Andreas Whittam Smith on Jabotinsky

Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 19 April) quotes selectively from a harsh English translation of Jabotinsky’s famous article “The Iron Wall” which was originally published in Russian in 1923.

Jabotinsky wrote in the aftermath of Arab attacks in 1920 and 1921 and was actually protesting about the British inability to protect the Jews or arm them. The construction of the Iron Wall was thus a defensive measure. The key point in Jabotinsky’s article is that the Jews would agree to negotiations and make suitable concessions to the Palestinian Arabs when the latter had accepted the right of the Jews to national self-determination. The problem is when is that point reached? Would Jabotinsky have therefore accepted the Oslo Accords of Rabin and Arafat?The present Likud leadership bases its authority on Menachem Begin and his leadership of the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Begin was in dispute with Jabotinsky over the meaning of the Iron Wall. Begin interpreted it offensively and advocated “military Zionism” – something Jabotinsky profoundly disagreed with. Following his death, Jabotinsky was “reinvented” by Begin and his followers to fit in with their world view.

Moreover, Sharon was never a follower of Jabotinsky, as Whittam Smith insists, since he was originally a member of the forerunner of the Labour Party. His mentors were David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan – both from Labour’s right wing, which advocated military prowess.

Jabotinsky would certainly have placed security for Israel at the top of his agenda and condemned Palestinian rejectionists, but it is something else to suggest that he would have been rooting for Sharon. Throughout his life, Jabotinsky vehemently opposed transfer and condemned the British proposal in the Peel Commission in 1937 to move a quarter of a million Palestinian Arabs. Whittam Smith falls into the trap of using an incisive analysis of the situation in 1923 and extrapolating it to fit in with a totally transformed political landscape in 2004.

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Independent 23 April 2004

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