War Without End: Jabotinsky and the Zionist Right

Among early Zionist writers, Ze’ev Jabotinsky stood out for the cruelty and compete amorality of his arguments.  His position was simple:  we want territory in Palestine, there is an indigenous Palestinian people living in that territory, we must crush them … Read More

By / December 14, 2008

Among early Zionist writers, Ze’ev Jabotinsky stood out for the cruelty and compete amorality of his arguments.  His position was simple:  we want territory in Palestine, there is an indigenous Palestinian people living in that territory, we must crush them by violence until they surrender to our will. "As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups."  Jabotinsky was forthright about the nature of Zionism:  it was "colonialism," a program to be carried out behind "a wall of bayonets."  

There was almost something bracing about his brutal honesty:  that Zionism was an essentially imperialist enterprise, that Jews simply should not care about non-Jews, that "right" is determined by reasoning backwards from what we want to what is required to achieve it.  "We hold that Zionism is moral and just," he wrote.  "And since it is moral and just, justice must be done . . . There is no other morality."  Jews should make no other kinds of claims (Jabotinsky was particularly contemptuous of the Jewish religion, which he described as "a preserved corpse" in the Diaspora:  it is interesting that today it is in Israel that Judaism most obviously fits his description.)  Israel was not to be a center of Jewish culture or learning or the inculcation of virtue, it needed no justification beyond "we want it and we have bayonets." To bolster his arguments later, however, Jabotinsky also made an argument based on "justice":  "The soil does not belong to those who possess land in excess but to those who do not possess any.  It is an act of simple justice to alienate part of their land from those nations who are numbered among the great landowners of the world, in order to provide a place of refuge for a homeless, wandering people."  The weird perversity of this notion of justice becomes apparent (if it isn’t already) as soon as one tries to apply it in any other context.  Catholics have a country in Southern Ireland – therefore Northern Irish Protestants should be entitled to drive out all Catholics from the area?  There is no Romany state, nor a Breton state nor a Druze state nor a Kurdish nor a Basque state; therefore it would be justifiable to drive Americans, Frenchmen, or Spaniards, Turks, Lebanese or Israelis out of their homes in order to create a new state for each of these peoples?  There is no Bahai state nore a Wiccan state nor a Sufi state.  Therefore it would be justifiable to drive Christians, Muslims and Jews out of their homes to create space for these new states?  Jabotinsky’s answer was, effectively, a shrug.

What Jabotinsky was calling for was endless war, brutal conflict that could end only with the total surrender of a defeated Palestinian nation.  This is a recipe for war without end.  If Jabotinsky was right, then the Zionist program must, indeed, be to drive Arabs out of Israel and to expand into Palestine, and the only thing that can stop them is violence:  Jabotinsky’s declaration that Arabs understand only force carried with it the concomitant proposition that Jews, too, understand only force.  This is not a modern war between states, this is a primitive, tribal war of the kind described in the Hebrew Bible, where God’s instruction to Saul was "kill everything that breathes."  Years ago Meron Benvenisti proposed to me that the conflict in the West Bank was a "shepherd’s war" and that therefore it could rage mindless viciousness into the indefinite future. Today the call for endless war gets much of its support from the United States:  it is interesting to note that 90% of Netanyahu’s primary campaign funding came from outside of Israel, 70% from the U.S.  The Jabotinskyite view gets one of its clearest statements over on  The banner at the top of the page reads "there is no diplomatic solution."  Scroll down and you find "Five Basic Arguments Against a Palestinian State," or "No Room for Jews on the West Bank."  And then there is the take on America’s role, exemplified in Caroline Glick’s recent piece in the Jerusalem Post that was run on Israelpundit this past week ("Netanyahu’s Grand Coalition," Dec. 12, 2008.) Glick wants to arouse American Jews to oppose the Obama administration; she speaks in the voice of the same neocon-Zionist axis that did so much for America in the Bush administration.  (The political implications of a population that votes in American elections based entirely on considering what is good for a non-American country is a discussion for another time, but it is worth noting that this was precisely the justification for excluding Jews from full citizenship in European nations for centuries.)  Today’s great threat is the Obama adminisration.  Glick writes that "Obama will move swiftly to put the screws to Israel."  She cites Gen. Jones (Obama’s designated Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) previous suggestions that US or NATO forces might be deployed to the West Bank to enforce a peace agreement.  Such an action, Glick writes, "would make it impossible for the IDF to carry out counterterror operations in the area," "facilitate an empowerment of Hamas and Fatah," and be comparable to UNIFIL’s role in Lebanon.  All of this arises out of a misguided commitment to a two-state solution:  "The fact that there is no significant Palestinian constituency wiling to peacefully coexist with Israel is irrelevant." These statements are too fundamentally wrongheaded to be taken seriously.  US and NATO forces would be opposed to antiterror operations?  Are these the same US forces that have lately crossed into Pakistan and Syria?  The equation of NATO with UNIFIL is simply ludicrous.  The assertion that there is "no significant Palestinian constituency" interested in peaceful coexistence is breathtaking.  It is precisely the claim that used to be made about Arab governments – until Egypt signed a peace treaty.  Then the claim was that Egypt was a unique case – until Jordan opened relations with Israel.  As for America taking a role in enforcing agreements, even the Bush administration has finally lost patience with Israel’s constant lying and promise-breaking; every year, every Israeli administration promises every American administration to stop seizing new territory in the West Bank, and every year every Israeli administration breaks those promises.  Israel thinks America is her bitch; Glick is afraid America may be tiring of the role. Today the West Bank is criss-crossed by Jews-only roads, hundreds of checkpoints, a network of settlements that controls access to more than 70% of the water on the West Bank, hundreds of illegal settlements.  Some are illegal only under international law, some are illegal even under Israeli law, but it makes no difference.  And keep in mind what we’re talking about, here.  In 1948 Israel, with the advantages of superior numbers in the field — and superior armaments after the infusion of arms from Czechoslovakia – seized a third of the territory that the UN had set aside for a Palestinian state.  Then Israel annexed the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.  Now Israel wants to discuss a "two-state solution" based on keeping 7%-8% of what’s left; that’s the territory that Palestinians are now reluctant to surrender, territory that over and over Israeli administrations have promised American administrations they would cease to encroach upon.  The reason one might talk about NATO or the US taking a role in enforcing an agreement in the West Bank is the same as the reason one might see a role for NATO in Bosnia:  Israelis, like the Serb colonialists before them, have proven time and time again that their promises to the United States are meaningless words designed to fool yet another American administration into yet again turning a blind eye to the endless process of territorial expansion. Glick and the good folks over at know all of this perfectly well.  They understand perfectly well that the greatest obstacle to peace is the endless expansion of "facts on the ground" backed by a wall of bayonets.  But that’s just the point:  these people do not want peace.  In fact, the thing they fear more than any other is a sudden outbreak of peace.  They want endless war.  As long as there is war, Israel can continue to take the bizarre position of insisting that its sovereignty be recognized while at the same time refusing to describe its own borders.  As long as there is war, Israel can pursue the goal of "no hope left," at which point the bulk of the Palestinian people can be driven into exile while those that remain will meekly submit.  It is the "Ethic of the Iron Wall," and only a naïve deluded liberal could think that the hard-Right Zionist colonialists will ever be persuaded to give it up for mere peace.

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