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Op-Ed: Jabotinsky: A Life, by Hillel Halkin - Read and Wonder

There are questionable statements in the book, but it is well worth reading about this prophetic Zionist giant.
Published: Monday, May 19, 2014 8:44 AM


The new book by Hillel Halkin “Jabotinsky: A Life” (Yale University Press) is the first biography written on Zionist prophet Ze’ev Jabotinsky in English in more than twenty years.  While I have read extensively on Jabotinsky, there were numerous reports in this book which I – and I am sure many others – had never seen before.

Are they facts, or are the political opinions of Halkin, who has written a Wall Street Journal op-ed where he proposed Jewish settlers should remain in their towns in Judea and Samaria under 'Palestinian' rule, claiming “The West Bank settlers have not only been a major obstacle to the success of peace negotiations in the past, they have now turned into an obstacle to negotiations taking place at all.”

Halkin repeatedly referred to numerous supposed personal weaknesses of Jabotinsky, but it was hard to know what his sources are, as Halkin states “I have not annotated my sources in this book, although I have generally tried to indicate what they were. To fill numerous pages with footnotes referring English readers to texts that few could read would have been pointless.”

Despite its faults, I gobbled the book up – reading it cover to cover – and highlighting numerous items I intend to return to.  The book belongs on every Jewish bookshelf as it contains insight into a Jewish hero who created the 1st modern day Jewish self-defense force and whose ideology had – and has – such a strong impact on Jewish and Israeli politicians.

Interestingly, Halkin examines how Jabotinsky was a supposedly weaker politician than Ben-Gurion, although he documents an extensive personal relationship between the two Zionist leaders.  The book also delves extensively into Jabotinsky’s personal relationships.

It’s a book, which despite its faults, is worth reading, as it pursues research which no one has done before. 

So many of the man’s thoughts and actions were written as if they could have been written today –  Halkin quotes an observer of a speech of his in the 1930’s, referring to the land before it become the State of Israel, “Everyone talks about peace in this country. There is no peace and there never will be.” 

The book details many aspects of the life of Ze’ev Jabotinsky – from how being raised in Odessa shaped his worldview to his extensive travels fundraising.

A particular story I enjoyed was description of his testimony in 1937 before the Peel commission, where Jabotinsky testified about how accusing the Jews of greed regarding issues of land was “like blaming Dicken’s orphaned Oliver Twist for crying out “MORE!” at mealtimes when all he meant was “Will you just give me that normal portion necessary for a boy my age to be able to live?”

“I assure you,” Jabotinsky went on, “that you have here today, in the Jewish people with its demands, an Oliver Twist who has unfortunately no concessions to make. What can be the concessions?”  The same remains true today.

This book is a well-written, captivating description of the life and times of one of the foremost Zionist leaders’ role in history.  It is imperative that the thoughts – and actions – of Ze’ev Jabotinsky be awarded ample place in Jewish history, and this book helps ensure his legend remains alive.

“Jabotinsky: A Life” By Hillel Halkin deserves to be studied, debated and dissected at Jewish Universities – and in Jewish homes – worldwide.  It is an important book, and one which rewards Jabotinsky by having his life remembered.  Long live Jabotinsky.

Ronn Torossian is a former New York National President of Jabotinsky’s youth movement.  He has no personal – or professional – relationship with Halkin.