Early in 1932, Norman Bentwich, the former Attorney-General of Palestine, and a Zionist, was honoured by the Hebrew University with a chair in International Law and Peace. As he started his inauguration lecture, shouts suddenly came out of the audience: 'Go talk peace to the Mufti, not to us'. He began again, but this time he was bombarded with a shower of stink bombs and leaflets announcing that the Revisionist students were opposed to both him and his topic, and the hall had to be cleared by the police. At the very time that Hitler's brownshirts were breaking up meetings, it was inevitable that Jerusalem's Jewish public should see the brownshirted Betarim as their own Nazis. By 1926, Abba Achimeir had already written about the necessity of murdering their opponents, and when the students came up for trial, their barrister, a prominent Revisionist, cheerfully took on their characterisation of Jewish Nazism.
Yes, we Revisionists have a great admiration for Hitler. Hitler has saved Germany. Otherwise it would have perished within four years. And if he had given up his anti-Semitism we would go with him.
Certainly many of the Revisionist ranks throughout the world originally looked upon the Nazis as akin to themselves: nationalists and Fascists. In 1931 their American magazine, the Betar Monthly, had openly declared their contempt for those who called them Nazis.
When provincial leaders of the left-wing of petty Zionism like Berl Locker call us Revisionists and Betarim --Hitlerites, we are not at all disturbed... the Lockers and their friends aim to create in Palestine a colony of Moscow with an Arab instead of a Jewish majority, with a red flag instead of the White and Blue, with the 'Internationale' instead of the 'Hatikvah,... If Herzl was a Fascist and Hitlerite, if a Jewish majority on both sides of the Jordan, if a Jewish State in Palestine which will solve the economic, political, and cultural problems of the Jewish nation be Hitlerism, then we are Hitlerites.
The Revisionists were Zionists and as such shared their movement's fundamental agreement with the Nazis that the Jews could never be real Germans. Nazism was inevitable and understandable. This view was well expressed by Ben Frommer, an American Revisionist in 1935. To Frommer, the Jew:
No matter what country he inhabits... is not of the tribal origins... Consequently the Jew's attempt at complete identity with his country sounds spurious; his patriotism despite his vociferousness, hollow even to himself; and therefore his demand for complete equality with those who are of the essence of the nation naturally creates friction. This explains the intolerance of the Germans, Austrians, Poles and the increasing tide of antagonism in most European countries... It is presumptuous on the part of a Jew to demand that he be treated as lovingly as say a Teuton in a Teutonic country or a Pole in a Polish country. He must jealously guard his life and liberty, but he must candidly recognize that he does not 'belong'. The liberal fiction of perfect equality is doomed because it was unnatural.
Revisionist Flirtation with the Nazis
Like the other German Zionists, the Revisionists were exclusively concemed with Palestine, and during Weimar they made no effort to organise Jewish resistance to Hitler. When the Nazis finally came to power, the Revisionists interpreted the victory as a defeat for their own Jewish ideological rivals and a vindication of their own ideas, both Zionist and Fascist. They went one stage further than the rest of the ZVfD and the Rundschau and imitated the Nazis' style. The banker Georg Kareski, seeing his rich Catholic associates in the Centre Party working with or joining the triumphant Nazis, decided to show Hitler there were Zionists who shared the Nazis' ethos. He joined the Revisionists and quickly became a leader of the German movement and attempted a putsch at the Berlin Jewish community centre in May 1933. This has been described by Richard Lichtheim in his history of German Zionism. Kareski:
thought the Zionists had missed the opportunity to place themselves at the head of German Judaism through a revolutionary act. With the aid of a number of young people from 'Betar'... he 'occupied' the building of the Jewish community in 1933. He was quickly forced to clear out, however, since the members of the community refused to go along with this. The result of this foolish action was his expulsion from the ZVfD. At the outset Kareski probably believed that the spirit of the times demanded such an act and that the outmoded conceptions of the bourgeois-liberal Jews had to be altered in favor of national-Zionist views in this violent fashion. In the following years he fell into a rather questionable relationship of dependency on the Gestapo, to whom he sought to recommend himself and his Betar group as the real representatives of the radical Zionist point of view corresponding to National Socialism.
This was too much for Jabotinsky. He had not paid much attention to Germany in the final Weimar years. Throughout the 1929-33 period his prime concern was dealing with the British proposals on Palestine which were a response to the brief but bloody massacres of 1929, largely triggered by Revisionist provocations at the Wailing Wall. As with many right-wingers, Jabotinsky did not think that Hitler in power would be quite as anti-Semitic as he seemed in opposition. Shmuel Merlin, Secretary-General of the NZO, has explained that: 'He was not panicky, he thought that Hitler would either refomm or yield to the pressure of the Junkers and Big Business.' However, by March 1933 Jabotinsky grasped that Gemmany was now the implacable foe of Jewry and he was appalled at the antics of Kareski. He hastily wrote to Hans Block, Kareski's predecessor as Chairman of the German Revisionists:
I do not know exactly what happened, but any flirting with the Govemment or its representatives and ideas I would consider simply criminal. I understand that one can silently bear schweinerie; but to adapt oneself to schweinerie is verboten, and Hitlerism remains schweinerie in spite of the enthusiasm of millions which impresses our youth so much in a manner similar to that in which Communist enthusiasm impresses other Jews.
'The Triple Alliance of Stalin-Ben-Gurion-Hitler'
Jabotinsky also had to deal with the problem of Achimeir's Fascism in Palestine. Flirting with Mussolini had been acceptable, but a pro-Nazi line was an outrage. He wrote to Achimeir in the strongest terms in 1933,
The articles and notices on Hitler and the Hitlerite movement appearing in Hazit Ha'am are to me, and to all of us, like a knife thrust in our backs. I demand an unconditional stop to this outrage. To find in Hitlerism some feature of a 'national liberation' movement is sheer ignorance. Moreover, under present circumstances, all this babbling is discrediting and paralyzing my work... I demand that the paper join, unconditionally and absolutely, not merely our campaign against Hitler Germany, but also our hunting down of Hitlerism, in the fullest sense of the term.
Jabotinsky had supported the anti-Nazi boycott from the beginning, and his denunciation of his followers in Palestine brought them into line; soon they, who had been praising Hitler for saving Germany, began to denounce the WZO for its refusal to take part in the boycott. The prime target of their attacks was Chaim Arlosoroff, the Political Secretary of the Jewish Agency, who was known to be negotiating with the Nazis. On 14 June 1933, Arlosoroff returned from Europe. On 15 June, Hazit Ha'am ran a furious attack on him by Yochanan Pogrebinski, The Alliance of Stalin-Ben-Gurion-Hitler. The curious title interconnects two of the central themes of the Revisionist line: the Labour Zionists were really plotting to set up a pro-Communist Arab regime and, at the same time, sell out the Jews to the Nazis. It is necessary to quote Pogrebinski's article at length, as it illuminates all subsequent events:
We have read... an interview with Mr Arlosoroff... Among other meaningless words and stupidities in which this red mountbank excels, we find that the Jewish problem in Germany can be solved only by means of a compromise with Hitler and his regime. These men... have now decided to sell for money the honor of the Jewish People, its rights, its security and standing in the whole great world, to Hitler and the Nazis. Apparently these red charlatans were disturbed by the success of the boycott against German goods which was proclaimed by the great leader of the Jews in our generation, V. Jabotinsky, and which was supported by the Jews of the whole world...
The cowardice to which the Palestine Labor Party has stooped in selling itself for money to the biggest Jew-hater, has now reached its lowest point, and has no parallel in all Jewish history... Jewry will welcome the triple alliance of 'Stalin-Ben-Gurion-Hitler' only with repulsion and detestation... The Jewish people has always known how to deal with those who have sold the honor of their nation and its Torah, and it will know today also how to react to this shameful deed, committed in the full light of the sun, and before the eyes of the whole world.
On the evening of 16 June, Arlosoroff and his wife took a stroll along Tel Aviv's beach. Two young men passed them twice. Mrs Arlosoroff became worried and her husband tried to calm her: 'they are Jewish, since when are you afraid of Jews?' Shortly afterwards they appeared again. "What time is it?" - one of them asked. A flashlight blinded us, and I saw a pistol pointed at us.' A shot rang out and Arlosoroff fell dead.
The British police had little difficulty with the crime. The murder took place on a beach; bedouin trackers were soon set to work. Two days later Avraham Stavsky and Zvi Rosenblatt, both Revisionists, were brought in for an identity parade. Mrs Arlosoroff nearly fainted when she recognised Stavsky who, she claimed, held the flashlight. The police raided Abba Achimeir and found his diary. One of his notes told of a party held in his home immediately after the killing to celebrate a 'great victory'. This prompted the police to arrest him as the mastermind behind the assassination.
The prosecution case was so strong that the defence was forced to resort to desperate measures. While the trio were in jail awaiting trial, an Arab, Abdul Majid, jailed for an unconnected murder, suddenly confessed the slaying, by claiming that he and a friend had wanted to rape Mrs Arlosoroff. He soon recanted his confession, made it again and retracted it for a second time; he claimed that Stavsky and Rosenblatt had bribed him to make his statement. The case came to trial on 23 April 1934. Achimeir was acquitted without having to present a defence; the diary was not enough to prove prior conspiracy. After hearing Rosenblatt's defence, the court cleared him. Then, by 2 to 1, Stavsky was found guity, and on 8 June was sentenced to be hanged. On 19 July the Palestine Court of Appeal acquitted him on a combination of technicalities. There had been procedural errors pertaining to the tracking. Once that evidence was thrown out, there was no longer any material corroboration to support Mrs Arlosoroff's accusation. Palestine law, unlike British law, demanded such verification to corroborate the testimony of a single witness in a capital offence. The Chief Justice was plainly displeased; 'in England... the conviction would have to stand', and he denounced the defence for the bogus confession,
The whole interposition of Abdul Majid in this case leaves in my mind a grave suspicion of a conspiracy to defeat the end of justice by the suborning of Abdul Majid to commit perjury in the interests of the defence.
It was not until 1944 that new evidence turned up, but this was not made public until 1973. When Lord Moyne, the British High Commissioner for the Middle East, was assassinated in Cairo in 1944 by two members of the 'Stern Gang', a Revisionist splinter group, a Palestinian ballistics expert, F.W. Bird, examined the murder weapon and found it had been used in no less than seven previous political slayings: two Arabs, four British police and the Chaim Arlosoroff murder. Bird explained, in 1973, that he: 'did not give evidence of the Arlosoroff connection at the time of the trial of the two murderers of Lord Moyne as the chain of evidence of the Arlosoroff exhibits had been broken during the eleven year gap'.
The entire Revisionist movement, including Jabotinsky, categorically denied that any Revisionists were involved in the crime, but the Labour Zionists never doubted their guilt and when the Court of Appeal released Stavsky, a riot broke out between the two factions in the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv which Stavsky attended. Throughout the Holocaust period the Arlosoroff murder was one of the Labour Zionists' principal reasons for denouncing the Revisionists. As Arlosoroff was a prime mover in establishing the Ha'avara agreement, the foundation of WZO policy towards the Nazis' responsibility for the murder has important implications in considering relations between the Nazis and the Zionists. From the evidence in the case there seems little doubt that Stavsky and Rosenblatt did assassinate Arlosoroff, although in 1955 Yehuda Arazi-Tennenbaum, a former Labour Zionist, and a former Mandatory policeman who had worked on the case, announced that Stavsky was innocent and that the Arab was pressured to recant his confession. However, this testimony was extremely suspect, not least for the fact that it had taken him 22 years to come forth with it. It is much less clear whether Achimeir plotted the murder. Certainly there is not the slightest evidence that Jabotinsky knew about the crime in advance. He claimed to believe in Abdul Majid's inherently improbable confession, but it is highly significant that in 1935 he insisted on inserting a clause into Betar's fundamental principles: 'I shall prepare my arm to defend my people and shall not carry my arm but for its defence.'
Jabotinsky's Efforts to Maintain the Boycott
The immediate impact of the murder was to make a nonsense of Jabotinsky's efforts to sustain the anti-Nazi boycott at the August World Zionist Congress held in Prague. During the Congress, Jewish Telegraphic Agency despatches reported the police discovery of his letter to Achimeir, which threatened to expel him if he continued to praise Hitler. This episode and the fact that he appeared in the Congress hall with a squad of brownshirt Betarim discredited Jabotinsky as some kind of Jewish Nazi. The Congress's decision to reject the boycott was moulded by several factors but, in general, the delegates felt whatever was wrong with Weizmann, Revisionist opposition to the WZO's German policy was deeply suspect and tarnished by their raving about the 'Stalin-Ben-Gurion' cabal to turn Palestine into an Arab Communist state.
However, Jabotinsky spoke for many besides his own narrow following when he argued for a struggle against Hitler. He knew there was never the remotest possibility of a modus vivendi between the Jews and Adolf Hitler. Jabotinsky understood that the German Jews were prisoners in Hitler's war against world Jewry. 'If Hitler's regime is destined to stay, world Jewry is doomed'; German Jewry was 'but a minor detail', he wrote.
After the congress defeated his resolution, 240 to 48, Jabotinsky held a press conference to denounce the Ha'avara and to announce the Revisionist Party as a temporary central body to run a world-wide anti-Nazi campaign. He expressed his willingness to work with the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League and other boycott forces, but he never contemplated any sort of mass mobilisation. He opposed what he called a 'negative' boycott. His would be positive, emphasising 'buying... from more acceptable origins'. His office would give out 'exact descriptions of all articles recommended... addresses and telephone numbers of the shops where these articles are to be found'. The Revisionists dutifully set up a 'Department of Economic Defence, in their Paris headquarters, but by 6 February 1934 Jabotinsky was already lamenting that he had to do all the work himself as:
the executive committee members shrank from saddling themselves with a job which could not be done without a fattish budget... all the work has been done by an unpaid secretary plus a half time typist lad.
Until he got some cash there would be no 'big public gestures (which would be very easy): the Jewish world has had enough of big appeals of this kind, unfollowed by systematic action'.On 13 September 1935, at the New Zionist Organisation's founding congress, Jabotinsky was still talking about a boycott, but in the future tense: 'a Jewish Boycott Organisation, headed by himself is to be created'. Jabotinsky's 'commercial advertising agency' could never inspire anyone as, at best, it would have produced a paper mountain. However, the Revisionists did do boycott work all over the world, but as classic sectarians they held their own anti-Nazi rallies in their stronghold in Eastern Europe. Alone they could accomplish nothing and inevitably they turned to more congenial activities directly pertaining to Palestine.
'There will be no War'
For all his subjective anti-Nazism, Germany was never Jabotinsky's prime focus. According to Shmuel Merlin, 'Jabotinsky did not feel that the Hitler regime was permanent or stable.' There is a legend that he warned Jews of the coming Holocaust, and some of his statements do have a prophetic ring until closely scrutinised: 'it Hitler's regime is destined to stay, world Jewry is doomed'; but he thought the regime was unstable and was certain to collapse if it ever went to war. His admirers quoted his constant theme: 'Liquidate the Diaspora or the Diaspora will liquidate you.' For all its oracular quality, he did not mean that Germany would conquer Europe or massacre the Jews. Merlin is accurate: '"Liquidate the Diaspora" did not refer to Hitler at all. Our main focus was always Poland and Eastern Europe.' The slogan referred to the destruction of the economic position of the Jewish middle class in Poland, where it was being squeezed out by the spreading peasant co-operatives and driven out by pogroms organised by the Christian nationalist middle class.
In the 1930s, Jabotinsky never understood that Nazism was produced by an age of war and revolution, and had to go down in war and revolution. He convinced himself that the capitalists would never allow themselves to be dragged to their destruction in another war, and in 1939 he wrote to his sister: 'There will be no war; the German insolence will soon subside; Italy will make friends with the British... and in five years we will have a Jewish state.' He was living in Pont d'Avon in France in the summer of 1939, and in the last week of August he still was writing: 'There is not the remotest chance of war... The world looks a peaceful place from Pont d'Avon, and I think Pont d'Avon is right.'
The Revisionist response to the Nazi take-over of Austria and Czechoslovakia had been feverish. At the Warsaw Betar World Congress in September 1938, 25-year-old Menachem Begin demanded the immediate conquest of Palestine. Jabotinsky knew this was impossible; they could never beat the British, the Arabs or even the Labour Zionists, and he ridiculed his over-zealous disciple, comparing his words to the 'useless screeching of a door'. But by August 1939, reflecting the same desperation as the ranks, Jabotinsky concluded that, if the Revisionists could not immediately save the Jews in Europe, at least they could go down nobly and perhaps inspire the Jews by their gesture; thus he decided to invade Palestine, landing an armed boatload of Betarim on the beach at Tel Aviv. His underground force there, the Irgun (the organisation, from Irgun Zvei Leumi, National Military Organisation), would rise and seize Government House in Jerusalem, and hold it for 24 hours, while a provisional Jewish government was proclaimed in Europe and New York. After his own capture or death, it would operate as a government-in-exile.The adventure's model was the 1916 Easter Monday rising in Ireland. There the leaders were executed after capture, but ultimately the rising triggered a British withdrawal from the southern part of the country. However, it is impossible to see how Jabotinsky's invasion could have convinced the Jewish population in Palestine, the majority of whom were his enemies, to rise up after his defeat. The sheer fantasy of the plan was revealed on the night of 31 August/1 September 1939. The British CID arrested the entire command of the Irgun while they sat debating whether to take part in the scheme and, within hours, Hitler's armies marched into Poland, starting the war that Jabotinsky had just insisted would never happen.