Welcome to 70 Faces of Israel. To celebrate 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, we’re looking at 70 people whose remarkable stories have changed our country and the world.
Name: Ze’ev Jabotinsky (born Vladimir Yevhenyevich Zhabotinsky)
Date of Birth: 17th October 1880, Odessa, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Date of Death: 4th August 1940, New York, USA
Claim to Fame: Early Zionist Leader and Irgun Founder
In 1964… Jabotinsky’s remains were brought to Israel and reinterred on Har Herzl
Born in Odessa to assimilated, middle-class Jewish parents, Ze’ev Jabotinsky studied in local Russian schools. His education came to an early end when he discovered journalism: in 1896, he started writing for a major Russian-language paper, travelling to Switzerland and Italy as a correspondent.
The burgeoning journalist joined the Zionist movement in the early 1900s. He quickly gained a reputation as a powerful speaker and strong, influential leader. The 1903 Kishinev pogrom convinced him of the need for a Jewish militia, so he founded the Jewish Self-Defence Organisation. He organised and armed self-defence units across Russia, with the slogan, “Jewish youth, learn to shoot”.
Following his election to the Sixth Zionist Congress, Jabotinsky remained strongly involved in the movement. After Herzl’s death in 1904, he became the right-wing faction’s leader. Despite his secular upbringing, he began advocating for Jewish civil rights. As co-editor for a Jewish magazine, he published scathing anti-assimilation commentaries and encouraged Zionism among Russia’s Jews. He also spread the Hebrew language and culture throughout Russia, becoming the country’s most prominent Zionist lecturer and writer.
In 1908, the World Zionist Organisation sent Jabotinsky to Constantinople to work as editor-in-chief of a Turkish-Jewish newspaper. He remained in the Ottoman capital until 1914. At the outbreak of World War One, he worked to establish the Jewish Legion of the British Army. Together with Josef Trumpeldor and other legendary early Zionists immigrants to Palestine, he fought against the Ottomans.
Following the war, Jabotinsky ran into trouble with the British Mandatory Government over Haganah activity. He was pardoned and remained in Palestine, where he co-founded both Keren HaYesod (an agency for fundraising for the Jewish state) and the Revisionist Zionist moment.
This breakaway movement called for the immediate establishment of a Jewish state. He also created Beitar, a youth movement with a paramilitary and nationalistic spirit. As well as his political activities, Jabotinsky edited the Hebrew daily paper Doar Hayom.
In 1929, Jabotinsky left Palestine to travel on a lecture tour. The British administration denied him re-entry into the country, and he spent the rest of his life campaigning for the establishment of a Jewish state across Europe, the United Kingdom, and the USA. He also left the traditional Zionist movement and founded the New Zionist Organisation whose primary role was the creation of Israel.
The Jabotinsky organisation had three arms: Beitar, the New Zionist Organisation (NZO), and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (IZL). The NZO was political, and maintained government contacts; NZO sought to fight enemies of the movement’s ideology; Beitar educated young people about Zionism and trained them to join the previous two groups. This framework brought more than 40 ships – and thousands of illegal, non-British approved immigrants – from Europe to Palestine.
Jabotinsky’s boats of immigrants helped populate the pre-Israel land, creating a workforce and subsequent economy for the new State. Jabotinsky’s passion for the creation of a Jewish homeland is still evident in Israel today. In fact, his conviction in the need for a Jewish state led him to state in his will that his remains should be reburied in Israel at the behest of a Jewish government.
Jabotinksy died of a heart attack in New York while visiting a Beitar summer camp. In 1964, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol honoured his request and reinterred the Revisionist leader on Har Herzl. His books, articles, translations, and poetry continue to tell his story long after his death. In 2005, Knesset passed the Jabotinsky Law, setting a memorial day (29th of Tammuz) in his honour.
Previously: 1963: Levi Eshkol
Up next: 1965: Eli Cohen