The Revisionist Movement

The Revisionist Movement
“The essence of revisionism… is that basically, instead of surrendering to fate, we force our lives to head in a certain direction.”

In 1925, Ze’ev Jabotinsky founded the Revisionist Zionist Alliance, a Zionist political movement. Its name was derived from its call for a revision – for a new look at the the policy of the Zionist Executive towards the British Government and its mandate over Eretz Yisrael.

The slogan of the Revisionist Movement was used as a title in the “Rassvet” newspaper, edited by Jabotinsky:

“The goal of Zionism is: Eretz Yisrael as a single state on both sides of the Jordan River.”

In the first years of the British Mandate in Eretz Yisrael, Jabotinsky supported collaboration with Great Britain, assuming that the latter will implement the mandate it supported in Balfour’s declaration. However, when Britain backed out from its support in the Zionist stand, Jabotinsky warned of a possible betrayal by the government of the British Mandate and advocated to rebel against it. In 1923 he resigned from the Executive of the Zionist Movement, in protest against the policy of Chaim Weizmann, which he felt was moderate towards the anti-Zionist stand taken by the British Mandate Government. The support given to Jabotinsky by youth from east and central Europe was the basis for the future Revisionist Movement.

“We must behave as a nation and embrace ourselves for all possibilities.”

The Revisionist Movement was supportive of an aggressive political struggle alongside an armed struggle for a solution to the problems of the Jewish Diaspora. It demanded pressure on Great Britain, through petitions and mass demonstrations, to establish a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River, as promised. Another goal of the movement was to create a national momentum in settling Eretz Yisrael and incorporating its land for mass absorption and achieving a Jewish majority. Jabotinsky and his followers also asked that the Jewish Legion be reestablished within the British Army for protecting the Zionist actions. They believed that these actions would bring peace with the Arabs from a standpoint of superiority, based on a solid military front and on the moral strengths of Zionism.

“The only way to reach an agreement [with the Arabs] is an iron wall – meaning a force in Eretz Yisrael which will not be shattered by any Arab influence.”

In 1923 he founded and headed the Betar Movement in Riga, Latvia – aimed to educate youth in a militant and national spirit. Members of Betar were obligated to serve with the Jewish Legion in Eretz Yisrael for two years.

“… And the Jewish youth knows that there is no greater and noble service than that of a mercenary, guarding over national labor…”.

During the 1930’s, Betar spread across Jewish communities worldwide, concentrating in Eastern Europe. Betar members in Eretz Yisrael took part in defending Tel Aviv during the 1929 riots; they established the Betar Work Battalion in the Galilee, Samaria, and the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1933 Betar founded seamanship schools – the most known of which was in Civitavecchia, Italy. Graduates of these schools were captains in the Jewish navy and later in the Israeli Sea Corps. They also conducted courses in aviation and took an active part in Aliyah Bet. Betar members were the core of both the Etzel and the National Labor Federation.

In the 17th Zionist Congress, held in 1931, the revisionists’ stance on defining Zionism as the “creation of a Jewish majority in Eretz Yisrael” was rejected. The tension between the Revisionist Movement and the left-wing parties of the Zionist Organization deepened following the murder of Chaim Arlozoroff in June 1933, despite efforts of the Yishuv leadership for reconciliation. Jabotinsky headed the movement since 1933, and in a survey held that year he was supported by 93.8% of the Revisionist Zionist Alliance members.

“Revisionism has its own approach towards every aspect of Zionism; it is not capable of following patterns designed by others…”.

In 1935 the Zionist Organization issued an order forbidding its members to conduct independent political activities. Jabotinsky resigned soon thereafter and in the same year he formed the New Zionist Organization (NZO). In its founding event, held in Vienna, there were 713,000 participants from 32 countries. Jabotinsky was elected as president of the organization.

The ETZEL – National Military Organization in the Land of Israel – was established in 1931 after a split within the Hagana branch in Jerusalem. Those who resigned greatly criticized the Hagana’s incompetence during the 1929 riots. During the first years of its formation, Jabotinsky was barred from entering Eretz Yisrael, but he had great influence on its creation. Later, in 1936, the Etzel became the militant branch of the Revisionist Zionist Alliance. Jabotinsky was supportive of its actions against the policy of restraint towards Arab rioters (1936–1939). In 1937 he was named the Supreme Commander of the Etzel – a title he held until his death in 1940.

The revisionists were supportive of a liberal economy. Their point of view saw socialism, communism, and other ideologies as hazardous to Zionism. Within the Histadrut they called for the establishment of professional unions to base their actions on national considerations. They also called for neutral labor bureaus, introduction of national arbitration in labor disputes and the extraction of the Hagana from under the responsibility of the Histadrut. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, the revisionists called for an economic embargo on the country. They objected to the “transfer agreement,” which was signed in 1933 between Nazi Germany and the Jewish Agency. According to this agreement, that value of some Jewish properties left in Germany would be converted to German merchandise and sent to Eretz Yisrael. In 1934, the Revisionist Zionist Alliance and Betar ceased their cooperation with the Histadrut and the other national institutions in Eretz Yisrael, founding their own National Labor Federation.

During the years 1934 and 1935, the Revisionist Movement created and operated a public petition calling for Great Britain to act on the Manadte given to them in Eretz Yisrael. More than 600,000 Jews signed the petition. At the same time, the movement organized the “Af Al Pi” Aliyah – illegal immigration to Eretz Yisrael through land and sea. Thousands made Aliyah in this operation.

In 1936 the British Government formed the Peel Commission, a royal investigative commission to examine the Arab revolt that broke out that year and to give its recommendations on the fate of Eretz Yisrael. The Revisionist Movement rejected the Commission’s proposal for the partition of Eretz Yisrael to two states: Arab and Jewish.

“Eretz Yisrael – all this land has and all that is glorified in it – belongs to us, to the people of Israel.”

In 1938 the movement formulated the Evacuation Plan initiated by Jabotinsky, which was aimed for a quickly organized evacuation of 1.5 million Jews from Eastern Europe to Eretz Yisrael. This plan was fiercely rejected by Jewish and Zionist groups that feared it will enhance anti-Semitism in Poland and other countries. Following the breakout of the Second World War, Jabotinsky and his movement worked to promote the establishment of a Jewish defense force to fight alongside the Allied Forces against Nazi Germany. After Jabotinsky passed away in August 1940, the revisionists worked towards increasing the number of Yishuv volunteers in the British Army. Betar branches in Europe were demolished during the war, though its members were active participants in the ghetto rebellions and in partisan units. After the war, they continued to be active in promoting illegal immigration of holocaust survivors to Eretz Yisrael.

The New Zionist Organization dissolved in 1946; the Revisionist Zionist Alliance later returned to be part of the Zionist Organization, and its delegates participated in the 22nd Zionist Congress. The veteran revisionists refused in 1949 to unite with the Herut Movement, as proposed to them by former Etzel commander Menachem Begin. They ran for the First Knesset on their own list and failed, while Herut gained 14 seats. In 1950, prior to the elections for the Second Knesset, the two movements merged to become the “Herut-Zionist Revisionist Alliance.”

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