BETAR (abbreviated name of Berit Trumpeldor, Heb. בֵּיתָ״ר, בְּרִית תְּרוּמְפֶּלְדוֹר), an activist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia, and attaining significant proportions in the 1930s, mainly in Eastern Europe. Betar played an important role in Zionist education, in teaching the Hebrew language and culture, and methods of self-defense. It also inculcated the ideals of aliyah to Ereẓ Israel by any means, legal and "illegal," and of personal dedicaton to the creation of a Jewish state "on both sides of the Jordan." The Betar ideology originated in a fusion of
's "legionism" with the ideas of personal pioneering and defense exemplified in
's life and death.
At its inception Betar was a variation of the Zionist trend in East European Jewish youth that led to the Third Aliyah. The group of students and young workers that founded the movement declared themselves a "part of the Jewish Legion to be established in Ereẓ Israel." They organized a farm for the agricultural training of pioneer settlers in Palestine. The first Betar immigrants to Palestine (1925–29) joined the Histadrut and the Haganah as a matter of course. In the 1930s, however, with the growing rift and exacerbated conflict between the Revisionists and the Zionist-Socialist majority, Betar gradually became a bitter rival of Zionist-Socialist youth, both in the Diaspora and in Palestine. Sometimes relations deteriorated into physical clashes on the streets of Tel Aviv. Zionist-Socialist circles pointed to the brown shirts of the members of Betar as tangible proof of its "fascist character," and called for its speedy elimination from public life, whereas Betar spokesmen asserted that the "red-brown" shade of their uniform symbolized the earth of Ereẓ Israel, and in any event its adoption in the early 1920s preceded the rise of the German Nazis.
Betar members constituted a major part of the rank and file of the Union of Zionist Revisionists (from 1935, the New Zionist Organization) and also of the National Labor Federation and the
*Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi
in Palestine. In 1926 the second world congress of the Union of Zionist Revisionists in Paris recognized the Latvian group as the sponsor and provisional center of its youth movement. The first world conference of Betar, which convened in Danzig in 1931 with 87 delegates representing 21 countries, formulated the principles of the movement and elected Jabotinsky as rosh Betar ("head of Betar"), empowering him to appoint the overall leadership ("shilton").
Defense training was proclaimed the foremost duty of every member, and those going to Palestine were to enlist for two years in special work brigades. At the second world conference of Betar in Cracow, in 1935, Jabotinsky proposed a codified text of the Betar ideology called Ha-Neder ("the Oath"), which stipulated in its first paragraph: "I devote my life to the rebirth of the Jewish State, with a Jewish majority, on both sides of the Jordan." It demanded, in addition to the basic tenets of all Zionist youth movements, a "monistic" conception of Zionism, rejecting any fusion with "alien" creeds (meaning mainly socialism). It also urged the inculcation of a mode of thought and deed called hadar, defined by Jabotinsky as "beauty, respect, self-esteem, politeness, and faithfulness."
Betar in Palestine
In Palestine the Betar work brigades (from 1934 called mobilized groups) grew into a network of disciplined units based in villages and settlements. Most of these were in Upper Galilee but, after the outbreak of the Arab riots in 1936, such units were established also in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and at Naḥalat Yiẓḥak, near Jerusalem. These groups engaged in clandestine defense training within the framework of Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi, maintaining themselves collectively as laborers on the farms of old-time Jewish settlers or as wage earners in town. Some members eventually formed the nuclei of the first Betar settlements (Ramat Tiomkin near Netanyah, Tel Ẓur near Binyaminah, and in Mishmar ha-Yarden).
Systematic defense training was introduced in Betar in many Diaspora countries during the early 1930s by Yirmiyahu Halpern, who established training courses and camps where self-defense, drill, street-fighting, the handling of small arms, boxing, and military tactics were taught. In Poland members of Betar also underwent training in the official paramilitary units of the state. In Shanghai Betar members organized a separate Jewish unit as part of the international force which policed the non-Chinese sections of the city.
The first Betar instructors' school was set up in Tel Aviv in 1928 and its trainees took part in the defense of the city during the riots of 1929. In 1931 Betar units joined dissident Haganah members in Jerusalem in setting up the separate underground
organization Irgun Ẓeva'i Leummi. In 1930 a Betar naval unit was founded in Tel Aviv, training with sailboats. A central naval school of Betar was established in Civitavecchia, Italy, functioning there from 1934 to 1937 and graduating 153 cadets. About 50 sailors were also trained by Betar in Latvia between 1935 and 1939. These men later played important roles in the establishment of the Israel Navy and the Merchant Marine. In 1935 Jabotinsky's son Eri, heading a unit of mobilized Betar members in Palestine, constructed the first glider in the country. Flying courses were introduced later by the Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi in Palestine; by 1939, 13 members had graduated as pilots.
Betar underwent rapid expansion during the 1930s as illustrated by the growth of its total world membership from 22,300 in 1931 to nearly 90,000 in 1938. In the late 1930s Betar was actively engaged in the Revisionists' "illegal" aliyah operation which, by 1939, took thousands of Jews to Palestine, among them many members of Betar. During World War II many Betar members in Palestine volunteered for the Palestinian units of the British Army and, later, the Jewish Brigade.
After the Holocaust
Most of the European branches of Betar were destroyed in the Holocaust. A few thousand members escaped by joining the anti-Nazi partisans, while Betar and Revisionist units took part in the ghetto uprisings, notably in Warsaw, Vilna, and Bialystok. With the loss of European Jewry, Israel became the center of the movement, which in the late 1960s numbered about 8,000 members, of whom over 4,000 were in Israel, and the rest in 13 other countries, mainly in Latin America, the United States, South Africa, and Australia. By the early 21st century its membership had grown to around 12,500 in Israel and 8,500 in the rest of the world.
Many members of Betar in Israel, upon joining the army, went into
units. The movement in Israel also maintains youth towns in collaboration with
. Between 1948 and the late 1960s Betar, in cooperation with the Ḥerut movement, established 12 collective and cooperative settlements, some of them border settlements, such as Amaẓyah in the Lachish area, Mevo Betar near the site of historical
in the hills of Jerusalem, and Ẓur Natan in Central Israel.
Betar's membership in Palestine grew rapidly and by 1937 it had its own sports center which enabled its members to play, among other sports, football, basketball, and table tennis, engage in gymnastics, and train as boxers. Betar in Israel is affiliated with the Israel Football Association and the Israel Sports Federation.