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Zionism: Revisionist Zionism

Revisionist Zionism (Union of Zionists-Revisionists; abbr. Hebrew name, Ha-?ohar; later New Zionist Organization) was the movement of maximalist political Zionists founded and led by Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky. In the later 1920s and in the 1930s, the Revisionists became the principal Zionist opposition party to Chaim Weizmann's leadership and to the methods and policy of the World Zionist Organization and the elected Jewish leadership in Ere? Israel. The initial nucleus of the Revisionist movement consisted of a group of Russian Zionists who had supported Jabotinsky during World War I in his campaign for the creation of a Jewish Legion. Their organ became the Russian-language Zionist weekly Razsvet published in Berlin (1922–24), later in Paris (1924–34). This group was joined by other Zionist circles and personalities, such as Richard Lichtheim, Robert Stricker, Jacob de Haas, the Hebrew poet Jacob Cohen, and others, who opposed Weizmann and his policy.

The Revisionists based their ideology on Theodor Herzl's concept of Zionism as essentially a political movement, defined by Jabotinsky as follows: Ninety per cent of Zionism may consist of tangible settlement work, and only ten per cent of politics; but those ten percent are the precondition of success. The basic assumption was that as long as the mandatory regime in Palestine was essentially anti-Zionist, no piecemeal economic achievements could lead to the realization of Zionism, i.e., the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority in the entire territory of Palestine, on both sides of the Jordan.

At its inception, the Revisionist program centered on the following demands: to reestablish the Jewish Legion as an integral part of the British garrison in Palestine, to develop the Jewish Colonial Trust as the main instrument of economic activity, and to conduct a political offensive which would induce the British government to adapt its policy in Palestine to the original intention and spirit of the Balfour Declaration.

The Revisionist program soon became more elaborate, asking, in addition to the demand for Jewish military units for the introduction of a whole new system of policy in Palestine, defined as a "settlement regime" – a system of legislative and administrative measures (such as land reform, state protection of local industries, a favorable fiscal system, etc.) explicitly designed to foster Jewish mass immigration and settlement. The Revisionists criticized the system of small-scale immigration and settlement based on "schedules" of immigration certificates and on the emphasis of agriculture. Economic and social methods, designed to bring to Palestine "the largest number of Jews within the shortest period of time" should include support of private initiative and private capital investment, mainly in industry, intensive agricultural cultivation of small plots (the Soskin method), as well as compulsory arbitration of labor conflicts and the outlawing of strikes and lockouts "during the period of state-building." While strongly critical of British policy in Palestine, the Revisionists denied being "anti-British." Their conception was that constructive Anglo-Jewish cooperation could be brought about only through determined political pressure on the British government exerted on an international scale.


First Meeting of the World Executive Herut-Hatzohar (Hebrew name, original Revisionist Zionists) Paris, France - 1925

The founding conference of the Union of Zionists-Revisionists took place in Paris in 1925. The first president of the Union was Vladimir (Ze'ev) Tiomkin. At its inception, the movement was an integral part of the World Zionist Organization. It attracted a large following in Eastern and Central Europe, where masses of Jews were waiting to emigrate. From four Revisionist delegates to the 14th Zionist Congress (1925), its representation rose to 52 delegates at the 17th Congress (1931). Subsidiary organizations sprang up under Jabotinsky's leadership: Betar, a mass movement of youth; Berit ha-?ayyal ("union of army veterans"), existing mainly in Poland; Orthodox adherents organized in A?dut Israel; the women's Berit Nashim Le'ummiyyot; high school students in Masada, and the Nordia sports organization. In Palestine, the Revisionists achieved the position of the second-largest party in the Asefat ha-Niv?arim by gaining 17% of the votes in 1931. The Zionist majority, in particular the labor parties, rejected the ideology and tactics of the Revisionists, often attacking them as "fascists." Growing conflicts in the Palestine labor market led to the withdrawal of Revisionists and members of Betar from the Histadrut and the establishment of an independent National Labor Organization in 1934. Bitterness reached a climax in 1933 when two young Revisionists in Palestine were accused of assassinating the labor leader Chaim Arlosoroff. Palestinian courts acquitted both, but the antagonism remained and poisoned the political atmosphere for many years.

From the late 1920s, especially after the enlargement of the Jewish Agency through the inclusion of 50% non-Zionists (1929), Jabotinsky pressed for independent political action of the Revisionist movement in the international field, though the Zionist Executive considered it a breach of discipline. When Jabotinsky urged the secession of the Revisionist Union from the World Zionist Organization, allowing individual Revisionists to maintain their membership in it, he was opposed by members of the Revisionist executive, Meir Grossman, Lichtheim, Stricker, and others. When the internal controversy reached an impasse at the session of the Revisionist Party Council at Katowice (1933), Jabotinsky "suspended" the Revisionist executive and assumed "personal responsibility" until the forthcoming world conference. A plebiscite among the membership endorsed Jabotinsky's move by a large majority, but his opponents seceded and founded the small Jewish State Party, which was represented at the 18th Zionist Congress (1933) by seven delegates, as against 46 Revisionist delegates.

The first large-scale political action of the Revisionist Union was a world petition (1934) addressed by Jewish men and women to Britain's king and Parliament and to the governments and parliaments of the states of which they were citizens. More than 600,000 Jews in 24 countries signed the petition. After the Arlosoroff murder trial, an attempt at a reconciliation between the Revisionists and the Zionist leadership was made in 1934. At the initiative of Pin?as Rutenberg, Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion met in London and, after lengthy negotiations, signed three agreements. The first enjoined all Zionist parties to refrain from certain forms of party warfare, notably "libel, slander, insult to individuals and groups." The second was a labor agreement providing for a modus vivendi between the Histadrut and the Revisionist workers, including the controversial issues of strikes. The third provided for suspension of the Revisionist boycott against the Zionist funds and a guarantee of immigration certificates for members of Betar. The agreements were welcomed by Zionist public opinion, but the labor agreement was submitted to a referendum of Histadrut members and rejected by a majority.

The atmosphere of goodwill petered out. In 1935, the Revisionists waged a heated debate in the Zionist Organization [ZO] concerning the immediate and public stipulation of the final aim of Zionism. The Zionist General Council rejected their approach and voted to preclude independent political activities of Zionist parties. The Revisionists subsequently voted to secede from the World Zionist Organization and to establish a new Zionist body.

Elected by 713,000 voters, the constituent assembly of the New Zionist Organization (NZO) met in Vienna with de Haas as chairman (September 1935). Jabotinsky was elected president (nasi). The aim of the NZO was formulated as "the redemption of the Jewish people and its land, the revival of its state and language, and the implanting of the sacred treasures of Jewish tradition in Jewish life. These objectives were to be attained by the creation of a Jewish majority in Palestine on both sides of the Jordan, the upbuilding of a Jewish state on the basis of civil liberty and social justice in the spirit of Jewish tradition, the return to Zion of all who seek Zion, and the liquidation of the Jewish Dispersion. This aim transcends the interests of individuals, groups, or classes."

When their approach was rejected, they seceded from the ZO (1935) and established the New Zionist Organization. They returned to the ZO in 1946, explaining that this became possible after the Biltmore Program had proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine as the goal of Zionism.

In the later 1930s the NZO called for a policy aimed at speedy "evacuation" of the Jewish masses from the "danger zone" in Eastern and Central Europe, based on "alliances" with the governments of those countries. A ten-year plan for the transfer to and absorption in Palestine of 1,500,000 Jews was prepared in 1938. In 1938–39, the scheme gained the sympathy of Polish government circles, which seemed to be ready to intervene with the British government and raise the problem of Jewish mass emigration at the League of Nations. But Jewish public opinion overwhelmingly opposed the "evacuation plan" as unwarranted and irresponsible publicity, playing into the hands of "antisemitic governments." At the same time, the Revisionists were instrumental in transforming "illegal" immigration to Palestine from a trickle into a mass movement, which brought thousands of European Jews in "illegal" ships to the shores of Palestine until 1940. The NZO opposed and combated the partition of Palestine as proposed in 1937 by the Palestine Royal Commission. Jabotinsky testified in London before the commission, while B. Akzin gave evidence before the Palestine Partition Commission and advocated the "evacuation scheme" before the Intergovernmental Refugee Committee in Evian, France, in 1938.

With the outbreak of World War II, NZO activities ceased in continental Europe and political work was confined to Jerusalem, London, and New York. In 1939. Jabotinsky called for the suspension of the struggle against the British for the duration of the war, the concentration of all efforts to defeat Nazi Germany, and the creation of a Jewish army to fight alongside the Allies, and of a Jewish World Council to represent the entire Jewish people at the future peace conference. Jabotinsky's death in New York (August 1940) deprived the movement of its founder and leader. His successors continued their work, mostly in the United States, by information campaigns intended to arouse the attention of governments and public opinion to the plight of the Jewish people in Europe. They published full-page advertisements in leading American newspapers calling for the abolition of the White Paper and later for the relinquishment of the British Mandate over Palestine. They raised money for the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi (I?L) and to help the survivors of the death camps.

In the early 1940s a minor split occurred in the Revisionist Party in Palestine. With the tacit approval of its leadership, one of the members of its central committee, Binyamin Eliav (then Lubotzky), held private talks with the Mapai leaders Berl Katznelson and Eliyahu Golomb, as a result of which a draft agreement between the Revisionist movement and Mapai was prepared and signed by them on the basis of two principles:

(1) a common platform of Jewish war aims, including the establishment of "the Jewish state in the historical boundaries of Ere? Israel," and
(2) the return of the Revisionists to the World Zionist Organization and the merging of the Revisionist labor organization with the Histadrut and of the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi (I?L) with the Haganah. Eri Jabotinsky also signed the draft. Talks on the proposal came to naught, however, mainly because of a forceful veto by David Ben-Gurion, who was in the United States at the time. An opposition group, Hitna'arut, led by Eliav, was formed in the Revisionist movement, demanding its unconditional return to the official Zionist and yishuv institutions. In 1944, most of its members seceded and took the lead in founding an independent party Tenu'at ha-Am, which was active until 1948.

After the war, when the creation of a Jewish state had officially become the aim of Zionism and "illegal" immigration was conducted on a large scale by the Haganah, while some cooperation was established between the Haganah and I?L, the Revisionist leaders decided to rejoin the Zionist Organization, and 42 Revisionist delegates were elected to the 22nd Zionist Congress (1946). In Palestine, two Revisionist representatives signed the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, but their party was not invited to participate in the Provisional Government.

When the I?L disbanded, its veterans founded the new ?erut Party in Israel (October 1948); it won 14 seats in the First Knesset (1949), while the Revisionist list was unable to seat a single deputy. In the Diaspora, Revisionist groups remained mostly loyal to the old framework, but in 1950 a world union was founded called Berit ?erut ha-?ohar, with ?erut as its organization in Israel. A Revisionist representative was elected to the Jewish Agency Executive in April 1963 by a majority vote, against strong opposition from the Zionist labor parties. But the rift between the Revisionist and the labor camps was largely healed in the later 1960s, when the Eshkol government decided to transfer Jabotinsky's remains to Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and particularly after ?erut leaders, as part of the Ga?al bloc, joined the government of national unity in 1967. In the 1968 World Zionist Congress, Revisionists accounted for 69 delegates out of 644 (10.7%).

In the 1920s, and particularly in the 1930s, the Revisionist movement maintained a number of newspapers and periodicals in several countries. Apart from Razsvet, a French-language weekly La Voie Nouvelle appeared in Paris. In Poland the Yiddish weekly Der Nayer Veg enjoyed popularity in the mid-1930s, when it was edited by the poet Uri ?evi Greenberg. In the late 1930s the great Yiddish daily in Warsaw, Der Moment, became closely linked with the Revisionist movement. Robert Stricker's Neue Welt in Vienna served the Revisionist movement as long as Stricker himself was one of its leaders. In London, The Jewish Standard was edited by Abraham Abrahams. In Johannesburg, South Africa, The Jewish Herald is the organ of the Revisionist movement.

In Palestine, the daily Do'ar ha-Yom purchased by Jabotinsky in 1928 had a Revisionist-oriented editorial policy. It continued to be published for about two years. A maximalist Revisionist faction, led by Abba A?imeir, Y.H. Yeivin, and U.?. Greenberg published in the early 1930s its own paper ?azit ha-Am. The daily Ha-Yarden existed in Jerusalem for several years in the mid-1930s but for lack of funds became a weekly and was transferred to Tel Aviv in 1935. In 1938, Ha-Mashkif began to appear again and continued to be published through the period of statehood. The monthly Beitar, edited by Joseph Klausner and B.Z. Netanyahu was published in Jerusalem in the mid-1930s and became the ideological and literary organ of the Revisionist-oriented public in Palestine. In the State of Israel, the daily ?erut served the movement until its merger with Ha-Boker in 1960 into the daily Ha-Yom. The latter closed in 1970.

Some Historical Notes on the Development of the Right in Zionist and Israeli Politics


The history of the parties of the "right" within the Zionist movement and the development of a society outside that of the General Labor Federation (the Histradrut) is much less known than that of the latter and of the Labor movement. The political dominance and ideology of the latter went unchallenged, both in theory and in practice, at least since the early 1930s. The "national right" or the "radical right"1 was, in this respect, in a much better position than the "liberal" or "civil" right but its historiography nevertheless concentrated on several periods and a succession of events and is far from being complete. The Zionist "right" was generally credited with a monolithic image: for its supporters, the national and political movement was the only one in Zionism that fought, without aberrations, for the establishment of a Jewish State; for its opponents, it was an expression of "reactionary" foundations, a barren movement, whose historical function was negative from beginning to end. Both attitudes are generalizations with a clear ideological coloring. Both hold, but from different starting points, with Leonard Fein that "?erut remained faithful to the Revisionist platform…"2 i.e., that there have been hardly any changes in the Zionist "right" since its founding in 1925, apart from varied emphases stemming from the changes in status and circumstances of Zionism in the last 50 years, principally in the wake of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. Both, to a large extent, ignore one of the questions that interest historians and sociologists dealing with political and social movements, namely, that of the internal dynamic during times of change and the appearance of adaptation or response to changing circumstances.

The rise to power of the Likkud, with ?erut as the main component of this new political constellation, has created a certain interest in its ideological heritage and political style. This interest focused mainly not on the history of the movement but on the political and spiritual heritage of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist movement.

Within ?erut this was an attempt to give credence to actual positions from Jabotinsky's teachings, in order to defend or criticize the political behavior of the government headed by Mena?em Begin. An internal dispute broke out in ?erut following presentation of their Peace Plan, regarding fidelity to the Jabotinsky platform, and reached its peak in January 1978.3 Opponents viewed the government as a condemnable continuation of the Jabotinsky heritage, which was judged as wrong, barren and dangerous. Their intention was to point out that ?erut – and in its footsteps, the Likkud – was unable to free itself of the negative tradition of Revisionism in both foreign and home policy. To a very large extent the process of personification of the "right" continued; previously Revisionism had been identified with the personality of Jabotinsky, but the "right" is now identified with that of Mena?em Begin.4

The purpose of this article is not to propose chapter headings for a history of the "right" from its inception with the founding of the Revisionist Zionists and Betar in the early 1920s (see "Revisionists , Zionist"), by way of the struggle of Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi in the years 1937–48, and founding of ?erut and, subsequently, of Ga?al (1965) and the Likkud (1973) until Likkud's victory in the elections of May 1977. The intention is to throw some light on a few of the basic problems in the development of the Zionist and Israeli "right," and to concentrate in particular on the above-mentioned question of continuity and change, of tradition and alteration, on both the ideological and socio-organizational levels.


As noted, it is commonly held that there is an uninterrupted and almost single-minded continuity between the Revisionists under Jabotinsky and ?erut under Mena?em Begin. The avowed fidelity to Jabotinsky's heritage, identical ingredients of leadership and political style, a certain organizational continuity, partial social-demographic identity, and a continuance of fundamental axioms, have created and given root to this. It is, however, clear that the far-reaching changes in the patterns of reality from the time of Revisionism to those in which ?erut functioned since 1949 should have left some mark of change and alteration. In fact, Revisionism did undergo a process of change and adaptation to the reality of the sovereign Jewish State after May 1948, as did all the other political and social movements in Israel. The Revisionists, however, were faced, at least in theory, with one problem of principle that did not worry the other Zionist and Israeli movements. In 1934, Ze'ev Jabotinsky wrote to David Ben-Gurion: "It is a matter of indifference to me whether the state of the Jews will be an orthodox Jewish state or a socialist state – the main thing is that there should be a state." Jabotinsky thus repeated what had been written by J.B. Schechtman in the Russian-language Revisionist organ, Rassviet, in December 1925: "(Revisionism)'s program and ideology contain no socialist or religious aspects that are unacceptable to Zionism as a whole… Revisionism is a political movement… On socialist questions our opinion, like that of the World Zionist Federation, is neutral." The ideology and declared Revisionist program stressed that they related only to the period of building up a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel as an essential base for the establishment of the State of Israel. But Revisionism did not dissolve in 1948. Revisionism was a social and ideological movement deeply anchored in Jewish public life, and, from its very beginning, had set aims beyond the establishment of a sovereign state. It considered establishment of the state as a partial and incomplete achievement both in terms of its territorial boundaries and from the point of view of its social and cultural image. Revisionism, therefore, had to adjust to the decisive change in reality in the Land of Israel with the transfer from an autonomous society to a sovereign society equipped with the apparatus of statehood. It had to reexamine its philosophy, renew its organizational structure and find new social support.


Prior to 1939, Revisionism's main strength as a social and cultural movement in Eastern Europe was principally in Poland. There Revisionism quickly developed from a small political faction and a number of youth and student organizations into one of the largest and most crystallized popular movements within Zionism. This base was destroyed immediately on the outbreak of World War II. Revisionism's strength in the Land of Israel was relatively weak; it grew much more slowly and its organization was feeble. But even before the War, and with greater resolution afterwards, the center of gravity of Revisionist activity moved with the founding of the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi. The I?L (and subsequently Le?i) drew much of their strength from the Revisionist public life in Poland, mainly from Betar, but after 1939 that source was blocked. Henceforth, the strength of Revisionism and of I?L were drawn from within the Land of Israel only. After 1944, support for I?L in Israel expanded far in excess of the support that the Revisionists had had prior to World War II. Members joined I?L who had belonged neither to the Revisionist Zionists nor to Betar.

?erut's electorate in the First Knesset in January 1949 was composed of veteran supporters of Revisionism, members of I?L and supporters of its struggle between 1944 and 1948. From this point of view ?erut was a new demographic and social entity, even if its political elite comprised ex-members of I?L and Betar.5 ?erut obtained 49,782 votes in 1949, 45,652 in 1951, 107,190 in 1956, 130,515 in 1959 and 138,590 in 1961. It was only the establishment of Ga?al, a union of ?erut and the Liberals, descendants of the General Zionists, that doubled the number of voters for the new political framework of the "right" to 256,975 in 1965, 296,294 in 1969, 423,309 in 1973, and finally 583,968 in 1977.

The membership of the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi comprised 45% born in Eastern Europe, 17% in Ere? Israel and 10% in the countries of Asia and Africa. Following the mass immigration to Israel of the 1950s, ?erut began to draw more and more supporters from voters from Asian and African countries. It is true that Revisionism had previously gained support from these quarters, but in the 1950s it became the main reservoir for the electoral growth of ?erut, and this happened without ignoring the continuity of the East European elite, most of whom were members of the free professions, employed and self-employed and with a formal education. In addition to the waves of immigration and the feeling of deprivation and alienation on the part of the manual laborers form Asia and Africa and the sympathy that they held for the nationalist-activist position taken by ?erut and its political culture, its growth was assisted by the differentiation among the Israeli working classes between the private and public sectors. Both before and after 1948 Revisionism and ?erut were anchored in Jewish public life, which rejected the philosophy and Zionist-pioneering make-up of its various components – both in theory and in practice. The most significant change was that the ?erut voting public increasingly became manual and white collar employees of a social and economic ilk that differed entirely from that of Jewish society in Poland of the 1920s and 1930s. This affected both the style of the movement, which acquired a new popular image, and the contents of its philosophy. After a difficult internal struggle, ?erut drew the conclusions from this change and established a faction within the Histadrut – the Blue-White faction – which expressed radical formulations in wages and in the realm of social policy different from the formulation that had been acceptable to Revisionism in the Mandatory period.6 Fidelity to the ideological tradition and ideological change gave rise to a network of philosophies that, on the one hand, included emphasis on the priority status of the private sector and the demand for maximum reduction of state involvement in the economy while, on the other, there was support for widespread social legislation (minimum salary, national health insurance, etc.). What was described by Revisionism's opponents as "speaking with two voices" was an authentic expression of the internal complexity of ?erut and the change in its social structure.


The adaptation to changes was not achieved without a severe organizational upheaval. Even prior to 1944 Revisionism was far from being a one-dimensional movement in terms of the opinions held by its members, and its organizational structure was split as well. There was a big difference between the Zionist Revisionists, the political arm, and Betar, the youth organization, and in 1933 the tension between the various groups caused the first split in Revisionism with the breaking away of a group of veterans headed by Meir Grossman and the founding of the Jewish State Party. Within the party there was a tendency to undermine the basic axioms of Revisionism that expressed a nationalist-activist philosophy and demanded a change in the methods of operation of the movement. The I?L grew within Betar in an underground fashion and contrary to the stand of the Betar leaders. Not till 1944 did the I?L become the main and most active organization within Revisionism; after Jabotinsky's death and the outbreak of World War II, they disbanded. There were still those within the Zionist Revisionists and Betar who felt that the I?L was a temporary entity and that at the conclusion of the struggle against the British its role would be over, and the leadership would be returned to the veterans of the two groups. This attitude gave rise to severe tension among them, but in practice Revisionism as a political movement was eliminated after 1939 and the I?L took over. The latter was not the underground arm of a bona fide political party (as was the Haganah), but a sovereign underground organization.

The I?L was not merely a new organizational entity but made a break that affected history of Revisionism, a break that came about not only because of the personal identification between the leaders of the I?L and the former leaders of Betar, and the fidelity of the I?L leaders, not to Revisionism as a movement, but to Ze'ev Jabotinsky as leader and teacher. Jabotinsky and Revisionism believed in the need for the existence of the movement as a bona fide party, functioning on a political plane and believing in the power of moral pressure and in the moral stand of Zionism, and in the force of common interests between Zionism and Great Britain. The I?L rejected this attitude and placed its trust mainly on the pressure generated by armed struggle. To a large extent, this was a transition from the political philosophy of Jabotinsky to the revolutionary philosophy of Abba A?imeir which Jabotinsky completely rejected although he understood its roots and motives.

Mena?em Begin's personality and activity mark the combination of the political philosophy and the revolutionary, despite the fact that at the Warsaw Convention of Betar in September 1938 he expounded the revolutionary philosophy in opposition to Jabotinsky's legal philosophy. Begin rejected the reasoning of the Lo?amei ?erut Israel and linked the revolutionary and political philosophies. Although the I?L, under his leadership, didn't believe in the need for joint action by Zionism and Britain and indulged in underground activity for the removal of the British from Ere? Israel, his underground activity was largely designed to stress the hardship in which Jewry found itself after the Holocaust and the aspirations of the Jews to realize the moral and historical right to a Jewish state. Contrary to the Le?i, the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi was closely linked to Jabotinsky's inheritance, even though its activity was contrary to his philosophy. The spirit of A?imeir and Uri ?evi Greenberg held great sway in the I?L but it was Begin who underscored and strengthened the attachment to Jabotinsky and expressed the ideological continuity between Jabotinsky and Betar, and the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi.

The I?L did not go out of existence in 1949, nor did it return the mantle of leadership to the veterans of the Zionist Revisionists and Betar. The Zionist Revisionist leadership brought the party back into the Zionist Federation in 1946 and took part in the Provisional Council of State; three of its members were amongst the signatories of the Scroll of Independence. There was a low of distrust between the leadership of I?L and that of the Zionist Revisionists, with the former considering itself as the new leadership. The I?L emerged from the underground and established a new political party in the State of Israel, "the ?erut Movement, founded by the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi. It replaced the Zionist Revisionists and created an amalgamation with the Zionist Revisionists in the Diaspora under the aegis of the Zionist Movement – Brith ?erut-ha-?ohar. The veteran Zionist leadership ran independently in the elections to the First Knesset but its list – the Jabotinsky Movement – Brith ha-?ohar – gained only 2,892 votes (0.7% of the votes). Part of the veteran leadership joined the ?erut Movement while others left Revisionism. (Some of them joined the General Zionists, while others, such as Dr. Benjamin Lubotsky, after a short-lived attempt to establish an independent party called Mifleget ha-Am, even joined Mapai.) In the 1950s a significant change took place in the leadership of ?erut, with some members of the I?L and its supporters in Israel and abroad, such as Hillel Kook, Shmuel Marlin, Shmuel Katz and Uri ?evi Greenberg, leaving the movement, while Revisionists who had belonged to the "moderate" line in Revisionism joined and were included in its Knesset list.

The new party's main problem was twofold: on the one hand it had to establish its right of legitimization as a democratic-parliamentary movement, free of its past as a breakaway underground movement and meriting widespread political support irrespective of any sympathy for its struggle against the British; and, on the other, for the right of legitimacy as a political party in opposition to a political and national structure it considered faulty and negative. In the 1950s, the ?erut Movement deleted the words "Founded by the Irgun ?eva'i Le'ummi" and toned down its policy to some extent. The claim-cum-aspiration for Israeli sovereignty over Transjordan was dropped from the party platform, and it adjusted to the rules of parliamentary-electoral contest, particularly after the serious crisis that broke out in the wake of the dispute over German reparations and the violent demonstration against the Knesset in January 1952. Voices were now heard within the ?erut claiming that it had no chance of defeating Mapai at the polls and that its excessive parliamentarianism was blunting its revolutionary character and turning it into a regular Israeli political party of the establishment. At this point Mena?em Begin was the link between the democratic parliamentary approach of Jabotinsky and that of ?erut as against the revolutionarism and anti-parliamentary tendency within the movement. Victory for his line was complete when several of Le?i's former leaders (led by Yi??ak Shamir, current Speaker of the Knesset) joined the ?erut Movement. The anti-parliamentary tendencies in ?erut disappeared completely during the 1950s and the heritage of the underground and the separation of Revisionism and I?L faded from the movement's behavioral patterns. During the 1960s the process of legitimization was completed with the establishment of the ?erut-Liberal Bloc (Ga?al).


The various groups and schools of thought within Revisionism had no uniform position with regard to the Arab problem. The conclusion, however, was the same: Revisionism, I?L and ?erut stood for the historical right of the Jewish people to national sovereignty over Western Palestine.7 Up to the Six-Day War, the ?erut Movement was the only Israeli political party that maintained in its manifestos the necessity for the "wholeness of the homeland." The policy and ethics of the "iron curtain" were acceptable to Revisionism and ?erut, both of whom felt that the Arabs would come to terms with the Jewish state only after it became clear to them that it was an existing and organic fact in the Middle East. However, while Jabotinsky felt that the main point was that the Arabs of Palestine were a national minority living in a territory where the Jewish national majority ruled and that within this context they were entitled to the full legal rights of a national minority, the ?erut Movement spoke about civil equality of rights of the Arabs of Palestine, not in a separate autonomous framework.

Following the Six-Day War the principle of national sovereignty over Western Palestine became the main issue in Ga?al's platform and the moderate Liberals also adopted it. From this point of view, the traditional position of the Liberals had become more extreme, but from a different point of view it created unity in the Ga?al framework, and subsequently moderation in that of the Likkud in positions of the ?erut Movement, for the 1977 election manifesto no longer explicitly determined the need to apply Israeli sovereignty forthwith to Judea and Samaria.8 In this area a gradual process of withdrawal can be detected – initially a retreat from the demand for sovereignty over Transjordan and subsequently a tactical renouncement of the demand for the introduction of sovereignty over Western Palestine. Begin's Peace Plan was anchored in Jabotinsky's political program by offering provisional autonomy to the Arabs of the territories, but not in the context of Jewish sovereignty. The question of national sovereignty over Judea and Samaria remained open, at least theoretically, although there was a declared objection to the application of any other

sovereignty over these territories. There was therefore opposition to the Peace Plan within ?erut. In effect, Begin's opponents of various hues within ?erut accused him of deserting the fundamental principle of Revisionism, i.e., that there should be no retreat from the public declaration concerning Israel's right of sovereignty over all of Western Palestine. This opinion – supported by that of Revisionism – maintains that for Zionism to relinquish, even with reservations, any part of Western Palestine, would be tantamount to recognizing the legitimacy of another national claim over it. The Premier, on the other hand, considered his Peace Plan as taking due account of current political facts as well as of Jabotinsky's political heritage, inasmuch as it proposed autonomy for the Arabs of the territories but opposed the introduction of any other national sovereignty over them. The debate revealed to a large extent not only the unique reliance of ?erut on the Jabotinsky heritage but also the current ideological hangover from the ideological struggle of the thirties and forties. As Prime Minister, Begin continued to practice Jabotinsky's belief in the power of the moral claim, of historical right and cooperation based on common interests with the Western Power (the U.S.A. replacing Britain), but not Jabotinsky's philosophy that Zionism does not need to conceal the full scope of its national and political aspirations. It is an irony of history that the argument between Begin and his opponents within his movement recalls to a certain extent the dispute between Jabotinsky and Mapai at the 17th Zionist Congress in 1931. Jabotinsky had demanded that the Congress publicly declare that the aim of Zionism was to establish a Jewish state in Palestine and Transjordan, while the leaders of Mapai considered such a declaration dangerous and superfluous and preferred a vague formulation.9


Jabotinsky failed in his attempt to gain the political cooperation of the "civilian" parties in the Yishuv and Zionist movement. From this point of view, the establishment of Ga?al in 1965 was something Begin achieved where Jabotinsky failed. This amalgamation was not based solely on the assumption that only a unification of the camp of the right would be able to overcome the continued hegemony of the Labor movement. It was created because ?erut and the Liberals shared the same platform in their economic and social ideology. Revisionism, and subsequently ?erut, considered the private sector and private initiative as the main motivating force of the economy, in which they demanded a minimum of state involvement. Both parties considered this involvement as strengthening the base of the ruling party. Jabotinsky, more than any other Zionist leader, accredited the bourgeoisie and private initiative with moral justification and moral validity within a comprehensive socio-economic theory that had no room for partisan-class interests. However, the cooperation with the Liberals, based on an appreciation of, and belief in, the primacy of the private sector and a reduction of state involvement, was accompanied in ?erut by the demand by some sections for state involvement in various social and economic areas that were contrary to the Liberal program, such as the introduction of a minimum wage, national health insurance, etc. The tension between ?erut's bourgeois ideological foundation and its etatist tendencies was accentuated as a result of the increase in the number of organized workers in ?erut, principally after the establishment of the Blue-White faction in the Histadrut. This internal tension was blunted to a great extent because ?erut was in the position of being a critical opposition with whose political nationalist outlook employees could identify, and also because it was a vehicle for expression of socio-economic bitterness, frustration and deprivation. During the first year of the Likkud rule, this internal tension did not surface, but it can be clearly seen as one of the most difficult problems of the Likkud as the party in power, having to honor both ideological commitments and its loyalty to the ideological heritage of Revisionism and Jabotinsky as well as its electoral commitments to the voting public at large. ?erut has absolutely opposed the socio-economic structure of the Israeli economy and society as they took shape during the period of Labor Movement hegemony, but the ideological tradition and commitment to work for a basic change of this structure has not yet been realized.


During the Mandatory period, Revisionism did not attach political importance to the pioneering settlement activity and strategy adopted by the Labor Movement. It viewed collective settlement as an element that channeled to itself vast amounts of money from the capital, beyond the degree of its importance, which were thus wasted on superfluous collectivist experiments. Collective settlement was seen in the main as the great rival of the private economy and its victor over the monies of the limited resources of national capital. The advantage of the various forms of agricultural settlements was judged by the criterion of how many jobs they could ensure. On the political level, Revisionism believed that political facts should be determined by political negotiations, their commitments, and not by the creation of settlements. This inimical attitude softened after the Six-Day War, with ?erut and the Likkud supporting, morally and politically, Jewish settlements and settlement activity in Judea and Samaria, and applying political and moral pressure on the government to guarantee their existence and expansion. This support stemmed mainly from recognition of the fact that in view of the Alignment government's preparedness for territorial compromise in Judea and Samaria, settlement in the territories was the most outstanding and concrete expression of the Israeli demand for sovereignty over them. The Ga?al and Likkud manifestos declared that Jews have the right to settle in Judea and Samaria and demanded that the government increase the settlement momentum. The testing point of the Likkud after it came to power was in keeping the promises and fulfilling the expectations in all aspects of settlement. The Likkud Peace Plan did indeed ensure urban and rural settlement throughout Judea and Samaria, but political circumstances have caused a freeze on settlement activity. This was interpreted by those favoring settlement within the Likkud and its supporters within Gush Emunim and The Land of Israel Movement (see 9: 41ff; 2: 774; 6: 575; 14: 1291; 10: 840), as an expression of the old tradition of Revisionism which had not valued pioneering settlement and had not accorded it any supreme political or Zionist value.


Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Mena?em Begin were dissimilar both in character and in the projection of their intellectual and emotional world. The degree of esteem in which Begin held Jabotinsky is unique, far in excess of what is usual amongst political leaders. For Begin, Jabotinsky was the only true leader and guide in his generation, both as an ideological authority and by personal example.10 For many years both of them wielded a large degree of authority in the movement that overcame many internal divisions and tensions. The personal trials that Begin underwent during his period of Zionist activity were much harsher than those of Jabotinsky, and the political and human decisions which confronted him, particularly during the struggle against the British, were of a nature that Jabotinsky never had to face. In terms of their political standing within their own movement (outside it both were leaders who were held in disrepute and reviled in a more extreme and bitter way than any other Zionist leaders), Begin has the same position of authority held by Jabotinsky, although the political patterns are entirely different. It would nevertheless appear that the connecting link between them is not merely that of continuity, but rather in the fact that the ideological, political and moral authority of Jabotinsky's achievements were the main factor that turned a social and political movement into a stable and ongoing political and social entity; Begin with his personality serves not only as the main connecting link to the Jabotinskian tradition of the past, but, like Jabotinsky, he is the cement binding together the various elements in the party. In the figures of Jabotinsky and Begin can be found a revelation as to the great weight of personality in history, for it would be difficult to understand how the continuity was created between Revisionism and the I?L and ?erut without Begin, since the status of Revisionism was irrevocably dependent on the figure of Jabotinsky and that of ?erut on the figure and personality of Begin. It is a case of a social and political movement which, although its roots are deep, needs an authoritative personality in order to exist.


  1. The problem of defining the ideological and social face of the Revisionist movement has engaged the attention of members of the Movement, its opponents and scholars. The accepted distinction into "right" and "left" which defines the latter as accepting the socialist or social democratic world outlook, that views the working class as the main social stratum and the collective economy as the ideal one, and "right," on the other hand, as anti-socialist, considering the middle class and private initiative as the kingpin of society and the economy, is here adapted, despite the fact that these accepted definitions largely ignore the special nature of the "left" and of the "right" in the Zionist movement and Israeli society as compared with "left" and "right" in the countries of Western democracy.
  2. Leonard J. Fein: Israel (Boston, 1967), p. 89.
  3. During the dispute in the Central Committee of ?erut, Mena?em Begin battled against the critics of his Peace Plan: "There are some here who sat at his (Jabotinsky's) feet, and we never turned our backs on him." This barb was directed principally at MK Geula Cohen, the most bitter opponent of his policy, with Begin referring to the fact that Le?i, to which Geula Cohen belonged, had explicitly rebelled against the heritage of Jabotinsky, and that she was not therefore entitled to quote Jabotinsky in support of her opinions in opposition to the Premier. In August 1955 Begin had called upon Geula Cohen and her friends from Le?i to return to the ?erut Movement and the Jabotinsky heritage: "My second appeal is addressed to all those pupils of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, to all those who have ever sat at his feet or learned from him. I call on you, from the bottom of my heart, not, heaven forbid, out of any sense of achievement, but in all humility: Come, return to the rock from which you were hewn; join us again. Among us are those who left him at a time of double weakness, our weakness of organization and public spirit and their spiritual weakness… but now, as the turning-point is heralded, let us each forgive the mistakes of the other… for the chain of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's disciples has not yet been broken, nor will it ever be." Mena?em Begin: On conclusion of the election campaign (Tel Aviv, August, 1955). The most comprehensive biography of Mena?em Begin is that of Eitan Haber, Mena?em BeginThe Legend and the Man, Delacorte Press, N.Y., 1978.
  4. See: Yaacov Shavit, "Revisionism in ZionismThe Revisionist Movement: the Plan for Colonizatory Regime and Social Ideas," 1925–35 (Tel Aviv, 1977. Heb), pp. 27–34.
  5. The average age of I?L members was 26, half of whom were manual workers and half white collar workers and members of the free professions; 65% lived in the main cities.
  6. The "Blue-White" faction joined the Histadrut in 1965 after a legal struggle, and in the elections to the Labor Federation they won 15.2% of the votes to the Histadrut Committee.
  7. The first manifesto of ?erut declared that "the Hebrew homeland, whose area stretches on both sides of the Jordan, is an historical and geographical whole." The Likkud manifesto for the Ninth Knesset, March 1977, determined that "the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is eternal, indisputable and integral to the right to security and peace; accordingly, Judea and Samaria will not be handed over to any foreign rule; between the sea and the Jordan there will be Israeli sovereignty only."
  8. It did state that Judea and Samaria would be under Israeli sovereignty only, but did not determine a date for its implementation. The Likkud Peace Plan postponed the decision regarding sovereignty.
  9. The text of the Resolution proposed by Ha-?ohar at the 17th Congress in Basel in July 1931 was that the Congress declare that "the demand for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine was promised unambiguously" and that the reestablishment promised under the Mandate of "the Jewish national home in Palestine," meant making all of the Mandatory territory, on both sides of the Jordan, into a Jewish state, i.e., a commonwealth with a Jewish majority. A critical examination of the position of Begin in the light of the ideas and policy of Jabotinsky was made by Israel Eldad in the article "Bein Mahapakh le-Mahapekhah" in Ha-Uma, 54, May 1978, pp. 170–83.
  10. See, for example, Mena?em Begin, "What We Learned from Ze'ev Jabotinsky," Ma'ariv, Aug. 30, 1976.

Source: Ya'akov Shavit and Joseph B. Schechtman, Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Photo provided by Lola Franckel, Alexander S. Franckel and Philip L. Franckel, Esq.