Middle East Archive  |  Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism

The Iron Wall

Lenni Brenner

The Iron Wall

13. The 29 Years in the Desert


Herut: Early Election Performance

Was it not the Irgun that had won Israel its independence? Was not Jordan still under the yoke of the Hashemite Abdullah? Surely, the Israeli electorate, or at any rate 30-40% of them, inspired by Begin’s oratory, would vote for the new party in the first Israeli election. So thought Menachem Begin, who was disappointed when, in the election of 25 January 1949, they won only 11.5% of the vote, and only 14 out of 120 seats in the Constituent Assembly. Herut finished third behind Ben-Gurion’s Mapai (Israeli Labour Party), with 46 seats, and the Mapam (United Workers Party), then a pro-Soviet Zionist grouping, with 19 seats. The Religious Front, a coalition of Orthodox groupings, took 16 seats; the General Zionists, identified with Weizmann, won seven seats; the anti-clerical Progressives, a middle-class party, took five seats; the rest went to scattered elements including one seat for Nathan Yalin-Mor, who had been sentenced to eight years for leading a terrorist organization after Bernadotte’s assassination, and who had been amnestied. The remnant of the old-line Revisionist Party also ran, but won no seats and soon merged with Herut. Since the Revisionists had re-entered the WZO in 1946, Herut was now part of a now united Zionist movement.

The 1949 campaign was to be only the first of eight successive electoral defeats before Begin was to finally come to power in May 1977. In its first few years the party rapidly accumulated the reputation of being Zionism’s lunatic fringe and it took Begin not a few years after that to learn that the sacred principles of classic Revisionism only generated antagonism amongst a huge proportion of the population. It was because Begin moved, ever so slowly, and ever so slightly, toward the centre, and Israeli society as a whole moved, ever increasingly, toward the far right, that he was finally able to come to power.

From the beginning Herut’s policy was the “liberation” of all of Palestine. However, it was the Palestinian expellees, far from reconciled to their exile, who took the initiative, constantly trying to re-enter their lost villages, either in hopes of remaining or to remove what was, after all, their own property. Israel was then by no means an overwhelming power and Ben-Gurion sought no immediate war of conquest. His reply to the incursions was ever more systematic retaliatory hit-and-run raids into the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Herut always saw such raids as futile, insisting all along that only the “liquidation of Arab-occupied pockets of Jewish national territory” could solve the problem. Since the active programme of all Zionist parties is the conversion of Arab land into a Zionist state, no Israeli regime could have achieved genuine peace, but that is what the Jewish masses wanted, and Begin’s constant call for war only alienated the broad public.

The chief domestic enemy was the Histadrut, and Herut fought it down the line. The party maintained the relatively minuscule Revisionist National Labour Federation, but the Histadrut had approximately 85% of the workers behind it. Herut therefore called for the nationalization of its labour exchanges, and for compulsory arbitration of wage disputes. They also demanded the nationalization of the Histadrut’s Sick Fund, which served the greater part of the population, and the divestment of its complex of factories and commercial establishments which made it the largest single employer in the country, as well as the abolition of special tax privileges for the kibbutzim. The pre-war immigrants who had built up the Histadrut were deeply devoted to it as the fruit of their toil and such a programme, tantamount to its dissolution, could only meet with their implacable opposition.

For the first few years of the new state there was no issue which Herut could use to attract a broad following. Begin utilized this period to write his Revolt, which not even he dared to call a history of the Irgun but rather a memoir, little more than a glorification of the Irgun. He visited Revisionist support groups in the US, Europe and Latin America, and on a visit to Argentina even had a cordial meeting with Juan Peron, already notorious for his own pro-Nazi sentiments during the war, and his welcome to thousands of Nazi war criminals. [1] In the second Knesset election, Herut lost six of its 14 seats, as few could see anything attractive in its blustering and impotent extremism.

The 1950s

The Reparations Question

Hundreds of thousands of European Jews, and additional hundreds of thousands from the Arab world, flooded into the country. Huge immigrant camps sprung up and food and then clothing had to be rationed. Unless it was to sink into economic catastrophe, Israel had to do something, and Ben-Gurion decided to explore the possibility of getting reparations from West Germany. Speed was of the essence as he understood that the deepening of the cold war would mean that the Americans would become increasingly unwilling to pressure Germany on the issue. In the autumn of 1951, Nahum Goldmann held a meeting with Konrad Adenauer, and the German agreed to a tentative figure of a billion dollars in reparations. Now permission had to be obtained from the Knesset for negotiations to continue.

Many Israelis, and many Jews, of all ideologies, felt that any monetary compensation could only be a desecration of the Holocaust victims’ memory. The Mapam Party opposed negotiations, as did individual Mapai leaders, but the prime opponent of reparations was the Herut party and Menachem Begin. The Knesset was to debate the issue on 7 January 1952. That morning, Begin, speaking from a balcony, harangued an angry crowd of 15,000:

When you fired at us with your cannon, I ordered our comrades to hold their fire. But today I shall give the order, “Yes!” This will be a war of life and death ... There is no German who did not kill our fathers. Every German is a Nazi. Every German is a murderer. Adenauer is a murderer ... Maybe we will go to the gallows. No matter. [2]

Begin went into the Knesset to take part in the debate and the mob marched on the building, breaking through barbed wire and a wall of hundreds of police. While the legislators argued inside, the rioters started stoning the building. Rocks and glass fell into the midst of the assembly. Begin defied the regime, “I know you will throw us into concentration camps ... But there will be no ‘reparations’ from Germany.” [3] In solidarity with the demonstrators he announced that he waived his parliamentary immunity. Outside, 200 were hurt, including 92 police, and 400 arrested. But two days later the parliament voted 61 to 50 to authorize continuing negotiations. Begin was temporarily suspended from the Knesset. [1*] On 12 March, the day the negotiations publicly opened in the Hague, 70,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv. This time Ben-Gurion took the precaution of bringing thousands of kibbutzniks and Histadrut members into the streets to protect public buildings and this was enough to compel Begin to admonish the huge gathering not to be provoked into violence. The German reparations riot served only to discredit Begin, as billions of marks worth of German railways, telephones, docks, irrigation plants and oil, bought via British companies, and much else, including cash to individual Israelis, poured into the country over the next 12 years. Without the infrastructure provided by the reparations so bitterly opposed by Herut, it is doubtful whether Israel would have been able to maintain, let alone increase, the technological gap so essential to its continuous victories over its foes.

Isolation After the Riots

Reduced in parliamentary representation, discredited by its fanatic opposition to reparations, the two years after the riots were Herut’s period of deepest isolation. Begin utilized his time writing White Nights in 1953. While it is of no political value in dealing with Zionist ideology, and its predictions of a showdown after Stalin’s death between the NKVD and the Soviet army never had any basis in reality, the book gives a picture of Stalin’s prisons and camps, and is well worth reading.

Again Begin travelled, for his movement, to Europe, the US, Latin America and, from October 1953 to January 1954, to South Africa, the Rhodesias and even the Belgian Congo. He met the South African prime minister, Daniel Malan, whose Nationalists had bitterly opposed permitting Jewish refugees into the country during the Hitler era. On leaving South Africa, Begin sent a telegram to Malan:

I will always cherish the memorable conversation with you, Mr Prime Minister ... When, God willing, I am back home, I will tell my people about the sentiments prevailing amongst the people and the Government of South Africa for Israel and its welfare. I pray, hope and believe, that the friendship between our countries and people will be strengthened. [4]

The Suez Crisis and the Identity Card Issue

Herut did considerably better in the 26 July 1955 elections, jumping from eight to 15 seats. The constant border raids and the government’s inability to solve the problem had won back the votes lost in 1951 to the General Zionists, who had gone from seven seats in 1949 to 20 in 1951 and who now fell back to 13 seats, again ranking behind Herut.

In September 1955, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for assistance against Israel and Britain, which still controlled the Suez Canal, making a deal for Czech arms, and from then on Begin was in his element, calling for preventative war. As is known, Mapai needed no prodding from Herut on this score. When Nasser, in July 1956, announced the nationalization of the Canal, the joint Israeli-British-French invasion of 29 October inevitably followed. Naturally Begin supported it and, just as naturally, in 1957 he denounced Ben-Gurion for pulling out of Sinai and the Gaza Strip in the face of the obviously overwhelming opposition of both the US and the Soviet Union.

Begin visited South Africa for the second time on 14 August 1957, trying to play on the interest that South Africa had in the implications of the Israeli invasion of Africa the year before. But as an out of office extremist there was nothing that he could offer the apartheid regime. Domestically, Begin demonstrated himself a dead-end opponent of the secularization of Israeli life. On 22 June 1958, the government declared that anyone calling himself a Jew had to be given an identity card so stating. The decision created an uproar as the Orthodox insisted that only the child of a Jewish mother or someone converted by an Orthodox rabbi could be considered a Jew. Herut does not make observance of the Jewish religion a criterion for membership, but Begin himself is semi-pious, keeping the kosher laws, and refusing to travel on the sabbath. He rose to join the religious parties in their opposition to the edict:

Other nations started out as savages, living in jungles and caves, in fear of thunder and lightning, and in star-worship. Foreign nations came and forced their religion upon them ... Our nation arose differently. It began with a divine promise ... And it was by this promise that they returned to Eretz Yisrael ... Does the government truly believe that, with regard to Jews, one can differentiate between religion and national identity? ... Can a member of the Jewish people be a Calvinist, Anglican, Baptist, Anabaptist? [5]

The 3 November 1959 elections saw an insignificant breakthrough, Herut gained two seats, going to 17, and was now the second party.

The 1960s

In the 15 August 1961. election, the situation registered no change – the party was clearly going nowhere, and Begin was forced to make efforts to change his image. For many years he had been used to making speeches from balconies, and had taken to campaigning in an open Cadillac surrounded by an escort of motorcyclists, all with their sirens going. Balcony oratory was Mussolini’s speciality, and the motorcyclists only reinforced the public’s conception of Herut as being Fascist, and eventually Begin abandoned both. [6]

Herut: the Road to Respectability

The party was pushed considerably along the road to respectability in the spring of 1964, when the prime minister, Levi Eshkol, granting a Herut request, gave the order for Jabotinsky’s body to be reinterred – not just in Israel, but on Mount Herzl, in the plot reserved for leaders of the movement. The event not only lent Herut new respectability but, more importantly, was another step in the Labour Party’s evolution away from its leftish origins for, if Jabotinsky had indeed been a Zionist hero, he died the implacable foe of the Zionist labour movement. If the ceremony on Mount Herzl was purely symbolic, in April 1965 the party took its first genuine step towards power, forming a bloc, the Gush Herut-Liberalim, or Gahal, with the Liberal party, basically the former General Zionists. Both parties retained their independent existence but it was always understood that Begin was the bloc’s leader. Although the two parties won only 26 seats in the November 1965 elections, seven less than the 34 seats they held in the previous Knesset – due to a split-off from the Liberals – nevertheless it was an enormous step forward for Begin. Now, for the first time, there was a real prospect of his eventually coming to power through a coalition with additional right wing elements. Just as importantly, the Liberals insisted that Herut abandon its implacable opposition to the Histadrut and, after some discussion, Herut’s members decided to join it. The Histadrut’s leaders, knowing them to still be anti-labour, tried to exclude them, but the courts ruled that any political party had the right to organize a faction within the organization. With entry into the Histadrut, all talk about dismantling it faded away and the demand for compulsory arbitration was whittled down to compulsory arbitration in essential industries. The Liberals are a businessman’s party, its opposition to Mapai was based on domestic economic issues, not military policy, and it had no interest in the notion that Jordan was really part of Israel; Begin generously allowed them to differ with Herut on this question.

It was the 1967 war that finally brought complete respectability to Begin and Herut. About to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Arab states, Eshkol asked Begin and a Liberal to join “a government of national unity” as ministers without portfolio. The next day Begin reported to his mentor on Mount Herzl: “Sir, head of Betar, we have come to inform you that one of your followers is now serving as a minister in the government of Israel.” [7] Begin caused no difficulties for the dominant Labourites until after the October 1969 election, in which the Gahal held its ground, retaining its 26 seats. Begin was not willing to remain in the cabinet of the then prime minister, Golda Meir, unless she agreed to a law establishing compulsory arbitration in essential industries, until the American Secretary of State, William Rogers, announced that the US would seek to settle the Middle Eastern question over the heads of the Israelis via negotiations with the Soviets. Plainly that would mean the return of at least some of the occupied territories. Begin felt he had to rally to Meir, who rejected Rogers’ proposal, and he dropped the demand for compulsory arbitration. With that, another ideological obstacle to Begin’s eventual ascession to power was overcome. Israel is a settlers’ laager and such a state can only survive so long as its working class remains loyal to the regime. If the employers push the class struggle beyond what is “normal” for capitalism, they run the very real risk that the workers, or a portion of them, will disaffect and even go over into an alliance with the oppressed nationality.

In 1969 the Israeli government thought it could force Nasser to end the “war of attrition”, the constant shelling of the Israeli Bar Lev line on the Suez, by deep bombing of Egypt. Soon the Soviets were involved on Egypt’s side and it was obvious that the Israeli strategy had failed, that Nasser would not capitulate. World opinion was beginning to shift against Israel and the Americans took alarm at the deepening Soviet involvement. Rogers came up with a new initiative, a 90-day cease-fire and negotiations to end belligerency on the condition of a return of all or most of the occupied territories. Meir never thought that the negotiations would go beyond ending the immediate strife on the Canal, which was not attaining Israel’s purposes, and, rather than alienate the US, she accepted the Rogers plan. To Begin, the issue was one of principle, there were no “occupied territories” but rather “liberated Eretz Yisrael”, and he would rather “cut off my right hand” than stay in a cabinet that would even say it considered returning the territories. On 6 August 1970, Gahal voted against the government and Begin again took his seat amongst the opposition. However, even if he had left over the purely hypothetical question of the possible return of even an inch of the West Bank, from this time forward claims to the East Bank faded from Herut’s propaganda. Three years in the intimacy of the cabinet, in a broad coalition running from the self-styled Marxists of Mapam to Herut, demonstrated to him that no other major tendency could be induced to ever go to war for Jordan. With the quiet abandonment of the first principle of Revisionism, the now respectable ex-minister genuinely became a serious contender for power. It is indeed difficult to envision the US ever allowing Hussein to lose his lands – the loyalty of the empire’s satraps must be rewarded – but what if a Jordanian regime was to arise, hostile to the US? Erich and Rael Jean Isaac, two well-known Revisionist propagandists, are doubtlessly correct:

The loyalty to the conception of Jabotinsky is such that if in a future war Jordan were to fall into Israeli hands, a Herut-led government would find this territory more difficult to relinquish than Sinai or the Golan. [8]

The 1970s

In February 1971, Begin was part of a government delegation to a conference on Soviet Jewry held in Brussels. He has never been in favour of Jews struggling within the Soviet Union, either for their rights as Jews or general democratic rights, but has always had one solution to the Jewish question in the Soviet Union. The faithful follower of Jabotinsky proclaimed that:

instead of the demand “Let my people go”, we must revive the demand for the evacuation of the whole of Soviet Jewry – and be prepared to take in over two million of them within a short period. [9]

“Evacuation”, of course, means emigration to Israel; Begin always denounced those Diaspora Jewish organizations that have helped Soviet Jews emigrate to the US.

Not only is the notion of a mass exodus of Soviet Jewry a fantasy – most Soviet Jews are profoundly assimilated, and the mixed marriage rate is even higher than in the West – but he later, in 1973, proposed a one-day American Jewish work stoppage while Brezhnev was visiting the country. If Begin had, reluctantly, learned what is possible within the context of Israeli politics, such proposals – a general Soviet Jewish exodus, a nation-wide Jewish American strike – clearly demonstrated that he remained what he had always been: a congenital impossibilist.

Meir Kahane, head of the Jewish Defense League, was denied admittance to the conference by the organizers because of his espousal of terror. When he persisted, they had the police arrest him and he was deported from the country. Begin got up to declare that, while he did not know Kahane and was not endorsing his actions, “the era in which Jews denounce other Jews to the police has passed forever”. [10] (At last count, Kahane has been arrested by the Israeli police no less than 66 times, many such times on the insistence of Begin.)

In January 1972 Kahane wrote the foreword to the new English language edition of The Revolt:

This book is especially important for Jewish youth ... Too many of them drink deeply of the exploits of other national liberation movements and have not the slightest idea that their own people possessed a liberation movement of exceeding purity and courage ... One will never succeed in removing the pictures of Fidel, Che and Ho from the mind of a sensitive Jewish youth until he learns new names – Gruner, Ben Yosef, Hakim, Ashbel and Barazani. [11]

Third Trip to South Africa

In the autumn of 1971, Begin paid yet another visit to South Africa. As a former minister in the Israeli cabinet that had conquered the Sinai, and as Israel’s most prominent friend of the Pretoria regime, he had a meeting with Johannes Vorster, the Prime Minister (who had been imprisoned in 1942 for his pro-Nazi sentiments). They discussed the Suez problem (the 1967 war had closed it), the subversive role of the Soviet Union, and the UN. Begin insists that he is opposed to apartheid but that, in this wicked world, Israel has to find its friends where it can, without consideration of their internal systems. Therefore, this self-styled opponent of apartheid had no hesitation in becoming the President of the Israel-South Africa Friendship League.

General Sharon and the Likud

The period between the 1967 and 1973 wars was the golden age of the “heroes”, when the parties avidly sought out the former generals of the incredibly successful Israeli army. The star performer of this little troupe was Ariel “Arik” Sharon, who had started in the Haganah, and rose to prominence in the 1950s as the commander of “unit 101”, whose speciality was border raids. Later, as a general, he projected the same commando spirit as a regular IDF commander during the 1956 and 1967 wars. Retiring from the army in the summer of 1973, when it became apparent that he would not be able to fulfill his ambition to become Chief of Staff, he joined the Liberalim. The former General Zionists were never military minded, in many ways they were the repository of the pacifist traditions of the shtetl petty bourgeoisie, their business was to make money, it was someone else’s job, the Labour Zionists, the Revisionists, to fight Zionism’s battles, and it was perfectly obvious that Sharon had only joined them because they had no other heroes in residence. Almost as soon as he joined, he quit and announced, in August, that if the Gahal and the other right wing parties did not immediately form a coalition that could stand up to the Labour Alignment, Mapai and Mapam, he would retire from politics. His idea made a lot of sense, particularly to the younger element in these rather isolated rightist political sects, and their pressure forced their leaders, including Begin, who initially feared for his personal leadership in a broad coalition, to set up the Likud (Unity) in September. The election was supposed to take place in October but had to be postponed until December because of the intervening “war of atonement”.

The Egyptian-Syrian attack, with its brilliantly executed crossing of the Suez, initially stunned Meir and her Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, who, because of their racism, underestimated the Arab capacity to wage modern war. However, within days, the Israelis were able to re-establish their military dominance and it was none other than Sharon, by making a daring crossing of the Suez and cutting off an Egyptian army in Ismailia, who had made it possible. Although the reality of 2,559 dead jarred Israeli society, bringing thousands of soldiers out into the streets in its aftermath, in some very disorganized demonstrations, in the next election the Alignment only lost four seats, going down to 51. But the Likud now had 39 seats, seven more than its components had in the previous Knesset, and was now a serious political alternative to the Alignment. At last, all of the essential programmatic and organizational prerequisites for Begin’s victory were in place.

While the de facto abandonment of the Jabotinskyite notion of Jordan as part of the “homeland” was crucial to Begin’s prospects, he still remained the intransigent opponent of the slightest concession regarding the territories already in Israeli possession. He bitterly resisted the “disengagement” agreements imposed on Israel by the US, which compelled Israel to withdraw from the Suez and from part of the Golan Heights. In 1975 Herut provocatively held its convention in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, on the West Bank. Over the next years, Betarim entered onto the Temple Mount, now the site of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Mosque of Omar, civilian clothing covering their Betar uniforms, exposing their uniforms to pray and chant nationalist songs. Each time they were ejected by the Muslim authorities backed up by the Israeli police but in March 1976 their escapade provoked a serious riot in the old city. [12] However, it was not their own chauvinism alone that brought the Likud to power, but the collapse of Labour Zionism after 29 years in power and after eight successive electoral triumphs.

The Eclipse of the Labour Party

For several months prior to the May 1977 elections the Israeli public was shocked by a series of charges and convictions for corruption on the part of leading figures within the labour establishment. The Histadrut’s director of Arab affairs in the Occupied Territories was found guilty of extortion while previously head of the Dimona labour council; then Asher Yadlin, head of the Kupat Holim, the Histadrut’s health fund, was nominated Governor of the Bank of Israel and it came out that he had been taking backhanders involving real estate deals, keeping some of the money and turning over the rest to the Labour party to pay off its 1973 election debts. On 3 January 1977, Avraham Ofer, the Housing Minister, committed suicide after being accused of pocketing money from the sale of government-subsidized apartments, giving discounts to favourite journalists and public figures, etc. Although Ofer’s suicide note indignantly denied the charges, no one doubted that he was guilty. If these incidents were not enough, on 15 March an Israeli paper uncovered the fact that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s wife had a dollar bank account in a Washington bank, in violation of Israel’s currency laws. She admitted it, but insisted that only $2,000 were involved. However, in April, another paper discovered that the Rabins had two American accounts and that one of them was still active and contained $10,000. Rabin, caught lying, announced that he was resigning immediately (though, through a technicality, he stayed on as prime minister until the election).

It is not difficult to see why the Zionist labour movement became corrupt. In the intervening decades the party had lost all of its ideological moorings. Whatever it might say about representing the Jewish workers, it had been in coalitions with several capitalist parties; it had abandoned any secularist conceptions it once had and had made orthodoxy the state religion, primarily as a concession to the National Religious Party, the Mizrachi; it had developed ties with the American Jewish capitalists, eagerly seeking their investments, knowing full well that many of these folk were tax cheats; and had become intimately involved with the US government and the CIA, which funded Histadrut schools for African and Asian trade unionists.. And all of this was superimposed upon the expropriation of Palestinian refugee land and property in the wake of the 1948 war. It had entered history as a serious ideological tendency, attempting to merge nationalism and socialism, but it was attempting the impossible – a colonialist version of socialism – and the cynical mentality it developed in practice while doing this destroyed it, and it inevitably evolved into the Tammany Hall of Zion.

The bureaucratization of the Labour Party had helped to defeat it in yet another way: by 1973 the Likud had already beaten the Alignment amongst the “Orientals”, the Jews from Africa and Asia, and their Israeli-born children. Prior to the establishment of the state, Zionism, except in Yemen, had never been even remotely as strong in the Arab world as in Eastern Europe. However, the establishment of Israel triggered a wave of anti-Jewish riots. While anyone with a detached mind can understand that it was Zionism that had brought tragedy on these “Sephardic” Jews, the fact is that they blamed the Arabs for their plight, and they, in increasing numbers, began to respond to Begin’s nationalism. By the time they had arrived in the state, the socialist aspect of Labour Zionism had exhausted itself, in 1946 the Histadrut had done away with its equalitarian pay-scale for its leadership, and the rapidly bureaucratized movement made no serious effort to defend the interests of the Sephardim. While a small section of them, the “Black Pantherim” of the 1970s, moved into the orbit of Rakah, the local Communist Party, the bulk of the Orientals have become the chauvinist “po’ White trash” of the Israeli ethnic and political kaleidoscope.

The Likud Election Victory

Although the polls failed to predict a Likud victory, given the Alignment’s legal difficulties, its defeat was inevitable. In the 1977 elections it lost 19 positions, going from 51 to 32 seats, the Likud went from 39 to 43. While the Likud increased its strength amongst the Sephardim, archaeologist Yigal Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change, a new good-government party, picked up 15 seats, most of them from Labour, strongly appealing to the “Ashkenazi” middle class, thus clinching victory for Begin. The Likud took 33% of the vote, up from 30.2%; Labour only 24.6%, down dramatically from 39.6%; the DMC 11.6%; and the religious parties 14%.

Begin put together a parliamentary majority beginning with the Mizrachi National Religious Party, which had previously been in Rabin’s cabinet, but which had moved dramatically to the right by putting one of the leaders of the extreme chauvinist Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) on its ticket. The Agudat Yisrael (Union of Israel), a non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox party, primarily concerned to impose the restrictions of the Jewish religion on every aspect of Israeli life, agreed to vote for Begin’s new coalition without entering the cabinet. Sharon, who had set up his own minuscule Shlomzion Party, which had won two seats, was given the agricultural ministry. Moshe Dayan, who had previously left the Alignment, became Begin’s Foreign Minister. Months later, on 24 October, the Democratic Movement for Change also came into the cabinet.

On 21 June, Begin became Prime Minister of Israel; his first act was to hang a portrait of Vladimir Jabotinsky on the wall of his office. Although his most famous disciple had, grudgingly, abandoned some of his principles, there can be no doubt that Begin was, in fact, as devoted to the core of Jabotinsky’s teachings as ever; that he was as racist, as colonialist, and as loyal to capitalism as his mentor. Yet his accession to power was not a revolution within Zionism but rather an extension of the logic of development of the previous Labour Alignment governments. It was they, not he, who had started settling new colonists on the West Bank. It was they who told American Jewry to vote for Nixon, who forged the links with the CIA. It was Rabin, not Begin, who invited Vorster to Israel in 1976. And it was Labour Zionism, not Revisionism, that first started arming the Phalange in Lebanon. Jabotinsky was ahead of his time, these things could not be rushed. Zionism had to go through several stages before it could reach its present form. Begin was not some sort of Zionist mutant; Zionism could only have developed behind an iron wall and, eventually but inevitably, its official ideology caught up with its reality.


1*. The biographers are hopelessly at odds as to how long Begin was suspended: Haber says two weeks; Hirschler and Eckman, three months; and Gervasi, several months.


1. C.C. Aronsfeld, Argentinian Uncertainties, AJR Information, October 1982, p.1.

2. Haber, Menahem Begin, p.236; Hirschler, Menahem Begin, p.202; Gervasi, Life and Times of Menahem Begin, p.273.

3. Hirschler, p.203; Gervasi, p.273; Haber, p.236.

4. Harry Hurwitz, Menachem Begin, pp.178-9.

5. Hirschler, pp.222-3.

6. Hirschler, p.225; Gervasi, p.282; Haber, p.247.

7. Haber, p.268.

8. Erich and Rael Jean Isaac, The Impact of Jabotinsky on Likud’s Policies, p.4.

9. Hirschler, p.263.

10. Ibid., p.259.

11. Revolt, Foreword to 1972 Nash edition.

12. Jerusalem Post, 23 March and 2 April 1976.

Middle East Archive | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism

Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 22.8.2006