. Like a pack of dogs hot after game, the Marxist press aggressively took up the cry. [29]

Despite the fact that the Revisionists had clearly backed the wrong horse he continued:

There can be no doubt that Mussolini, a hard-fisted realist, would have considered it good business if he could have disengaged the Jews from the British orbit. A powerful independent Zion with which he was on a friendly footing would have suited him perfectly. The Jews themselves eliminated this prospect by their persistent Anglophilism, and Mussolini had come to regard Zionism as merely a mask for the creation of another zone of English political and economic expansion in the Mediterranean. It hence looms in the Italian mind as an anti-Italian force. Nevertheless, not a shred of real evidence has ever been offered to substantiate the charge that Italian intervention was a factor in the recent Arab revolt in Palestine. [30]

Eventually it was Spain, not Palestine, that persuaded Mussolini to support Hitler. Mussolini grasped that he and Hitler now had to stay united to ward off revolution elsewhere, and that it was only through an alliance with the German power that he could hope to expand his empire. But he also knew that it was impossible to be Hitler’s ally and have Jews in his own party. He therefore concocted a Latinised Aryanism, expelled the Jews from the party and the economy, and geared up for war. The Revisionists declared that they were wrong for the right reasons.

For years we have warned the Jews not to insult the fascist regime in Italy. Let us be frank before we accuse others of the recent anti-Jewish laws in Italy; why not first accuse our own radical groups who are responsible for what happened. [31]

With Mussolini’s turn toward Hitler, the Revisionists’ own Fascism became an impossible liability in the Jewish world and when Jabotinsky died in New York in August 1940 they hastily dropped the title of Rosh Betar, which had become redolent of Fascism. They would not admit that they had been Fascist themselves, merely that no one could possibly fill Jabotinsky’s shoes. Recent Revisionist chroniclers naturally tend to avoid or play down the role of their internal Fascists, such as Achimeir, and Civitavecchia is usually passed over with little more than an exonerating “the founders of the Israeli navy were trained there”.

“Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our time”

It is impossible to end a discussion of Revisionism and Fascism without mentioning briefly Begin’s role during these events. His post-war books, The Revolt and White Nights, omit his own activities in the 1930s, and Jabotinsky is portrayed as a misunderstood exponent of military defence. But at the age of 22 Begin was prominent enough in the Polish Betar to sit with Jabotinsky on the presidium of the 1935 Polish Revisionist conference in Warsaw. By 1938 he was the dominant figure at the Betar’s Warsaw world conference, and by 1939 he had been appointed head of Polish Betar. But, despite the fact that he has been called a Fascist by innumerable opponents, no specifically pro-Mussolini writings by him are ever cited and, by now, it must be presumed that none exist. However, if it is true that he never openly expounded Fascism, Yehuda Benari, director of the Jabotinsky Institute, and the author of the article on Begin in the Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, categorically states that in 1939 “he joined the radical wing of the Revisionist movement, which was ideologically linked with the B’rit HaBiryonim”. [32] Begin was a personal friend of Achimeir, who had been deported to Poland in 1935, as well as von Weisl, who frequently came to Warsaw to negotiate with the Polish government on behalf of the NZO. He was an intimate friend of Nathan Yalin-Mor and at that time an admirer of Avraham Stern, both committed totalitarians. Even after the Second World War, as the leader of the Herut Party in the new Israeli state, Begin had both Achimeir and von Weisl writing for their daily newspaper.

In December 1948, on the occasion of his first visit to the United States, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook and others sent a letter to the New York Times exposing Begin’s politics. Given the record of his movement and his intimate associations with the openly Fascist elements of pre-war Revisionism, their evaluation of Begin’s ideological commitment bears quotation:

Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our time is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat HaHerut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties ... They have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority ... they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model ... In the light of the forgoing considerations, it is imperative that the truth about Mr Begin and his movement be made known in this country. It is all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin’s efforts. [33]


1. Joseph Schechtman, The Jabotinsky-Slavinsky Agreement, Jewish Social Studies (October 1955), p.297.

2. Ibid., p.306.

3. Marie Syrkin, Labor Zionism Replies, Menorah Journal (Spring 1935), p.72.

4. Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Iron Law, Selected Writings (South Africa, 1962), p.26.

5. Yaacov Shavit, The Attitudes of the Revisionists to the Arab Nationalist Movement, Forum on the Jewish People, Zionism and Israel (Spring 1978), p.102.

6. Robert Gessner, Brown Shirts in Zion, New Masses (19 February 1935), p.11.

7. Vladimir Jabotinsky, Jewish Fascism, The Zionist (London, 25 June 1926), p.26.

8. Vladimir Jabotinsky, Samson (American edn., entitled Prelude to Delilah), pp.200-1.

9. Joseph Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p.165.

10. Yehuda Benari and Joseph Schechtman, History of the Revisionist Movement, vol.1, p.338.

11. Vladimir Jabotinsky, Zionism and Communism, Hadar (February 1941), p.33.

12. Shlomo Avineri, Political Thought of Vladimir Jabotinsky, Jerusalem Quarterly (Summer 1980), p.17.

13. Vladimir Jabotinsky, State Zionism, p.10.

14. Syrkin, Labor Zionism Replies, p.79.

15. Jabotinsky, letter to Leone Carpi, 7 October 1931, in D. Carpi, A. Milano and A. Rofe (eds.), Scritti in Memoria Di Leone Carpi, p.42.

16. Ibid., 21 May 1935, pp.54-5.

17. Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion (American edn), p.67.

18. Leopold von Mildenstein, Ein Nazi fährt nach Palästina, Der Angriff, (Berlin, 27 September 1934), pp.3-4.

19. Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion – The Armed Prophet, p.46.

20. Jacob de Haas, New Struggles in an Old World, Chicago Jewish Chronicle (18 October 1935), p.9.

21. Dr von Weisl Believes in Fascism, World Jewry (London, 12 June 1936), p.12.

22. Author’s interview with Shmuel Merlin, 16 September 1980.

23. Vladimir Jabotinsky, Letter to Plugat Civitavecchia, Selected Writings (USA)

24. Supplemento al no. 8 di L’Idea Sionistica (March 1936), p.2.

25. Mussolini, My Husband (Italian film documentary).

26. Jabotinsky, 29 January 1934, Scritti, p.52.

27. Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet, p.304.

28. Jabotinsky, Jews and Fascism – Some Remarks – and a Warning, Jewish Daily Bulletin (11 April 1935), p.3.

29. William Ziff, The Rape of Palestine (1938), p.428.

30. Ibid., p.429.

31. Paul Novick, Solution for Palestine (1939), p.18.

32. Yehuda Benari, M’Nahum Begin, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, vol.l, p.116.

33. New Palestine Party, New York Times (4 December 1948) (Letters), p.12.


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